Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld

Ages 12 and up

In Leviathan, we were introduced to an alternate version of World War I. One divided not just by politics, but by sciences. There are the Clankers, who excel at mechanical inventions, and the Darwinists, who have figured out how to fabricate animals into tools and weapons. Alek, an exiled Austrian prince and a Clanker, has been hiding his identity as he lives and works on board the Leviathan, a Darwinist airship. Thanks to Alek and his men, the Leviathan has narrowly avoided the German forces and is now headed towards the completion of her mission in the Ottoman Empire. On the airship, we’ve also gotten to know Deryn Sharp, a young girl masquerading as a boy so that she can serve in the British Air Service. The two started out as unlikely allies and have become friends. In Behemoth, their friendship is put to the test though, when Austria joins forces with Germany in the war. And by the growing feelings that Deryn is trying to hide from him. Of course, Alek is oblivious. He still thinks that his friend is a lad. When the Leviathan finally makes it to Istanbul, Alek and two of his men are able to sneak off of the airbeast and disappear in the Turkish city. But the Clanker influence that helps them to hide causes no end of trouble for the Darwinists’ mission. As it becomes clear that diplomacy will fail to keep the Ottomans out of the war, the Darwinists resort to less diplomatic means to maintain the upper hand and Deryn finds herself stranded in Istanbul with no one else to turn to but the prince she should consider an enemy.

You know that great feeling you get while riding a serious coaster like Montu or Kumba? That is  level of mental loop-de-loops I was doing while reading this book. My brain noise focused into one word (well, form of expression anyways): Wheeeeee!!! As much fun as Leviathan was to read, Scott Westerfeld takes it to the next level in Behemoth. (Is anyone else biting their nails waiting for Goliath?) The plot is twistier, the emotions are higher and stakes, oh boy, the stakes just keep on rising.

In Behemoth, we get to see Deryn go through a broader internal struggle. In book one, we kind of toed the water with her character. We learned a little of her past and we saw how she has to hide her true gender from the rest of her crewmates. Her biggest problem was convincing people that she had to shave. And then she falls for the Hapsburg prince who thinks she’s a guy. Whoops. Her feelings for Alek bring about hurdles for her to jump both as a young woman and as a member of the British Air Service. Her desire to be as honest with Alek as he is with her is at odds with her certainty of how he will react if (when *cough cough*) he finds out her secret. At the same time, she struggles to decide how far she can go helping a friend before she betrays her country. From the first chapter, we see her having to confront these issues. Alek is a constant source of confusion, but it’s refreshing, because the confusion he induces is not merely romantic in nature. At every turn she is confronted with choosing which is more important: her friendship with Alek or her feelings/duty/mission/safety. Despite Deryn’s masculine dress and behavior, we get to see that deep down she is still just a fifteen-year-old girl trying to figure out how she fits in the world.

Alek gets to show growth as well. In the first book, his choices were limited. Most of his actions in Leviathan were dictated by someone else. The most he does is sneak off to try and help a downed Darwinist airship (and then get taken prisoner). He’s still a kid used to taking and following orders. But, he fights back in Behemoth. Takes the reins of his own life so to say. Getting specific would give too much away, but it’s nice to see some really solid growth in Alek…and not just the typical “Oh, the other side isn’t so bad” growth that is always seen in stories where protagonists from opposite beliefs/veiwpoints/social status are thrown together. While Westerfeld does grow both Alek and Deryn by softening their preconceived ideas about the other side, he also grows them in other areas, creating a very distinct story arc for both.

All around the board we get to know the characters in Behemoth much better. And as our understanding of Alek, Deryn, Klopp, Volger and Dr. Barlow grows, our knowledge of the world that they live in grows as well. Leviathan was all about, well, the Leviathan. We spent much of the time learning about the airship and the companion airbeast that keeps it afloat. We were up in the air and in Behemoth the reader is grounded (yes, I meant to do that). Westerfeld’s vivid descriptions are now focused on the city of Istanbul and the Clanker machines. It’s only fair, after all. The first book was about the Darwinists, obviously the second would be about the Clankers. I love how he takes history and then warps it a little, throws in some killer plot and description and  makes you want to dig deeper and find out what really happened. He  creates a desire to learn and I love that.

So often, I’ll find that my attention lags in the second book. The first volume will be all new and exciting and then comes volume two. I’ll be honest, reading volume two is not really what I want to do. What I really want to do is read the last book and find out how it all ends. Do they defeat the evil villain (Of course they do)? Does the guy/girl get the girl/guy (Usually)? Do all the characters make it to happily ever after (Sometimes)? Or does the author randomly ruin everything by turning the main man into a tree (No, I’m not still bitter about that book, not at all)? The second book is normally not gripping for me. Behemoth is one exception. Westerfeld does an amazing job of setting up for Goliath while creating a book that could stand on its own. I could totally just walk up to my bookshelf and just decide to read Behemoth at random. You wouldn’t see me doing that with New Moon or Catching Fire. With them I need the build-up of the first volume. But Westerfeld’s use of pacing and storytelling make Behemoth into a masterpiece all by itself.  And of course, it got me revved up for the release of the final volume next month.

This is a good example of:

  • Character distinct POVs
  • Character growth
  • Description
  • A riveting second volume

This book is on my recommended reading list.

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