One of the best series for (younger) teenage boys that I’ve come across has been the Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld. The series takes place during WWI and melds science fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction into an exciting tale about an Austrian prince on the run from the Germans and a brave, talented girl who pretends to be a boy to join the British military’s airships. In this unique version of WWI, the Germans and their allies (including Austria-Hungary) possess great knowledge of machinery, making them Clankers, and have great beasts of steel to fight in the war. (I imagine something along the lines of Star Wars AT-AT Walkers and AT-ST Walkers, only more animal looking at times.) The British and their allies (Russia) are Darwinists and they have adapted (or evolved) beasts into co-dependent war machines. Really, the idea of it is just fantastic.
Deryn Sharp is determined to follow in her father’s footsteps and become an airshipman. But she is a girl, and girls aren’t allowed in the British military. So she assumes a new identity as Dylan Sharp and, through a fluke, gets taken onboard the Leviathan, a massive British whale airship. While onboard, the news breaks that the Austrian archduke and his wife were murdered, beginning WWI, and the British are now at war with Germany and the other Clankers. Meanwhile, Prince Aleksander, heir to the Austrio-Hungarian Empire, has stolen out of Austria with a few men loyal to him so that he would not be killed as well. They make their way to a secret, fortified castle in the Alps and witness the injured Leviathan crash. Alek, always curious, spies on the Leviathan intending to help and is caught by Deryn. In the events that unfold, both discover unlikely allies and true friends, but their mission to stop Germany can only be done if they work together.
In Behemoth, Alek and Deryn (known as Dylan), along with the higher powers, are working together to stop the war. The Leviathan is attacked once again, and settles in Turkey. Alek and his men desert the Leviathan and go undercover to assist a group of rebels trying to overthrow the sultan of Turkey. Deryn has another mission of sabotage, but she becomes compromised before she can return to the Leviathan (“even the best laid plans go awry”). She joins Alek on his quest and together they change Istanbul, and hopefully, a part of the war.
In Goliath, the Leviathan is on a secret mission, to pick up renowed Clanker scientist Nikola Tesla. He is their first priority as his invention, the Goliath, if fallen into Clanker hands could turn the tide of the war and destroy the Darwinists. Their flight leads them to a neutral New York City where both Deryn and Alek learn that they themselves are extremely valuable and vital to ending the war, despite their somewhat compromising statuses as a girl who will be killed if found in the military and an enemy prince.
I didn’t want to give away too much because there is just so much exquisite detail in these stories! Another reason is that I read them disjointedly throughout the year. A touching part of the series is the huge crush Deryn has on Alek and how much Alek cares about his people enough to sacrifice himself to the enemy. Also charming is Deryn’s dialect and the politics onboard the Leviathan, especially those brought about by Bovril, a rather interesting creature of Dr. Barlow’s invention. I think this series will continue to entice particularly middle school boy readers, but girls and adults will enjoy reading also!
Rating: Great read!!! Be aware that there is rather unusual dialect vocabulary necessary to the story. 🙂