Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battletorn war machine and a loyal crew of men.
Deryn Sharp is a commoner, disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She’s a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.
With World War I brewing, Alek and Deryn’s paths cross in the most unexpected way…taking them on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure that will change both their lives forever.
Warnings: gun violence, wartime
Leviathan is an alternate history WWI novel, with the Archduke’s son Prince Alexander, and a midshipman in the British Air Service, Deryn, as the main characters. Their stories develop on their own, as he is on the run from the people who assassinated his parents (in this book, it is the Austrian nobles themselves who did it) and trying to reach Switzerland to lay low, while Deryn is hiding the fact that she is a girl AND not 16 yet to be a part of the Air Service, just for a chance to fly. The different setting of this steampunk novel through lies in the way the two factions of people engaged in the war are constructed. The British side, along with its allies, are Darwinists, as in people who rely on genetically modified beasts to be their ‘ships’, while the Austrian-Hungarian side are Clankers, who use mecha designed in animal forms for warfare.
The construction of the vehicles on both sides is probably the highlight of this novel. Through Deryn’s eyes, we see the Leviathan, an ecosystem that functions as a ship, with smaller beasties and a large ‘engine’ that works off biofuels. Alek, meanwhile, is getting a hands-on experience in his Walker, which is what it sounds like, a metallic walking beast with the crew inside. Both teams have their own smooth operation that comes crashing down during wartime – the Leviathan gets into skirmishes with German forces, and Alek is trying to go past the Austrian border while trying to lay low. He disguises himself as a farmer’s son who is part of the crew, but he is not really good at the disguise because he has had a sheltered upbringing; him being not an heir means he never was expected to be a leader so this is the first challenge for him, as he decides on how best to navigate the situation, while having his father’s loyal Count by his side. Deryn is, for the most part, good at being a boy – but her main character arc is about keeping it secret, and then later keeping Alek’s identity a secret. She is smart, sassy and boisterous, and has an open mind.
The book is fast-paced, with loads of action, and detailed fights going on, which speaks for a concrete build of the machines themselves. I did feel that, sometimes, the fight scenes went on too long, making me lose interest in what was actually going on, and just looking out for if the characters survive it or not. And there are plenty of characters, too – their crews are sizeable, especially the Leviathan’s, but there are a few notable characters to keep your attention on rather than all of them, so it works. The audiobook narrator was okay – the accent work was good, but the narration style didn’t really work for me. Overall, it was an exciting, well-built steampunk novel, with two main characters that you love pretty much instantly.