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Leviathan  - Scott Westerfeld There were three things that made me excited for Leviathan, the concepts of: alternate history World War I, mechanical weapons vs genetically engineered living ones, and the classic idea of a girl dressing as a boy to enter a profession otherwise barred to her. What I ended up getting was a book I can easily say is one of my favourite releases of 2009.

Where do I start? I guess with the characters. Our two viewpoint characters, Alek and Dylan, are two brave and intelligent young people who do their best to keep their heads on their shoulders even when everything is going to hell in a hand-basket around them. They are not perfect, but they are strong-willed and determined, and their developing bickering-laced friendship is a delight to read.

The secondary characters are also a joy to read. Alek's tutors/guardians are fun to read, but the character that shone for me is Dr Barlow. Fiercely intelligent and incredibly perceptive (as well as very British), she is very much the scientist, but also has a heart, allowing her to act as confidant to our two leads. Any scene where she shows up was a blast, especially when it comes to reactions to her traveling companion - a thylacine.

Characters aside, I loved the world of Leviathan. Westerfeld does an amazing job at setting the scene and showing us the differences between our world and the world of Leviathan without bogging us down in copious backstory and information. There is incredible imagination here, and logic amongst the fantasy - with the creations (or rather, fabrications, to use the in-universe term) are amazing to read and think about, and to wonder what else exists in this universe thanks to the Darwinists. Plus there is enough information concerning the background of the war that younger readers unfamiliar with the origins of World War I should be able to grasp the backstory without having to wander off to Wikipedia.

The last thing that really makes Leviathan, though, is the artwork. Keith Thompson's renderings of characters, machines and fabrications are absolutely stunning and make for a wonderful addition to the book. There's not much else I can say except "Holy cow, look at the space whale!"

I do have two complaints though. First, the UK version does not have the gorgeous map that I hear the US version does. And second, I have to wait until October 2010 for Behemoth, the sequel?

(Review copy provided by Simon and Schuster UK)