Already skeptical? Or intrigued?
Westerfield's romp into the on-again off-again genre of steampunk will definitely leave you thinking. Granted, the complicated web of alliances that led to the first World War could be something tagged as, dare I say, dry and boring? However, by bringing in the fantastical, Westerfield makes a complicated but important era of history a little more accessible. How many students will groan, however, when they learn that Darwinist fabricated creatures did not, in fact, exist. Oh well. Whatever it takes to grab their attention and get them interested, right?
In short, Leviathan is the story of Aleksander, sole heir to the Archduke of Austria who is being hunted by Franz Joseph and Germany to be done away with quietly, and Deryn, young Scottish girl passing as a boy in order to serve in the Royal Air Force. Their paths cross when the airship Leviathan--part whale, part a thousand other creatures--that Deryn is assigned to is shot down by German planes over the Swiss Alps, where Alek is hiding out. The two join forces to battle a common enemy, the Germans.
If you like science fiction, you'll enjoy. If you like history, you'll have fun pulling apart the real from the alternate. If you like finding new tools for writing, well then, you may actually secretly (or not so secretly) whistle for joy.
Narration is probably one of the hardest aspects to incorporate into writing without killing a story's pace. We demanding readers want action, not a bunch of telling, right? Westerfield has his work cut out for him with this piece. Not only does he have to get in the usual suspects-character appearance, character backstory, historical setting, setting-he has to explain his fabricated creatures, how they work, how they came into being, and all of that alternate history. It's not small feat.
Westerfield tackles the weighty challenge by combining narration with other story elements, such as action, dialogue, and emotional responses. Much like the Darwinists in his story combine life threads of various animals to create fabricated war animals, Westerfield combines to create wholly new show-tell and tell-show “beasties” that turn a potential pace killer into a pace maker.
It's marvelous work, if a writer is looking for a few new tricks. How do I work narration into dialogue without it becoming an information dump? It's here. How do I distract with action while getting across narration? In Blake Snyder's words (Save the Cat) pull a Pope in the Pool? Westerfield uses a sword fight. Dissertations could be written on that sword fight alone. It's narration. It's a segway from Act 1 into Act 2. It's a symbolic cutting of the last strings of etiquette so that Alek is free to strive to leave his mark on the developing war. It's just plain good writing. How do I make narration a pace maker? Ah, it's here too. Nothing like using the divulgence of information to spark a romance between two main characters.
So, if you are looking for a little narration helper, look no further. Westerfield has a few tricks I will definitely use in the future. There is much craft to learn here, and even a few fun facts. It's well worth the two or three nights it takes to get through the book. Well, well worth it.
And when you're done with that, hop over to Barrie Summy's blog for more interesting reads!