Book Review: Behemoth (Westerfeld)

*ARC Alert*

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld will be released on October 5th, 2010 by Simon Pulse (Hardcover, illustrated, $18.99, 496 pages).

Let me explain the basic concept to you: World War I.  The Allies have Darwinian genetically-engineered monsters for war engines and the Central Powers have mechas. Do you really need to read the rest of the review?

Oh, yeah, wait. One last thing before you rush off. This is the second book, the first is called Leviathan. Alright, go for it. Spoilers after the jump.

For those of you that stuck around, more information. Such as characters. The story centers around two in particular– the first is Deryn Sharp (on the cover), a girl masquerading as “Dylan” Sharp, midshipman aboard the airship Leviathan in the British service. She’s resourceful to the point of slightly crazed. A fun person to be around. The second is Aleksander I-don’t-know-how-royalty’s-last-names-work, prince of Austria-Hungary and (maybe possibly) heir to the Hapsburg empire, currently prisoner of war on the Leviathan, but also Deryn’s friend. He doesn’t know that she’s a she, or that she has a massive crush on him.His parents’ assassination was what tipped off the whole war.

In Leviathan, Deryn and Alek fell in with Dr. Barlow, a fabricator of Darwinist beasts and Charles Darwin’s own granddaughter. Part of their duties in her company include looking after a set of three large eggs. The mission of the Leviathan is to transport these eggs to Instanbul, where Dr. Barlow believes that they can convince the sheik not to throw his lot in with the Germans. When they arrive, however, they discover that Germany already seems to be half-running the Ottoman city. What’s worse, Britain officially declares war with Austria-Hungary, and Alek’s freedom aboard the Leviathan is shut down. As a result he and Deryn are thrown into a scramble to change the course of a war, which leads them through the streets of Istanbul from the shiek’s palace to the dens of revolutionaries.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this trilogy when I first picked up Leviathan. The premise, as I explained earlier, sounded mind-blowingly cool, but I had read Westerfeld’s Uglies series and not been particularly impressed. I was, of course, hooked from the first chapter– by the Sweet Polly Oliver plotline, by the World War I theme, and by Keith Thompson’s  delightful illustrations. Leviathan, frustratingly, didn’t so much end as stop, but Behemoth picks up right where Westerfeld left off and lives up to its prequel. Now that Deryn and Alek’s viewpoints are based around the same progression of events, their thoughts on the war and each other become more and more interesting (though we don’t learn everything– there’s some very intriguing clues for thought towards the end). The next book will allegedly bring the series to a close, but I can’t see how unless Westerfeld plans to leave off well before the war ends. I suppose we can hope he’ll pull an Artemis Fowl and turn his trilogy into a longer series, but either way, bravo. I eagerly await the next book.

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