True confession time: I have never read steampunk. Never had the opportunity. Never really had the desire either (although seeing some Star Wars characters re-imagined for steampunk did get me curious). But a few months ago, a friend visiting from New Zealand left some books with me, two YA books by Scott Westerfeld. Last night, I finished the first, namely Leviathan. And I have to say, I'm a little disgusted with myself for being so closed-minded.
The book is set in the early days of World War I, only things are a little different. The Germans and Austrians are "Clankers," people who build giant steam-driven walkers (think AT-ATs from the Star Wars universe, only with big cogs and belching steam). The English, the French, and the Russians are Darwinists. In this alternate timeline, Darwin not only came up with evolution, he also discovered DNA and genetic manipulation. The Darwinists build vehicles and machines out of living animals. For example, the titular Leviathan is a massive hydrogen-breather, a living airship made of a whale, housing living weapons that the English use in war.
The story follows two young people. There's Alek, the potential heir to the throne of the Austrian-Hungarian throne (or however you say that). When his parents are murdered in Serbia, he has to go on the run to Switzerland. Then there's Deryn, a girl who wants to serve in the British Air Service but can't because . . . well, she's a girl. So she hides her gender and enlists. Pretty soon, fate brings the two together, Clanker and Darwinist, and unites them in a common cause.
This book was a lot of fun to read. It's a sort of alternate history (with a few familiar faces popping up here and there). While the Clankers are interesting, the Darwinists are fascinating. Westerfled does a great job of making the Leviathan plausible, as odd as that might sound. Yes, it's a giant flying whale, but he's thought through how it all would interact and intersect. What's really fun are the illustrations by Keith Thompson, which brings the world to life.
I've already started reading the sequel and I just found out the last book in the trilogy is coming out this September. Sigh. Every time I think I've chipped away at my to-be-read pile . . .