Publisher's Note:  

It is the cusp of World War I. The Austro-Hungarians and Germans have their Clankers, steam-driven iron machines loaded with guns and ammunition. The British Darwinists employ genetically fabricated animals as their weaponry. Their Leviathan is a whale airship, and the most masterful beast in the British fleet.

Aleksandar Ferdinand, a Clanker, and Deryn Sharp, a Darwinist, are on opposite sides of the war. But their paths cross in the most unexpected way, taking them both aboard the Leviathan on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure….One that will change both their lives forever.


by Scott Westerfeld

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Overall Review:  

This novel begins when Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria is assassinated in Sarajevo. The author keeps many of the details of the story as they are in our history books, but instead of the children the Archduke had in real life, the author gives him one fifteen-year-old son named Aleksander. On page three, Alek is hijacked by Otto Klopp, his father's master mechanic and by his fencing instructor, a count. They take off on a wild cross-country trek using a "stormwalker," a tank that walks on two legs rather than using giant treads.

Meanwhile in Britian, Deryn, a fifteen-year-old girl, disguises herself as a boy to join the Air Service. The British have used Charles Darwin’s discoveries about evolution to learn how to manipulate genetic code, "threads of life" as they are called, to produce beasts with the characteristics they require—" lupine tigeresques," "elephantines," and many more.

Deryn ends up on the airship Leviathan, an enormous flying whale, that’s on a secret mission to the Ottoman Empire with Dr. Barlow aboard, an eccentric lady scientist. Deryn will cross paths with Alek who’s fleeing for his life—fleeing his own relatives who want him dead and also fleeing the Germans who may, in fact, have been behind the assassination of his parents.

Alek is terrified by the "godless" monsters created by the British Darwinists, and Deryn is disdainful of the noisy, dirty "Clanker" technology of the Germans and Austrians.

By the end of the book, both Deryn and Alek will be forced to acknowledge the value of the other’s technology, and Deryn will begin to have some romantic feelings for Alek. (Alek doesn’t guess Deryn’s real gender in this book, but I expect more romance in the rest of the trilogy.)

I found the Brit’s fabrication of outlandish beasts hard to believe; others may find these fabrications theologically unacceptable.  Although I found the story engaging from page three when Alek is hijacked in the night; other readers reported taking longer to become interested in it.

Reading level: 4.6, range 2.8-6.1.

Of interest to boys and girls.

This review has been acquired and adapted from

Content Analysis:  

This review was acquired from on May 15, 2014 and was not completed using Compass Book Ratings’ standardized checklist.  Nevertheless, it contains useful content information which is included here.  The overall number ratings have been approximated based on this information.

6 G*d’s wounds; bloody


Alek grabs knife under pillow, fearing attack; Alek imagines piloting walker "in battle, with viewport half shut against flying bullets and shrapnel"; Otto holds Alek’s arms while count drugs him, tells him his parents murdered in Sarajevo, mentioned later numerous times, later they tell Alek that bombs and pistols failed but poison killed them; German "land machine" fires cannon at Alek’s walker, Alek accepts they’re trying to kill him; count accidently kicks Alek in head and shoulder; count bleeds from cut on face; walker shot at with guns; Alek imagines being hit by gun fire; walker cannon fires, they hear "awful cried of horses"; Alek gets ready to fire machine gun; danger to Deryn of spark igniting hydrogen, "ascender exploding in a massive fireball," she imagines gas igniting; during sparring practice, count "lands a touch on [Alek’s] wrist," bruising Alek, "whacks his right arm hard"; Alek has met German officers who have scarred faces from fencing without masks; mention that young boys on board airship engage in "punch-ups"; mention of knife throwing and "not showing pain when punched"; metal spikes used to attack schooner, cut "sails to ribbons," splinter wooden deck, Deryn imagines "crewmen on that ship," pictures an army being "savaged by the falling spikes"; beast in ocean pulls ship apart, pulls ship under water; Alek reaches for sword he usually wears at his side; count and Otto face armed men on horses with dogs, Alek hears gunshots, "tries not to imagine bullets slicing through his skin," shot fired a meter away, another whizzes past his ear, soldier threatens to thrash him, Alek sneaks up on him, grabs his arm, man fires gun in air, smashing elbow "into Alek’s face," threatens to kill him, tries to hit Alek in head with rifle butt, Alek pulls soldier’s saber loose, hits horse on rump with flat of saber; soldier falls from horse, killed by fall, Alek realizes he’s killed a soldier from his own country; more shooting in distance, Alek pilots walker back to where other horsemen are, tells assistants to fire over their heads, cannon fired, force of cannon blast knocks Alek from controls, more shots fired at walker, Alek wonders whether to fire machine guns at retreating soldiers; count hit in shoulder in battle; mention of European countries declaring war on each other; mention that walker had "been hunted, shot at, even dive-bombed by an aeroplane"; walker hit by bullet, foot soldiers charged by walker; flare shot into walker’s cabin, count prepares to use machine guns on men exposed on mechanical horses; flare sticks to walker, marks target for cannon, cannon fires at them, close miss, another close miss, more flares miss also; message lizard falls from airship, "shouting random words in a dreadful mix of human voices"; German plane strafes airship, hydrogen sniffer hit, falls, more machine gun fire, phosphorous flare lit, strafing hawks fly into air, "carrying an aeroplane net," plane crashes into net, acid on net burns aeroplane to pieces, some men on airship wounded or killed; airship fires on aeroplanes, sends out more hawks with nets; air gun sends aeroplane out of control; aeroplane fires at "port engine pod"; bats sent into line of aeroplane, metal spikes in them destroy aeroplane, bats killed, more machine gun fire; Deryn realizes hydrogen sniffer’s handler is dead; when airship attacked, Deryn feels like she’s "watching her family dying, her home burning down in front of her"; bats bring down another plane, plane tries to ram airship, it finally disintegrates from bats, falls, debris hitting airship; airship’s bosun hit, starts to fall from back of airship; airship crashes in Alps; Alek believes his great uncle arranged to have his parents killed; Deryn imagines how she would have been squashed if airship "had rolled over any farther"; Alek pulls gun on Deryn, threatens her if she doesn’t let him go, when he looks like he’s going to fire on hydrogen sniffers, she jumps him, pulls him to ground, she hits head on ice, gets cut on cheek; they fight over pistol; Deryn holds knife to Alek’s throat to keep walker from firing on them, threatens to kill him; German airships come to finish off British airship; Deryn almost hit by whipping chain; German zeppelins deploy commandos to capture airship; zepplins firing at airship, commandos "storming toward" it, some setting up gun to shoot at walker; Alek fears "being broiled alive by some armor-piercing shell"; Deryn fires machine gun at Germans, walker hit by German fire, sees German crew "scattered, a few motionless," red flecks on the snow; walker’s cannon ball "exploded among the commandoes"; Deryn sees other zeppelin above, bats above it, "concussion shell" fired at zeppelin by airship, bombs dropping from zeppelin, bats releasing metal spikes that will hit walker; blinding flash fills walker, loud noise knocks Deryn off feet, walker falls to ground, Deryn cut on forehead; zeppelin fires at Alek, igniting hydrogen of zeppelin, detailed description of fire, mention of hearing "awful cries over the roar of flame"; Alek tells Deryn how his parents were killed; Germans shoot flares, mortars, cannon at airship; walker’s guns shooting at Germans, Germans shoot "huge incendiaries" at airship, fire again, but are too far away; Alek points out Deryn will be hanged as traitor if captain finds out she knew about Alek; Afterword explains historical facts of assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife which led to World War I.


Brother comments that Deryn has no "biddies to speak of," no breasts—so she can pass as a boy; mention of fabricated beasts reproducing leads Alek to think of "other aspects of the mating process"; speaking of the way fabricated beasts are created, Deryn says, "The same thing happened when your ma carried you"; Alek hugs Deryn, she feels "odd kind of tingling."

Mature Subject Matter:  

Death, Assassination, War, Scientific Ethics

Alcohol / Drug Use:  

Mention of boys "competing to see who could . . . drink rum faster"; mention of crew members "smoking a pipe"; mention that it’s too "early for brandy, and cigars are strictly forbidden" on airship.

Reviewed By CleanTeenReads
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