Sunday, December 26, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 326 (12/26) -- Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld

Scott Westerfeld is one of those writers who doesn't need me to introduce him; if you haven't heard of him, that can only mean that you haven't been haunting the Young Adult shelves (or chatting with teen readers), since his Uglies series has been one of the big successes of the past decade. (And the wonderful thing about discovering a writer mid-career, if you are one of those lucky folks, is that there's already a good-sized pile of books to read when you find them.) His current big series is a steampunky alternate-history trilogy about a superficially similar 1914 with some very notable differences -- the first book is Leviathan, which I reviewed as Book-A-Day #107. (Those main differences: the Allied Powers, here called Darwinists, have specialized in bioengineering to creative massive war machines and everyday beasts of burden, while the erstwhile Central Powers, aka the Clankers, have developed high technology equally quickly, but along entirely metallic and steam-driven lines. [1])

The second book of that trilogy, Behemoth, continues the story right where Leviathan left off: with the two protagonists, Alex and Deryn/Dylan, along with their individual Big Secrets, aboard the massive British airship Leviathan en route to Istanbul on a diplomatic mission to keep the sultan of the Ottoman Empire from joining the growing war on the Clanker side. Alex's position on the ship, and that of his men, is more and more complicated as the evidence that he must be someone important to the Clanker powers mounts -- and the chance that he will be officially made a POW increases day by day. So Alex decides he needs to get off the Leviathan in Istanbul -- and, since the ship's officers would likely keep him from leaving, he has to do it secretly.

At the same time, Deryn's own secret is coming under stress, from her fellow airmen, from the too-smart female boffin Dr. Nora Barlow, and, eventually, from a creature called a perspicacious loris, which may be vastly more perspicacious than official Darwinist policy allows any shaped animal to be. And she's tasked with a dangerous secret mission after she proves her plucky and coolness during a battle with German battleships in the Mediterranean.

Meanwhile, in Istanbul, the Committee of Union and Progress -- which, in our world, overthrew the sultan in 1908 -- is preparing for a second attempt at revolution, one which Alex and Deryn will be in position to greatly aid, if they separately decide that it's the best course of action.

Behemoth is somewhat middle-booky; it begins in the middle, with the Leviathan on the mission it got in the first book, and ends on a similarly unsettled point, with the Leviathan setting off for the next stop on its diplomatic mission. But, since this is only a trilogy, we do know that it will all be resolved by the end of the third book. (And I was sure that book would be named Juggernaut -- particularly since the Leviathan is heading to the far East as this book ends -- but a quick glance at Westerfeld's web site indicates that the real title is much more likely to be Goliath.) And Behemoth is just as fast-paced and thrilling as the first book was, with solid characterization and two very engaging young heroes to lead us through the action.

[1] I haven't detected any specific nods to the obvious precursor, Bruce Sterling's "Mechanist/Shaper" stories, but I'm sure Westerfeld is well aware of the parallels.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

No comments:

Post a Comment