Leviathan (Amazon, B&N)
Simon Pulse (440 pp, $9.99, Oct. 2009)
Behemoth (Amazon, B&N)
Simon Pulse (5112 pp, $9.99, Oct. 2010)
Goliath (Amazon, B&N)
Simon Pulse (543 pp, $19.99, Sept. 2011)
Reviewed by Andrew Zimmerman Jones
Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy is an epic about an alternate-history version of World War I … and a great example of how steampunk can really work well when it’s firing on all cylinders (both literally and figuratively). In this, the military conflict isn’t just political, but also centers around an ideological difference about technology. The British and Russians have embraced Charles Darwin’s biological insights to breed massive war beasts, while the German alliance put their faith in mechanical (frequently multi-legged) battle machines.
In addition to the global conflict, the major tension in the story centers around two young characters – one from each side of the battle – who are living with their own secrets in the midst of the war. One is a girl disguised as a boy so that she can serve in the British military upon the living zeppelin Leviathan. The other is a prince (and secret heir to the Austrian Empire) on the run from his own people.
On top of all of that, there’s also a romance … even though one of the participants doesn’t realize it for quite some time.
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Young adult fiction has a lot going for it in recent years. In the wake of the Harry Potter craze, there’s an entire generation of young people who have grown up with the understanding that reading is a cool way to spend your time and entertain yourself.
Certainly, there has been some fall out from this positive trend. Personally, I can’t stand the Twilight films (although, in fairness, my wife assures me that the novels are much better), which have definitely inherited the youth mania mantle from young Mr. Potter. Vampires and zombies are all the rage, often because it’s what this “Harry Potter generation” seems to be choosing to read.
While the fantasy and young adult horror genres have had commercial success, there’s also been a growth among young adult science fiction. Specifically, dystopian science fiction set in an indistinct future era, focusing mostly on social issues. This sort of “soft science fiction” has long been part of the genre, but it’s really coming into its own withsome of the recent series. Among them was Scott Westerfeld’s fantastic Uglies trilogy (Amazon, B&N), now being made into a film, and Ally Condie’s Matched (Amazon, B&N) and Crossed (Amazon, B&N). These books speak to young people, in part because it resonates with the ever-present sense among the young that the world isn’t fair and that the people with power to make things better don’t care or, even worse, are actively out to get them. In these books, that is often quite literally the case.
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Scott Westerfeld has posted on his blog a press release announcing upcoming film adaptations of his popular Uglies trilogy, set in a post-apocalyptic future where everyone, at age 16, is made “pretty” through an intense surgical procedure. When everyone is Pretty, the idea is, everyone is equal and happy, so there’s no reason for discord.
Why the Books Rock
Uglies is a powerful book which features some of the best of science fiction. It has action, but also deep thematic elements. It has social context, without being preachy. It has deeply realized characters and very human conflicts between them. It is a rich world that grows more complex with each book.
And, of course, being a modern young adult series, it also features a love triangle. (A couple of them, actually.)
The story of the first book, Uglies, starts with the main character, Tally Youngblood, who is nearing 16 (and her surgery) with anxious anticipation. One great thing about this book is Tally, because she’s not your typical hero. She’s fairly selfish and certainly short-sighted. It often doesn’t occur to her, especially in the first book, that she should take into account much beyond her own immediate wants and desires … which makes her a perfect teenage protagonist.
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