12.25.2009

Leviathan by Scott Westerfield



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.

11 comments:

Amanda said...

I liked the characters and felt engaged with them - but i do admit that I read this in the middle of the night, which might have had something to do with it. Anyway, I'm glad it was at least okay for you.

Lu @ Regular Rumination said...

I actually checked this one out and got the same impression you did from the first few pages. I ended up returning it to the library because I didn't want to be disappointed! I'll probably still read it some day, but not now.

Jason Gignac said...

Amanda - Oh, I think it's probably just me. Sometimes books and characters just go over my head, and I like looking at people in very particular ways - this just wasn't my way. Thanks for recommending it!

Ms Lu - Well, I'll probably at least start book two when it comes out, I'll let you know if it's different for me :).

Debi said...

Oh no! I just got this for Christmas and was really looking forward to it. From your review, I get the feeling that the things that didn't do it for you, will not do it for me either. :( Will likely still give it a go sometime though...but maybe I'll try Peeps first (I haven't had any bad experiences with big worms yet, so hopefully I'll be okay).

Amanda said...

Debi, I hope you still give Leviathan a try! It's a wonderful book. If you've liked any other books by Westerfeld, most likely you'll like this one.

Debi said...

Amanda,
I haven't read any of his stuff yet. *hanging head in shame* Annie and Rich both have and LOVE him, but pathetic old me hasn't got to him yet. But I will. Definitely.

Jason Gignac said...

Ms Debi - This was my first Westerfeld book, too, and I probably wouldn't have gotten to it, except Amanda reminded me. But, don't trust my taste! It's usually not to be trusted :).

Rebecca Reid said...

I enjoyed Uglies. But I wasn't expecting deep characters or complex plot -- it's rather predictable but I didn't know how it was coming so I found it fun.

I'm not sure the interesting premise of this one is for me, though. It does sound rather odd...

Memory said...

Much as I enjoyed this, I can see where you're coming from. It is very much an action/setting-over-characters type of deal. That's not normally my thing, but for some reason I found the action and the setting compelling enough that I engaged with the characters simply by virtue of their involvement with said action. If that makes any sense.

Jeanne said...

I do agree that anything by Westerfeld is well-written (although I'm not a fan of his vampire novels). I was glad that I read Uglies once the second and third ones were already out. I'll be happier reading the next one after Leviathan if I wait until the third one is out, too.

Anonymous said...

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