BOOK REVIEW: "Behemoth," by Scott Westerfeld
Few things are more enthralling than a good series.
The joy of a series is not watching the long and often monotonous plot wind down to its conclusion. Readers cherish engaging in someone else's conflict, whether that means combat, an adventure, or navigating a complicated relationship. Bigger and more convoluted conflicts tend to breed the sorts of books that publishers split up into threes or sevens. In Behemoth, as the name suggests, the conflicts at play are very large indeed.
The sequel picks up where Leviathan left off. The eponymous airship lands in WWI-era Istanbul during a difficult time of Clanker/Darwinist relations. The city is filled with mechanical wonders and horrors, so the hydrogen-breathing whale and its crew are disoriented and more than a little out of place.
This emotion sets the stage nicely for the continuing protagonists: Deryn Sharp (girl masquerading as boy aeronaut) and Alek (fleeing heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire). A seasoned Clanker, Alek spent the previous book feeling alienated and disgusted at the biology of the Leviathan. Deryn understands neither machinery nor their allure, and struggles to find her way in the industrialized setting. Alek gets to play the confident role in this book, navigating his way through a political rebellion with relative ease compared to his feelings of uselessness and inadequacy aboard the living airship.
What is startling about this series is the lack of a tangible villain. Germany is the clear aggressor on a world-wide scale, but the book lacks a Sauron to tie it all together. The only clear antagonist seems to be the war itself. Even "good" characters like Winston Churchill are painted in a darker hue. Anyone who makes matters worse or harms diplomatic relations is the servant of the enemy, and the enemy is war.
Deryn Sharp continues to maintain her facade as a boy, but her feelings for Alek start to make their friendship more complicated. It's a credit to these characters that I want to see how they work things out more than I want to see the war resolved. The war forces them to mature into different people, and there's no clear picture of who they will be once they reach the other side.
Westerfeld is clearly proficient at drawing the reader forward. He ends his chapters tactfully, seeding ideas that sprout and flower in the imagination. Such is the strength of a great series. So while many of my books glower down at me, flapping their pages as if to exclaim: "How can you buy new books while we sit unread?" I must ignore them for now as I make headway in the last of this series, Goliath, and seek what I genuinely trust will be a suitable ending to quite a journey.
What book series are you engrossed in?