This was my book for our family book club this month. As you may have guessed, Amanda drew my name, and chose a book for me. Hence Leviathan, which she chose largely, I think, because it doesn't have the raging giant worm action that is purportedly to be found in Peeps.
That being said.
This was my first experience with Mr. Westerfield, though Amanda is a devoted fan. I really was looking forward to the book. Leviathan is the first in what will be a trilogy, telling a steampunk alternate history of Europe, and encompassing the events that triggered World War I (one of the characters, for instance, is the son of Archduke Ferdinand). World War I is one of my favorite periods of history - as a child, we had a book in our library that (for some reason) had instructions on how to build a scale replica of the World War I trenches, and I always wanted to build it. I later wrote, in my head, an entire romance that centered around biplane pilots. Something in the conflux, the meeting of the old and new ways of war, of horse cavalry appearing on the same battle field as tanks and mustard gas, is beautifully blind and sad, to me. On top of this, the steampunk ethos is lovely to me, being a history fan anyway, and particularly a fan of Regency/Victorian/Edwardian history. A number of my favorite heroes are from the period, as well. I was a bit nervous, because Amanda had warned me not to take the book to seriously, but I AM capable of enjoying a book 'just for fun', really I am, so I was ready for a romp.
I didn't hate the book. I didn't even dislike the book. It was kind of just meh.
The premise was fairly clever, and the way that the competing branches of science are integrated with the Axis/Allies split of World War I was well thought out. The world building was fairly well done (if unquestionably geared to the technological over the sociological), and I found the setting to be interesting enough that I could argue with it - that's a good thing, I promise.
The characters, though - and I LOVE characters - were just kind of so-so, to me. The two protagonists (I'm trying to avoid spoilers here, sorry), both felt kind of like stereotypes, there more for window dressing for their two technological backgrounds, than like real people. I was interested, sort of from a dispassionate point of view, in what happened to their machines, but honestly never got terribly fond of either of them. Or terribly unfond.
And the action kind of got tiresome. I am not saying the book was morally bad - there is a nice lesson in it about how people need to work together, and one of the heroes had a father who was a peacenik, more or less. But most of the big action scenes were pretty much just battle scenes. I'm not the biggest fan of battle scenes. I know they can be well written and engaging, and I have read some that felt meaingful to me. But by and large, even the best of them don't do a lot for me, personally, even in books that I love like Lord of the Rings or Dune. The battles are there, they're important, but they're not what I love. In this book, I felt like everything was a battle or a chase scene, and neither of those things were terrifically exciting to spend several hundred pages alongside, without first feeling like I really deeply cared what happened to the characters.
In short, I think the problem was me. I'm not a big huge fan of books where the clever premise is the main attraction (i.e. this felt like it was more about the technology and less about the people), and I'm not a big huge fan of battle and chase scenes, which were very well done here, and probably just in too thick a concentration for me. Oh well. But then, I didn't like A New Hope when I was a kid for much the same reasons, then I liked Empire Strikes Back, which had a lot more bridgey, character driven moments. So, maybe the next book (Behemoth, I'm told) will be more to my liking.