Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Review: Behemoth

Re-imagined stories have always arrested my attention—a bunch of retold fairytales, revamped legends, or alternate histories have become surprisingly refreshing all because modern authors discovered new formulas to put a wild spin on them. In my book, writers who can create new masterpieces with just the use of old material and excellent storytelling strategies receive two thumbs up. Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan takes the cake in my list of alternate histories, and so when I got my hands on its sequel, Behemoth, I’m really hoping that it will meet my high expectations set by Leviathan. And it did.

Behemoth picks up where Leviathan left off: World War I is brewing, and the Darwinist airship Leviathan is heading towards Constantinople (Istanbul) to finally deliver Dr. Nora Barlow’s cargo to the Sultan. Our main characters still struggle to protect their own identities from the world: Deryn/Dylan Sharp, a young and courageous girl posing as a boy in the British Air Force, tries hard to keep her male façade, which is slowly disintegrating; Aleksandar Ferdinand, son of the assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Princess Sophie Chotek, poses as a commoner as he is still on the run from the Germans who want to kill him. When the ship’s peacekeeping mission goes awry, Deryn takes a perilous mission to bring the Behemoth— the newest kraken-like beastie that the Darwinists created to bring triumph to the British camp—through the Dardanelles strait. Alek, meanwhile, escapes the airship after knowing that he and his men will be treated as prisoners of war after proven worthless. In Istanbul he bumps into and joins a paramilitary group with an aim to overthrow the incumbent Sultan. Deryn and Alek reunite in the City, and together they try to bring the war to a halt.

Once again, I’d like to commend Westerfeld’s skill in world-building. From a plunge into the Dardanelles to a frolic around the lively streets of Istanbul, Westerfeld effortlessly creates an intricate world that the readers can readily be drawn into. His descriptive prose is never flowery, but a concrete image of the setting would pop out immediately after you’ve read the words. Istanbul comes alive before your eyes, vividly festooned with a hodgepodge of different cultures and carefully strewn with new interesting characters.  The steampunk technologies and Darwinist creations introduced are pretty awe-inspiring too: the elephantine Dauntless, the turtle-legged Clanker bed, the goddess walker Sahmeran, the fearsome barnacles, the cute and shrewd Bovril, and of course, the enormous Behemoth. Like in Leviathan, you flip through a few pages of this and you’ll finally feel like you belong in this history.

As for the characters, there is a lot of growing up that happened. Deryn proves to be worthy of the trophy as my favorite character, with all her flaws finally becoming clearer—a remarkable percentage of it caused by her hormones alone. For a very tomboyish lassie she seems to be a little too girly when it comes to her puppy love sort of feelings for Alek, which has developed after an awkard, brotherly hug back in Leviathan. Be that as it may, she’s still the tough girl that we see in the prequel. Alek on the other hand doesn’t think about his love life at all; he is set to bring peace to Europe and Asia as soon as possible. I like Alek’s new attitude—it’s like he’s writing his own bildungsroman, and he knows it. What I’m a little peeved and amused about is Alek’s blind faith in the Providence. I hope this--and something more about religion--will be addressed further in the third installment. All in all, both the characters are slowly being emotionally attaching to the readers, though more fleshing out (at least in Alek's case) wouldn't hurt.

The pace is as always fast and action-filled, though I think people who don’t like anything much about mechas (of the steampunk sort especially) would find the action scenes a little dragging. I’ve read about them before so I enjoyed every battle scene—my favorite would have to be when the Committee and our duo try to bring down the gigantic Tesla cannon that’s about to annihilate the Leviathan. Everything is just made of awesome. :3 (Whoops, I fell in a fangirly pit! Sorry!)

I’d be patiently waiting for the third installment, Goliath.

PS: How could I forget the cool illustrations of Keith Thompson? They are as beautiful and intricate as the ones in Leviathan, and they make me more engaged in reading. :3

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