**spoiler alert** First of all, I want to point out that this book is marked “young adult” but that’s grading it way too high. The writing is very sim...more**spoiler alert** First of all, I want to point out that this book is marked “young adult” but that’s grading it way too high. The writing is very simplistic and the characters, while supposedly teenagers, are written very young, especially Prince Alek. I would have guessed their ages to be eleven or twelve, not fourteen or fifteen. If you’re expecting romance, you’ll be disappointed. There aren’t even any supernatural aspects of this book, and several reviewers on Amazon call it a “steampunk novel.” As I know next to nothing about steampunk, I can’t comment on that.
Secondly, I am not the hugest fan of Westerfeld, as I could barely get through Uglies without stabbing myself in the eye. His Midnighters series, however, was brilliant and lovely and sad and perfect. (I’m not a big fan of Westerfeld as a person either, and you can read why here.) Despite my feelings, he is a good writer and after reading the Midnighters series, I was excited to read more.
WARNING: HERE BE SPOILERS
Leviathan is a retelling of the outbreak of World War I. While most of the history remains the same, there is one gigantic difference: machines. There are two factions, the Clunkers and the Darwinists. The Clunkers use metal only, building machines that, in my head at least, look like Imperial Walkers from Star Wars and other variations upon that theme. The Darwinists, named after the Darwin, use animal/machine hybrids both as transport and as weapons. I honestly can’t remember which nations were Clunkers and which were Darwinists, but I do know that Alek grew up Clunker and Deryn (from Scotland) grew up Darwinist.
Now, I am an animal lover, and there’s a lot of talk of how these Darwinist “beasties” can feel pain, fear, nervousness, et cetera. I had to skim through the parts where the animals get torn apart, because they made me so sad. As you can see, I’m not particularly on the side of the Darwinists, though, if Westerfeld keeps to the history, the Darwinists will win.
You know who’s side I am on though? Deryn’s. She’s awesome and a perfect contrast to Alek. Alek is rich, spoiled, arrogant, and whiny, pretty much everything I hate in a protagonist. Yes, his parents were killed. Yes, he was torn away from his nice cushy castle to live in some snowy “pile of rocks” in Switzerland. Yes, he’s been thrust into battle perhaps a little earlier than one would hope. All these things, however, mold Alek into a whiny pathetic mess of a boy, who in one chapter realizes his arrogance has given his fugitive party away and in the next returns to being his princely self. If I didn’t have this book on my Kindle, I would have thrown it at the wall by now.
Deryn, on the other hand, is amazing. She’s fourteen and sneaked her way into being an airman on the ship Leviathan. She holds her own as she pretends to be a boy, and she keeps her place on the ship when all but one of her peers are removed. Her father died years before in an accident, and her way of mourning him is to keep doing what he loved. Flying. She has to make hard decisions aboard the Leviathan and she does them with grace. I would add her to my list of my favorite females in fiction in a hot second. I hope that she straightens Alek out at some point.
A problem I had with this book is a problem I have with a lot of fantasy and sci-fi. Fantasy authors really enjoy describing outfits and traveling (sometimes endlessly), but they really enjoy writing fight scenes. Sci-fi authors really, really, really like describing their various machines and technology. I usually skim these parts, because honestly, I don’t care about tunics or landscapes or computer programs. The problem with Leviathan is that not only do Alek and his party travel in a giant machine, but they have a lot of fights, and Westerfeld goes on at length about joysticks and hydrogen and stuff I don’t want to read about. The same goes for Deryn on her ship (only it’s sadder because her ship is half whale). If I skim these parts, I have to skim two or three pages at a time. There’s a reason I prefer character-driven sci-fi over “hard” sci-fi. In other words, I like The Handmaid’s Tale more than Ender’s Game (and yes, I do realize that EG is not the hardest of sci-fi by a long shot).
So, in the end, my personal preferences forced me to give this book only two stars. I’m not sure if I’ll be reading the sequel, Behemoth, but if I do, you’ll find my review here!(less)
So this is like my perfect book. Historical fiction + paranormal + interesting heroine = my kinda drug, you know what I mean? Natalie St...moreNose in a Book
So this is like my perfect book. Historical fiction + paranormal + interesting heroine = my kinda drug, you know what I mean? Natalie Stewart is the daughter of an upper middle class father who is heavily involved in the new Metropolitan Museum of Art (which I love!). Ever since her mother died, Natalie has been unable to speak, prompting her father to send her to an “asylum,” which is really a boarding school for deaf and mute girls. At the beginning of the book, she comes home for a holiday and we learn that Natalie has has a connection with the supernatural since she was a child. She calls it The Whisper, and it does exactly what it says on the tin.
We meet Evelyn Northe and her niece, Maggie, in the first chapter. Evelyn is a wealthy widow who collects objects of occult value, because she is a spiritualist. We learn that Evelyn knows sign language and can communicate with Natalie in way very few people can. Evelyn sees a kindred spirit in Natalie, one Evelyn doesn’t see in Maggie. Evelyn and Natalie are basically perfect in the beginning of the book, all fire and curiosity. Evelyn manages to buy the Denbury portrait out from under some of her enemies, Natalie begins seeing things, and everything starts getting weird.
This book has an Alice in Wonderland feel and that appeals to me too. Natalie is pulled through the painting, into Denbury’s world. He’s drawn to her as much as she is to him, and here is the first time I am yanked out of the story: she keeps referring to Denbury’s accent as “British.” But…there is no universal British accent, is there? There’s English, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish accents, but what is a British accent? So that annoyed me and when I mentioned it to my boyfriend, he said, “Well, is it ignorance on the character’s part?” And you know what? No, it isn’t. Natalie knows Denbury is English, but she still refers to his accent as British. Anyway. That’s probably really picky of me.*
The reason this book is four and not five stars is somehow Natalie went from badass who takes no crap to consistently “pressing her face into his lapel” so that Denbury can protect her. She falls into the classic Victorian damsel-in-distress role really easily. Like she only needed to take care of herself until a man came along to care of her instead. This book also has some interesting religion, and sometimes I wondered if it was preaching at me, but I find myself wanting to defend this book. Natalie says some decidedly unfeminist things, typical of her time, but I took them that way–as a sign of her times. She does a lot more than most women in that era, but she has some really traditional thoughts on love. Let me be real: if a heroine talked the way Natalie does about men and love and bodies in a modern paranormal romance, I would be pissed and the book would probably lose another star. This book just really stuck out to me as historical fiction, and Natalie’s conservatism worked here for some reason.
This is apparently a series, but the book doesn’t leave a ton of loose ends, so no cliffhanger. I think the makeouts in this book are really, really hot and I love their formal speech. I recommend this one to anyone who likes historical fiction, paranormal romance, English accents and pretty words.
*Heiber contacted us and apparently there is a thing called a "British accent," though from what I understood, it's an acting thing.(less)
This book. This book! From the very first paragraph, I was sucked in and lost to the beauty that is Russia in the l...moreOriginally posted at Nose in a Book
This book. This book! From the very first paragraph, I was sucked in and lost to the beauty that is Russia in the late 1800s. Katerina Alexanderovna, known to her friends as Katiya, is a young girl who is a part of the Romanov court, though she wants to be a doctor. She is dragged along to balls she finds silly and is happiest when she is given a book of anatomical sketches by Da Vinci. She is clear-headed and smart, and the world she moves through sounds ethereal, both beautiful and deadly. Because Katiya has a secret–she’s a necromancer. She lives in fear of her ability, which she calls a curse, and tells no one about it. Despite her secrecy, a few of her peers–some Montenegran princesses, who Katiya is convinced are witches–and some of the adults in her life hint around it. The Empress of Russia is also a Faery Queen of the Light Court (Queen Titania, anyone?), and Katiya’s mother is involved in supernatural activities and seances with the Dark fae, while her father is more practical. Katiya’s brother is in the military. Things are going swimmingly for Katiya (minus the meddling Montenegrins) until her cousin, Dariya, is poisoned.
Sadly, Katiya is no urban fantasy heroine, is really upset about her ability, and cries at the thought of killing anything. She believes in the occult one second, then thinks it’s all madness the next, even though she is proof that the occult exists. She can raise the dead, but she resists the idea that vampires could exist. This is more understandable in this historical novel than it would be in, say, a Kate Daniels novel, as Christianity is still a ruling power and science is just beginning to sink its hooks into the masses. Katiya, a girl who has loved science her whole life, has to try and reconcile her supernatural abilities with her devotion to science, all while balancing her belief in God. That’s tough, and she reacts accordingly. I never thought less of her for her reactions or thought her over-dramatic. I think she’s a perfect picture of the world at that time. The only thing that really annoyed me was when she was given a book on the history of necromantic powers, she refuses to use it. She thinks she’s raising the dead willy nilly without knowing how she’s doing it, but she refuses to read the book as it’s “unholy.” Girlfriend, you know your precious Tsar is in danger and you’re quite possibly inflicting revenants all over St. Petersburg, and you won’t even try? That bothered me a lot. She’s smarter than that, but she can be really self-absorbed sometimes.
One of the best parts of this book is the lush description of the landscape, particularly Russia in winter. I’m not normally a girl who loves description; dialogue is more my thing. But this book is different! The descriptions aren’t endless, so they actually contribute to your understanding of the story. I have a picture in my head of the Black Ball and it is breathtaking! The images invoked by descriptions of monsters is pretty awesome too. I like the idea of vampire being an overarching term, at least in this novel, for no real reason other that I enjoy the idea of beautiful women turning into large, moth-like creatures to suck the blood of men.
With any other novel, that second paragraph would have made me drop a star, but not this one. This one is compelling even when irritating. I couldn’t put it down even if I wanted to! I love it beyond words. If you’re a fan of the Romanov era, with Nicholas II as a teenager supporting character; if you love Victorian Russia; if you like lush descriptions and powerful magic, this is the book for you.(less)
This book was written in verse, which was slightly disappointing to me, but it’s not annoying. In lieu of chapte...moreOriginally published at Nose in a Book
This book was written in verse, which was slightly disappointing to me, but it’s not annoying. In lieu of chapters, there are short little poems detailing all manner of things, from Maria’s father’s history to the glassblowing profession. It was incredibly easy to read, and only took me a few hours. I still remember reading a David Eddings novel where a character tells the protag “glass is just melted sand.” I never forgot that, for some reason, and glassblowing has always held some appeal to me. Maria is an artist among glassblowers, and once her family sat with the Doge at church. But then, someone stole her father’s cristallo recipe, and all was lost. When I first started reading, this struck me as very simplistic, less YA and more middle-grade, but that doesn’t diminish it. Maria knows Giovanna resents her, and that resentment comes through very clearly in the poems. Maria very clearly loves glassblowing, but she’s stuck in her role. Eventually, she is no longer allowed to draw, as she must stay clean as a lady. Maria really chafes at being a lady.
After the initial introduction, we start meeting Maria’s suitors. It’s pretty amusing watching Maria bumble around, and the descriptions of the men are hysterical. One of them says Maria’s age (15) is too old and I gagged a little, but that was the only overtly creepy thing I noticed in these chapters. You know what the suitors’ chapters reminded me of? That scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding were Toula’s father keeps inviting weirdos over to woo her. Each one makes you cringe in a different way. The saddest part is how sad Giovanna is and how it makes her lash out at Maria. Maria is only somewhat baffled by Vanna’s behavior and it made me hurt for them both. Vanna becomes almost vicious in her resentment, and it made me glad I only have brothers. And then, Luca shows up. Luca, who is ungrateful and snobby when we first meet him even though he’s from the laboring class, much lower than Maria’s family in status.
Luca, of course, has a story. He’s not just a jerk, he’s a jerk for a reason. I had my suspicions about him from the very first word he spoke, but I won’t spoil anything. He’s got his issues, but he’s like most other YA heroes, really. Aren’t all hero/ines in YA the same in the end? I think they are. It takes a lot to make them stand out on their own. Even some of my favorites (Evie from Paranormalcy, Clara from Unearthly, etc) are cut from a standard cloth. Near the middle of the book, Vanna seems to have a change of heart, though I remained suspicious of her as well. Maria doesn’t really realize what’s happening between herself and Luca, plus she feels this intense pressure to help her family, especially after a storm hits their island. And maybe this is just because of the poems, but I didn’t feel anything between Luca and Maria. We were being told instead of shown, I think. I really didn’t see any passion between them. They hardly see each other at all up to this point.
In the end, there is some of the passion I was looking for between Luca and Maria, but what was really interesting was the sisterly scheming. I really liked the relationship between Vanna and Maria (once Vanna stopped being a jerk). I felt like this was more a story of family and change than a romance, and I liked it better for it. If you like little historical romances, I think this one is going to be for you. It’s short and sweet, and the verse really flows after you get used to it. It comes out in exactly two weeks!(less)