Deryn Sharp runs away from home and disguised as a boy joins the British Air Service. All she wants to do is to become a pilot. While the idea of a girl disguised as a boy is not drastically original, the setting of Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld is.
Deryn, or Dylan as she known throughout the book, is assigned to the Leviathan, a living whale flying ship. See in Westerfeld alternative historical universe, World War I is fought between the Darwinist and the Clankers. Westerfeld builds a unique world where Darwinists create machinery and weapons using DNA to battle against the mechanical steam powered contraptions of the Clankers – because of the sound that they make.
Westerfeld spends a great amount of time setting up this alternative World War I. While the foundation for the real world counterparts of the Central Powers and Allied Powers is there, Westerfeld does quite of bit of altering of events with a Steampunk flare, and spends about half of the book getting the reader caught up. But once the set up is over, the book really takes off.
I cannot stress enough how much the illustrations done by Keith Thompson really help shape and add to the experience of the story. Thanks to the illustrations, I was able to imagine all of the cool contraptions and gadgets developed by the Clankers and even the strange creatures engineered by the Darwinists. I found myself lingering on these pages. I would read a little, flip back to the illustrations, and just to make sure I was picturing everything ‘correctly’ in my mind.