Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld

The second book is Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy does not disappoint. Behemoth is one of the releases I was most excited for this year, and it completely exceeded my expectations.

In Leviathan, we were introduced to an alternate WWI era, full of fantastic air beasties and mammoth mechanical walkers. Behemoth takes us to Istanbul (called Constantinople by the British), where we’re introduced to entirely new wonders. Istanbul is full of giant machines designed to look like elephants, which is kind of a brilliant mash-up of the Clanker and Darwinist ideologies: they take the power of the Germans’ machines but are still very connected to the natural world. And one of the Istanbul natives we meet is shocked by the way the Darwinists refer to their beasties as “it” rather than “he” or “she”. Each of the different ethnic neighborhoods of the city also have their own walkers, which they call golems and are designed to look like mythical creatures or characters.

Illustration by Keith Thompson

Deryn Sharpe is quickly replacing Katniss Everdeen as my favorite YA heroine. In Leviathan, Deryn struggled to be accepted as a boy, but in Behemoth, she plays such a convincing boy and pulls off such daring stunts that she receives accolades from her captain and even finds out that she is considered something of a heart-throb! Yet the advantage that Deryn is privy to as a male airshipman is obvious whenever Alek makes a bone-headed remark about things that girls can not or should not do. Despite the fact that everyone believes that Deryn is a boy named Dylan, she knows that she has to succeed and impress in everything she does, that she will always have to work harder because of her gender.
“She nodded, wishing that it was something piffling like a keelhaul drop that had her jittery. Gravity was something you could beat; all it took was hydrogen, hot air, or even a bit of rope. But being a girl was a miserable, never-ending struggle.”

Alek makes some progress in this book as well, as he is forced to go without his mentors, Count Volger and Master Klopp, for much of the book. “His princeliness”, as Deryn jokingly calls him, has to learn to act like a leader and take responsibility for his own actions. His naivety often gets in his way, though, as he sometimes puts his trust in the wrong people or distrusts people for being of the wrong gender or class. Alek still has a lot to learn, but by the end of the book he is much less a spoiled brat and much more likeable. The banter that Alek and Deryn have in this book is excellent – it’s a believable friendship, and there are hints that Deryn feels something more, but thankfully nothing overwrought. Since I’m not a big romance fan, I’m glad that Deryn feels the same way about swooning lassies and doesn’t want to be too “girly” or give herself away.

"Fencing lessons on the spine."

Keith Thompson’s excellent illustrations make the book such an immersive experience. For a book with so many fantastic creatures and machines, it really helps to have someone illustrating them every chapter or so. Thompson’s work really ties the books together – I always find myself stopping reading to pore over any new illustration for a minute or two, because there’s so much detail. One of my favorites is of the titular Behemoth: we don’t even find out what it is in much detail or what it looks like until the very end of the book, and when we do, there is an epic two-page spread illustrating the scene.

Behemoth is an excellent adventure, keeping you on your toes the whole time. The action nearly never slows down, and the alternate world created by Westerfeld and Thompson will have you wishing for message lizards and walkers of your very own. I am now hungry for the final book in the trilogy, which is sure to be even more spectacular and exciting.


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