Behemoth, by Scott Westerfeld, is even more brilliant than the first book, Leviathan.
There. I said it.
I'm an unabashed Westerfeld fan, but I seriously believe the second book in this series outdoes the first, partly because this trilogy is smartly unfolding, and partly because we are already entrenched in Westerfeld's world of Darwinists vs. Clankers, a rich alternate version of World War I history.
The titular behemoth is a new, monstrous creature in the British navy that may just change the balance of power between the Darwinist and Clanker nations as they march towards war. Deryn is a girl who masquerades as a boy in the British Air Service, and Alek is heir to an empire pretending to be a commoner after his parents' deaths tipped the world toward war. Deryn, Alek, and an assortment of beasties travel on the Leviathan to Istanbul, where both Britain and Germany are trying to gain control of the Sultan's strategic interests. Alek and Deryn join with new allies and brave many adventures in their efforts to avert the war.
RL: n/a CSM: n/a Rating: PG Content: pining for the opposite sex, one humorous kiss, war dead, not graphic
The yearning that Deryn (15) has for Alek (16) is a major undercurrent in Behemoth, much more so than Leviathan, which almost kicks this book up into the Young Teens category. Since she is posing as a boy, things remain quite chaste, and most of the book is the same action-packed adventure found throughout Leviathan. The violence and war dead are similarly a little more dark than Leviathan, with soldiers being captured or killed. However, Westerfeld is skilled in not graphically describing these events, and keeping the book relatively free of the more disturbing violence of war. It is too bad that the reading level has not been released for Behemoth, because I am sure it is higher than Leviathan's 5.4 RL. Even if it is not, the complexity of the political intrigue and war machinations make Behemoth an excellent book for advanced readers 11+, just shy of a Young Teens rating due to the lack of darker themes. (Note my recommendation for Leviathan was 9+.)
Behemoth has even more illustrations than Leviathan, with color bringing added richness. At his signing, Westerfeld commented that he worked in tandem with illustrator Keith Thompson, sending chapters to him as he wrote, so that Thompson could draw and create the story with him. At one point Thompson caught up to Westerfeld, to which Westerfeld said, "There will be a fight in the next chapter. Draw whatever you like." (I'm paraphrasing here from memory; apologies to Mr. Westerfeld.) The close connection between writer and illustrator is obvious as you follow along in the book. Westerfeld mentioned there will be even more illustrations in the third and final book, Golaith (due in 2012, which seriously cannot get here soon enough for me.)
Thompson, it turns out, is Canadian, and Westerfeld will be making a tour stop in Canada. If you're near Vancouver in November, I highly recommend it!
Behemoth just hit the Best of 2010, Top 10 Amazon Audio books, which is awesome considering it's only been out a month. While the audio voices could be brilliant with all those fabulous accents (I really would love to hear Deryn say "Barking Spiders!"), you must get a print version for the illustrations alone.
Also there's this:
Alek has his own (new) cover on the paperback version of Leviathan.
Finally, there's a bit of a kerfluffle in the blogosphere about Steampunk - which I think is barking silly - but Mr. Westerfeld has the perfect pitched response, in his usual witty style.
I especially like what he says about complaints that his books are "too hard" for children. He notes that these complaints come from adults, not kids, and that the kids are used to being challenged to think. Given the tremendous popularity of his books, I hope that this is leads the way for more challenging books for kids.
Or, as Deryn would say, "Aye, you're dead right about that, sir."
And FINALLY, FINALLY, the winner of the Steampunk Prize Pack of Awesome Giveaway (including a signed copy of Behemoth) is ... J.L. Jackson!
Thank you to everyone who entered and commented this week! Ink Spells will return to non-steampunk-mode next week.