I just finished the young adult novel, “Leviathan.” It’s about two characters. One is a prince forced to flee his country, on the run from both spies and foreign armies. The other is a girl, pretending to be a boy, aboard a blimp as a member of the British air force. The events take place just as World War 1 is starting. It’s alternative history, in which no one invented electricity. The Western powers rely on genetically modified beasts of burden, and the Eastern powers developed highly advanced mechanical contraptions. The theme is known as “Steampunk”
I love the Steampunk theme. I love the leather jackets, extraneous buckles, goggles, gimey hands, smears of grease on faces, and the marvelous machines. There just wasn’t enough of it. What really killed my enjoyment of this book was it’s nearly equal split between two main characters. I never felt invested in either. Life on an blimp sounds fascinating! Especially since the blimp was actually a giant hydrogen filled whale. Life on an airship reminds me of my time on a cruise ship. I would have loved to reminisce about the best parts: the view, friends with the crew, getting lost, joining the volunteer firefighter team. None of that was in there. How did they serve food? What kind of chores did they have? What did they do for fun after work? I’ll never know! Meanwhile, I also loved the mechanical bipedal tank that the little prince used to escape. What was it like to sleep in a tank with four adults? How do they regulate the temperature? What kind of maintenance does it need? A story that focused on just the boy, or just the girl would have been amazing. It would have been fine to introduce the boy or girl later in the story. At a maximum, they could have snippets plopped in, making the reader wonder what the relevance is, until BAM they’re forced to cooperate.
The characters never hit rock bottom. The stakes were never raised that high. The enemies were too easy. The final showdown was a slam dunk. In Harry Potter #1, Harry faces the most powerful dark wizard ever to curse the earth. It was basically a 12 year old boy vs Magical Hitler. And you think, “This is it. There’s no getting out of this. It’s hopeless!” But no! Harry prevails! It’s satisfying because it seems so unlikely. In this book, meh, there’s one giant mecha-spider-tank and they fly away from it just in time.
The moral of the story is, “Allies are worth more than gold” which is ok. It’s a young adult novel. I’m not the intended audience. But with all of my adult wisdom, I don’t think the moral fit with the setting. As far as I can tell, having allies in Europe is what turned it from a regular war into a world war. The moral would have been more satisfying: if the main character chose incorrectly early in the story with negative consequences; if the main character had a difficult decision to make whether allies were really worth more than gold; or if the villain chose gold over allies. None of those happened. Yawn.
I could tell that the author is setting this up to be the first in a series. I don’t blame him for doing this. We all gotta eat. But his book suffered because of it. Every author has to walk a delicate balance between stand alone books and sequel material. I can tell the Hunger Games was written as a stand alone novel because the sequels leave something to be desired. That’s how I would prefer it though. I want to be hooked. I HAD to read the sequels to the Hunger Games. Meanwhile, I will certainly not read the sequels to Leviathan.
Lastly, the animals invented by the British were unimaginative. The blimp was a giant inflatable whale. The dogs that sniffed for hydrogen leaks had two noses and six legs, but were still just dogs. The attack bats were just bats with mosquito DNA so they were attracted to light. The glow worms were just glow worms. Why not have centipedes sniff for hydrogen and have a nose on each of their feet? Why not have glow bats? The possibilities are endless!
All in all, I give it three thumbs up, out of six.