Leviathan #1: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Read: 8 April, 2016

On the eve of the first World War, Deryn disguises herself as a boy to join the crew of a Darwinist airship, while Alek (fictional son of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand) is forced into hiding by his parents’ death.

This is the story of World War I, of huge forces smashing against each other as millions upon millions of lives are lost. But this time, the conflict is re-imagined as being between the Darwinist forces – who manipulate the “life threads” of animals to create fantastical war machines – and the Clankers – who build beast-like machines on legs.

The book gets classified as Steampunk, and it certainly is, but adding the organic construction aspects to it made it into something new. Is Fleshpunk a thing? Evopunk?

The plot is a fairly straightforward adventure story, though it does hint to the deeper politics in the background. The balance is pretty perfect to give the impression of the setting, but without bogging down the story.

The book is also classified as Young Adult, which I don’t think is quite accurate. It’s not a book for little kids, certainly, but I think it would be perfect for someone around 11-14. The characters, who are meant to be around 15 years old, act and think more like 11-12 year olds.

That said, the world building and the plot had more than enough to keep me entertained. And I really appreciated that Westerfeld doesn’t hold back on terminology – military equipment and ranks are properly named, for example. I could see 11-12 year old me absolutely devouring this book.

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The Tin Drum by Günter Grass

Read: 18 May, 2013

Oskar Matzerath (or Bronski, or perhaps Koljaiczek) decided at the age of three that he would stop growing. And so he did. Though years passed, little Oskar remained a three year old – a three year old who did not speak but merely beat his drum and sing-shattered glass.

I enjoyed The Tin Drum, but I found it hard going. It took me a really long time to get through and I think that a lot of it went over my head, but it was quite interesting and very very funny.

The book is weird, very weird, and there’s quite a few gross scenes that I wish I could unread. It was quite fun to peak over my book every so often and tell my family about the eels, or about the finger in the jar, or the coconut-carpet rape…. Yeah, it’s pretty weird.

It was also a very dense book, and required quite a high level of engagement to catch the references and connections. That’s (mostly) why it took me so long to get through it.

It’s one of those books that I’m glad to have read, but I’m also glad to be done with it.

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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Read: 5 August, 2010

The Book Thief has many of the common elements of a World War II narrative. There are children trying to grow up, to learn, to form friendships against the backdrop of hate and cruelty. There’s a Jew hiding in the basement. There’s the inevitable violent end of the Nazi regime, followed by confusion and guilt. But this story is told from the perspective of Death as he encounters, again and again, a little girl by the name of Liesel Meminger.

I’ve noticed that books written for young adults seem to be, on average, so much better than books written for adults. They tend to be more imaginative, better written, and far more thought-provoking. The Book Thief is no exception.

Like most books written about World War II, there was no lack of horror. There were times when I had to read through tears. There were also times when I laughed out loud. I found the characters to be very compelling and I truly cared about what happened to them. The writing style was fantastic and the gimmick of having Death be the narrator, which could so easily have become absurd silliness, was actually well pulled off.

I highly recommend this book for the young adult crowd, and I think that us old fogeys would do well to read it too.

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