Behemoth Scott Westerfeld
I loved Leviathan. I even took a risk and recommended it to a patron that I talk to a lot* but usually don't recommend books to, as he and I read very different things. (Ok, not too big a risk. He's a steampunk kick and last year was on a huge WWI kick.) We were both very excited for Behemoth. I was even nice and let him put a hold on it before me (but I was #2 on the list, so it's ok!) And we waited. And it came in. Two days later he came in shouting and raving "JENNIE! DID YOU READ IT YET? IT WAS AWESOME! IT WAS SO AWESOME IT MAKES LEVIATHAN LOOK LIKE A PILE OF CRAP!" He was so excited that I didn't have the heart to tell him that he shouldn't (a) shout in the library (b) shout the word crap in the children's room.
But guess what dear reader, HE WAS TOTALLY RIGHT. Compared to Behemoth? Leviathan, which used to get a "love love love OMG love" out of me now gets a mere "meh"
AND! No sucker punch cliff hanger ending. THANK YOU Mr. Westerfeld. You clearly know how to write a second book in a trilogy. It didn't just serve to further the plot and set up the next book. NO. It is it's own perfect book that will lead nicely into the next adventure.
Deryn and Alek are headed towards Constantinople, with the lady boffin's beastie peace offering. But, of course, nothing goes according to plan. When they land, the two are soon separated as we're thrust into an Istanbul where the 1908 revolution was unsuccessful. I also loved how much of the conflict between England and Turkey wasn't of Westerfeld's making. Turkey is upset because it ordered a warship from England, but when WWI broke out, instead of shipping it to Turkey, Churchill (as head of the Admiralty) kept it "temporarily" so the Brits could add it to their navy. Turkey is caught in a between great forces on a strategic point of land** and where England failed, Germany is more than happy to give Turkey what it wants. All that is true. The twist Westerfeld adds is that in addition to a warship, the Brits also kept a beastie...
Lots of adventure and building relationships and tension***. I loved seeing a Clanker Istanbul, but one where the machines were built to look like animals. I loved how the characters worked things that are special to Istanbul into their plans (oh! the spice! so wonderful!) It was very exciting without being totally plot-driven, which is hard to do. I love how Westerfeld is writing an alternate steampunk history, but is still very true to historical detail and sense of place-- a very hard balance to strike, I imagine.
So... why is this better than Leviathan? Part of it is that the world and characters are established so they are free to grow and fill out even more. Part of it is that they are now in the middle of things, action and intrigue-wise. And part of it is just that certain je ne sais quoi.
Also, a shout out for Keith Thompson's illustrations. We need more illustrations in novels for older readers. His black-and-white pictures add a lot to the story and Deryn's facial expressions are priceless. AND! I love the endpapers (I did with Leviathan, too.)
So, if you haven't read Leviathan yet, GO! And if you've read Leviathan and not Behemoth, WTF? GO!
*Things that make me happy-- when the children grow up and leave me for the teen section, but still stop by the children's desk just to say hi and have a chat. I FEEL SO LOVED WHEN THAT HAPPENS.
**Seriously, if you ever play Diplomacy, start a large portion of your force in Turkey. It's the BEST starting position.
*** While I'm mainly referring to the political tension, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the sexual tension that is there, but isn't because Alek doesn't know that Dylan is really Deryn and Deryn's worried about Alek's desire to not marry common and OH! It's not the main focus at all, but I love that it's there and I love the plot line.
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