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Book review by
Debra Bogart, Common Sense Media
Leviathan Book Poster Image
Fast-paced World War I fantasy exciting yet low on violence.
Parents recommendPopular with kids

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 10 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Some educational value despite the fact that this alternative fiction turns history on its ear. Its plots and battles, along with mentions of real historical figures such as Darwin and Churchill may inspire readers to pursue the facts on their own.

Positive Messages

Prince Alek, heir to Ferdinand, has been trained for battle but his priority turns out to always be preserving life. He can't harm opposition soldiers and risks his own life for them. Deryn, the young airman, is brilliant, brave, and also compassionate.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The main characters, Prince Alek and the young soldier Deryn, are both positive role models despite their young age (16) and the terrors and crisis of war. They are brave, compassionate, and very intelligent and still retain the idealism of youth. They seem to be surrounded by likewise upright and caring adults, both military and civilian. The scientist Nora Darwin Barlow is based on a real person; she is similarly a strong, briliiant scientific mind.


Action-adventure set at the start of WWI includes sword fighting; reference to the murder of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, which puts their son Alek into grave danger; some soldiers are injured by gunfire; battles are planned. No gratuitious or graphic violence.


No romance. The main character Deryn must disguise her identity and pretend to be a boy to enter the airforce. Her breasts are referred to once as "diddies." Bottoms are called "bums," some slang includes the derogatory term "bum rag."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One reference is made to the consumption of wine that accompanied a meal.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that for a fast-paced adventure story set during WWI there is surprisingly little violence. There are some battles that culminate in deaths and injuries, but there is very little blood and no gore. Genetically engineered fighting creatures include bats that eat and then expel metal spikes over enemies. While the background is war, the main stories are that of Alek and Deryn, and their adventures as they are both on their own for the first time away from their families.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 4 and 9 year old Written byconnielove93 August 23, 2010

Easy to pick up, but impossible to put down!!

It is the cusp of World War I, and all the European Powers are arming up. The Austro-Hungarians and Germans (Clankers) use Kerosene-driven iron machines loaded... Continue reading
Adult Written byJames D. Crofts III August 24, 2012

Fresh story but with some drawbacks

The first thing that could bother you is how Deryn works very hard and has her brother Jaspert as accomplice, to pull off the deception that she's NOT a gi... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old April 19, 2011


As usual, Scott Westerfeld has written another masterpiece. The book deals with a well-known war, studied by all, in an alternate reality of sorts. Even better,... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written bynoveleater November 17, 2010


This might not be the best written thing, but Scott keeps the pages flying by, and the drawings done by Keith Thompson are beautiful, and really tie together th... Continue reading

What's the story?

In 1914, the real Archduke Ferdinand is murdered. His fictional heir, Prince Alek, hides his identity and takes refuge with the Clankers, who battle with machines driven by steam. Young Deryn, a girl, disguises herself as a boy and joins the Darwinists, creators of great battle animals such as the Leviathan through genetic engineering. When the Leviathan airship crashes on a mountaintop, Alek is captured by the Darwinists and ultimately finds himself looking for ways to save his former enemies, helping them repair the Leviathan by utilizing Clanker technology. His fear that their creatures are evil decreases as he discovers the symbiotic world that is Leviathan: bats, birds, glowworms, sniffers ... and enemy soldiers who are just as idealistic and virtuous as he is. The war is soon full on, and a great cliffhanger ending leaves readers wondering which way it will go.

Is it any good?

A brilliant imagination and a sense of humor have blended in this excellent example of steampunk. This alternative history throws in historical figures such as Winston Churchill and Nora Darwin Barlow, quotes the poet Goethe, and sets the coming-of-age stories of Prince Alek and Deryn, young airman of the Darwin army, on a parallel course of nonstop adventure. The political intrigue and momentum of war brewing only add to the compelling plot and very likable characters.

There is much humor, fantasy, and innovation in this historical setting. Westerfield has included a long afterword that defines what is fictional and what is fact. Gender roles are even tossed: Deryn is the swashbuckling, risk-taking one, while Alek is the sensitive, war-adverse prince. The author is bound to win over plenty of fans who will doubtless be clamoring for the sequel.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what is real in this account and what is fiction. What were the real causes of the first World War? Were there misperceptions and political motives beyond a real need for war?

  • Is there bioengineering going on today? What kinds of creatures, if any, are being attempted? What are the ethics of such genetic engineering?

  • Deryn had to disguise her gender in order to serve in the military in 1914. Why did she want to serve? How else was life different for women 100 years ago?

  • The great Leviathan is a miracle of engineered animals working together in a very symbiotic relationship. Alek and his protectors form a similarly symbiotic relationship with Deryn and the crew of the Leviathan. Can you think of other instances, in fiction or history, where such relationships have formed?

Book details

For kids who love fantasy and adventure

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