First impressions: This series was definitely designed to be read together. The action picks up shortly after the conclusion of the first book, Leviathan, and as with that book, we are quickly launched into exciting events. Westerfeld is a master at drawing you in.
Lasting impressions: I actually read the last 60 or so pages slower than any other section of the book, because I did not want it to end yet. I have so much fun in the world of this series that I get grumpy when I'm forced to stop reading.
Conflicting impressions: Sometimes Alek wavers in TSTL (Too Stupid To Live) territory. The fact that he can't figure out Deryn is a girl is mind-boggling, especially as her feelings grow toward him. I was just glad that at least one character figured it out, but I think the total is still a bizarrely low 3 people that know or suspect her secret. Really? It's that easy to impersonate a boy? It's so easy for Deryn, in fact, that I no longer find that subplot filled with much tension.
Overall impressions: I thought I loved this Clanker/Darwinist world in Leviathan, but this book took it to a completely new stratospheric level. My god is Scott Westerfeld a genius! Everything about the voice, tone, action, setting, and characters pulls together into one cohesive whole that is so vibrant it is nearly cinematic. I can practically breathe in the Turkish air when the lady boffin leads a team to meet the sultan. I can hear the steam pistons firing in the giant walkers. I can smell the stale atmosphere deep in the Leviathan whale-ship's core. I didn't just read this book. I The-Neverending-Story-style lived it.
Deryn is still my favorite of the two protagonists, but Alek improved greatly in my esteem this time around. He was more confident and less arrogant, more careful and less reckless. He started to use his brain and consider the wants and needs of not only himself, but his people and the civilized world as well. Deryn, meanwhile, is still tough, humble, and a bit naive. They are great when they work separately, but brilliant when they work together. If only they weren't on opposite sides of this growing war.
The politics got a bit more jumbled as the hard lines are blurred and more countries start pulling into the conflict. It's no longer just Europe, but expanding into Asia as well. I found the Turkey setting in this one to be colorful, different, and exciting. Instead of clomping through the Alps or soaring through the skies, we see new communities and cultures and how they are affected by both the Darwinists and the Clankers. Westerfeld handles it all impeccably, and I found myself wanting to plan a trip to Turkey.
Alek and Deryn both are thrust into new levels of responsibility in this book, and we get introduced to a new beastie that should prove to be quite instrumental in the future (though I admit it was a bit of a letdown after all the book one buildup with the eggs). I loved seeing these two kids step up and experience the world in new ways. They really rose to the challenges presented to them and I look forward to seeing how they deal with what's coming in the final chapter, Goliath, due out September 20th.
This one was full of nearly nonstop action and scheming, with a tiny hint of romance thrown in. I hope we get more than just a taste in the next one, but only because I adore these two so much and am really rooting for them. This is certainly a book that can stand on its own without the romance element, but gets an added touch of that something special when the romance comes into play.
Westerfeld is a beautifully subtle writer, never hitting us over the head with extraneous details or descriptions. Instead, his stories unfold with ever escalating urgency, perfectly timed to the events and consequences the characters face, and propelling the plot forward with just the right balance of character and plot development. Throw in the fantastical steampunk elements (which never outshine or divert from the story), and now I'm glued to the page.
I cannot recommend this series highly enough. As much as I loved the first book, Behemoth has catapulted this series to the top of my favorites list, and I promise you I will be re-reading these books for years to come.
Rating: 5/5 stars
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