This was me, trying to describe Scott Westerfeld‘s book Leviathan to a friend: â€œIt’s the COOLEST book! It’s about World War I, but not the way you remember from social studies class. There are giant, Star-Wars-type walking machines! And fabricated hybrid animals! And two teens on opposite sides of the war â€“ a prince on the run and a girl disguised as a boy in order to enlist. Oh, and there are these awesome sci-fi illustrations, and then there’s the Leviathan itself â€“ which is an airship! And also a whale! Yesâ€¦a flying whale. Are you still with me?â€
Truth is, I’d never read anything like it â€“ I’d read alternate histories before, but this was my first introduction to steampunk. According to Urban Dictionary, steampunk â€œcould be described by the slogan â€˜What the past would look like if the future had happened sooner.’â€ It reminded me a little bit of the Dinotopia books I’d read when I was younger, in which children played alongside dinosaurs as timelines collided in a seemingly impossible way. Both books also have stunning artwork â€“ in the case of Leviathan, Keith Thompson’s charcoal drawings provide intricate detail of man, machine, and beast (almost a necessity when you invent as much stuff for a book as Westerfeld does). And though it is an alternate history, I felt like I understood the events that led to â€œThe Great Warâ€ better than I ever did in school. I even learned about an animal that really existed but is now extinct: a thylacine (this old footage of a captive thylacine is one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen!).
Intrigued? Check out Leviathan‘s book trailer, and keep in mind that it’s got a brand-new sequel, Behemoth. For a great overview on what brought on WWI (the real one!), check out the book Truce: The Day the Soldiers Stopped Fighting by Jim Murphy, and for more steampunk titles, check out this list. It won’t be long before you, too, are trying to describe to your friends how a whale can fly.
–Becky O’Neil, currently reading The Luxe by Anna Godbersen
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