Leviathan Trilogy Book 2: Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld – Book Review

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A few weeks back I posted a review of Book 1 of the Leviathan Trilogy, aptly titled Leviathan Now I’m back with a review of book 2, Behemoth.  I wasn’t as enamored with the second book as much as I enjoyed the first, for reasons I’ll expound upon below.  But first… For those who haven’t read book one (or my review of Leviathan), I’ll do a quick recap of what’s going on. 

This series proposes an alternate history in which Charles Darwin didn’t just come up with the theory of evolution, he unlocked the secret of DNA and scientists from “Darwinist” nations routinely engineer creatures of all shapes and sizes for the use of their militaries.  The British Air Service has the biggest baddest beasties.  In book one we learned about the Leviathan, a hydrogen-breather, a creature who is aerostatic (they are naturally airborne creatures) and creates their own hydrogen which keeps them aloft.  The crew lived within it like a giant airship and it carried a full ecosystem of other genetically engineered creatures to use as weapons of war.  Crewing on the Leviathan in question is Deryn, a teenage girl disguised as a boy because women are not permitted to serve in the British Air Service at this time.

The first story starts just at the cusp of World War I the night that Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austrian throne, and his wife are assassinated.  His son, Aleksandar Ferdinand is spirited away from his comfy royal life in the night by faithful servants of his father trying to keep him alive as the war breaks out.  As Austria-Hungary is a Clanker power (country which uses machines instead of engineered war beasts) they use the family’s walking tank-like thing to escape and they come across the path of a downed British Leviathan which is where Deryn and Aleksander meet.  The two crews from countries on different sides of the WWI conflict must work together to escape Germans who are pursuing them.  And end book 1.  (Read the review of Leviathan.)

Now for my review of Behemoth.

The British Leviathan is on a diplomatic mission to the Middle East.  They’re trying to convince the Emperor of an Empire there to join forces with the Darwinist countries in the war.  Alek and his people realize that though they have been allies to the Leviathan crew, now that war has officially been declared they are about to become prisoners of war and Alek escapes.  After his disappearance, Deryn is given a secret mission to destroy a sea net which keeps British naval vessels (the Behemoth sea monsters slash submarines) from getting close enough to attack this country.  After achieving her mission, she runs off to find and help her friend Alek.  Hi-jinx ensue and they help a group of revolutionaries overthrow the local government.

All the while, Deryn realizes that she is falling madly in love with Alek and she can’t even tell him because everyone thinks she’s a boy, and he’s a prince and she’s a commoner.  Not only is he a prince, he’s a prince whom the pope has recently declared as a legitimate legal heir to the Austro-Hugarian throne (which the current ruler had refused because he did not like Alek’s commoner mother).

The story is a rollicking good read or listen if you like audio books.  All three of the books are narrated by the same person (Alan Cumming) and it just gets better with each successive book.  While the sexism and gender roles which are common to the era which the story is told in are not to my liking, I think the book has a really strong female lead who doesn’t succumb to her emotions and reveal her secret as a woman just because she’s in love with or has feelings of affection for someone.  Her inner turmoil doesn’t detract from the epic adventure but in fact augments it as a driving factor in her actions (or inaction).

The plot of Behemoth is fascinating, and the author masterfully immerses the reader in a fantastically realistic world which could-have-been.

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