Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld
This alternate World War I adventure kicks off with a middle-of-the-night escapade in
an AT-ST walker a two-legged stalking tank, followed by aerial acrobatics aboard a living hydrogen balloon. If you enjoyed the mid-air hoverboard chases that are half the fun of Westerfeld’s Uglies series, this first installment in a trilogy should be an easy sell.
The point-of-view alternates between teenagers on opposite sides of the impending war. Fifteen-year-old Alek is a disinherited Hapsburg princeling who might yet prove himself heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire. Deryn Sharp, also 15, has just disguised herself as a boy to take the entrance exams for the British Air Service, which, for reasons that will be explained in the next paragraph, is largely composed of
jellyfish hydrogen-breathing living airships.
Scientists in this version of England have taken Darwin’s theory of evolution and run with it, creating genetically-engineered animal hybrids like lupine tigeresques for industrial and military use. The Leviathan of the title is both a warship and a floating ecosystem—a whale-based zeppelin powered by bacteria and armed with strafing hawks and fléchette bats, the completely, disgustingly organic Gatling guns of the skies. Germany and Austria-Hungary, on the other hand, reject meddling with DNA in favor of good old-fashioned mechanical engineering, although their fleet of multilegged armored vehicles has its own stalking and clanking charm.
As usual, Westerfeld delivers a fast-moving story in which the characters are constantly imperiled. The fun, novel setting plays to Westerfeld’s strengths: his powers of invention and a fantastic ear for slang. So far this is a Great War scenario with a very light touch.
Check the WRL catalog for Leviathan.