Book review

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld (2010)

Part 2 of the Leviathan series

If book one was all about Prince Aleksander losing his parents, his inheritance, his gold bars, the castle in Switzerland and the long term escape plan laid down for him by his two is about the young prince taking control of his own future.

It was just the one rogue act of assassination. Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, and his wife Sophie Chotek. But it caused Austria to declare war with Serbia. Germany and Russia became embroiled. Great Britain. And lost somewhere in the middle of it all is Prince Aleksander, who everyone seeks but no one can find. They want him not really for the power he wields exactly, more for the power he could wield should he turn out to be a charismatic leader. They would much rather he quietly disappeared. He has his four loyal family retainers but he has already rejected the safe long term plan that his father the Archduke left for him. He has joined forces with the shipwrecked aviators on board the British Darwinist airship Leviathan. They have installed the hugely powerful Clanker engines from Alek’s wrecked Cyklop Stormwalker into the downed whaleship Leviathan, and it works! Airborne again, both the British and Alek’s men evade the German hunt for the time being. But that doesn’t mean than Alek’s advisers are happy with his decision:

‘May I remind you that they’re the enemy, Alek? Just because the Germans are hunting us doesn’t make Darwinists our friends...’

They are treading on eggshells in this book. Enemies or allies? If it weren’t for the fact that the crew of the Leviathan need Alek’s mechanics to run the weird Clanker engines they would most likely all be under arrest until the ship got back to London...even though the British haven’t worked out exactly who Alek is yet. Well, perhaps the mysterious Darwinist boffin Dr Barlow has guessed. She likes to keep him close under her eye, which is nice for Midshipman Dylan.

Dylan and Alek seem to be friends. Sometimes you just can’t help it, can you, even though they are in fact on opposite sides in a massive European war. That would be complicated enough. They share confidances to the point where Dylan’s integrity as a serving British officer may be compomised. But there is also that teeny tiny issue of what kind of friends exactly. Dylan half wishes Alek might realize that there is more to her than your average midshipman:

Alek was right behind her now, his body pressing close as he adjusted her sword arm. She hadn’t realized this fencing business would be so touchy.
He grasped her waist, sending a crackle across her skin.
If Alek moved his hands any higher, he might notice what was hidden beneath her careful tailoring.
‘Always keep sideways to your opponent,’ he said, gently turning her. ‘That way, your chest presents the smallest possible target.’
‘Aye, the smallest possible target,’ Deryn sighed. Her secret was safe, it seemed.

But Alek is learning to take command. He needs to get his men off the Leviathan before it leaves Istanbul. He believes that from Istanbul he can strike a blow against the enemy powers that killed his parents. Perhaps he can foment a small rebellion against the Sultan, using his last gold bar?

‘So you think I made the right choice, Hans? Leaving safety behind?’
‘You didn’t have much of a choice, sir – I mean, Fritz.’
Bauer shrugged. ‘You had to face what was in front of you, whatever your father’s plans. Every man arrives at that point, sooner or later.’

Of course when it comes to it neither Alek’s small rebellion, nor the British top secret weapon can be deployed without some covert cooperation between friends Alek and Dylan. Didn’t I mention the British top secret weapon? It’s a Behemoth. That’s another word from the Bible. It means a huge monstrous creature...

Hugely enjoyable. Epic adventure. Subtle conspiracy.

What can I read next?

It’s a trilogy. Read them in order:

If you enjoy life on board the giant airships perhaps you should look at this fun trilogy by Kenneth Oppel:

Or you could try train hopping on the intergalactic express with Philip Reeve:

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