Sunday, December 19, 2010
Behemoth by Scott Westerfield Illustrated by Keith Thompson
Behemoth is a mixture of alternate history and steampunk written for young adults. It is the second book in the Leviathan trilogy. The title Leviathan in the first book refers to a giant living airship. Leviathan won the 2010 Locus Award for Best Young Adult Novel. I think it is quite readable for adults as well.
The setting in this part of the series is an alternate history Ottoman Empire. There are ornate clockwork mechanical walkers and intricate steam powered machines. The year is 1914. In this world, the English and Russians are Darwinists masters of genetically engineered beasts and the Germans and Ottomans are Clankers makers of complex clockwork machinery. I like that in this world, the Americans do both.
This makes for wonderfully ornate illustrations by Keith Thompson. His website has some of the art from Behemoth http://www.keiththompsonart.com/ The illustrations are wonderfully ornate in black in white with touches of Victoriana, Art Deco, and even Middle Eastern motifs.
The reader encounters living airships, articulated steam elephants, a steampunk library, and an alternate Orient Express. This transports you to a very different world. The descriptions are inventive and eloquent. We get to imagine Iron Golems in the Jewish quarters of Istanbul, fallen nobility in grand hotels, and an air of revolutionary change.
There is constant action, intrigue, hair raising escapes, and suspense. Tension is created between the main characters; a young woman posing as a boy to serve in the English air corps, and an aristocratic German who is trying to pass himself off as a commoner.
The design of the book is superb; it is set in Hoefler text. The line spacing and layout are very easy on the eyes. The jacket design and photo illustration are by Sammy Yuen, Jr.
This is highly recommended, especially for people who read steampunk or atlernate history.