First, there was Leviathan. Now, there is Behemoth. Coming soon, could it be Gargantua? Colossus? Ginormity? I'm all a-tingle with anticipation as to what the title of the next book in Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan trilogy will be! Looks like I have to wait a while, though, since Book II, Behemoth, just came out last month.(Actually, I already know that Book III is going to be titled Goliath.) In addition to giving his books the best titles ever, Scott Westerfeld makes sure that the stories don't disappoint. I don't think one should tackle Behemoth without first reading Leviathan. The first book provides the exposition for the series, and the reader should have an understanding of the alternate history that Westerfeld has set up before plunging into the Dardanelles with Behemoth. Now, when I reviewed Leviathan back in February, I was rebuked by a fair reader for placing the book in the genre of steampunk. Well, here I go again, calling it steampunk to my heart's content, particularly since that's what Westerfeld himself calls it (as well as School Library Journal). There is enough steam used in the machines of Behemoth to convince me that steampunk it is.
Behemoth begins just where Leviathan left off, with the Darwinist beast-ship Leviathan racing toward Istanbul as World War I rages. Still aboard the Leviathan are Midshipman Deryn/Dylan Sharp, a tough-as-nails teenaged British girl disguised as a boy, and Alek, royal son of the murdered Archduke Ferdinand, on the run from the Germans who want him dead. Of course, there are epic battles to be had with the Clankers, that is, the Germans and their "mechanikal" war machines. Alek manages to escape the Leviathan and disappear into Istanbul. Here, he joins a revolutionary group set on overthrowing the Turkish sultan. Deryn, meanwhile, is sent on an almost suicidal mission to ensure that the newest Darwinist creation, the enormous and deadly Behemoth, can get through the Dardanelles strait, ensuring a major victory for the British. Finally, Deryn and Alek meet up again in Istanbul and plan their most ambitious mission yet. Both teenagers have a highly personal stake in the war, too: While Alek hopes that he can help bring about peace in Europe and Asia, Deryn hopes that Alek can one day see her as more than a trusted commrade.
In Behemoth, Westerfeld manages an amazing trick: He juggles so many characters and plot threads and action-packed scenes at one time, and he does it so well, that this book is even more of a page turner than Leviathan. The city of Istanbul, the dramatic, exotic, and mysterious center of the Ottoman Empire, comes alive under Westerfeld's pen; its winding alleyways and bustling bazaars almost make the city a character itself. Deryn/Dylan proves to be more clever and capable now than ever, even as her "boyish" facade begins to crumble. And Alek, a naive and sheltered prince in Leviathan, becomes the brave and self-reliant man he wants to be. There are a few rather awkward moments when Deryn, who has fallen in a big way for Alek, has to maintain her disguise in the face of her own hormones, and I think Westerfeld could (um, should?) have avoided the girl-on-(no one knows she's a) girl kiss. But this incident is quickly forgotten as Alek and Deryn work as a brilliant team to defeat the Germans in the all-out battle fo the book's climax.
Behemoth is one of Westerfeld's best novels. Its mix of real and alternative history, of technological wonders and personal human drama, make Behemoth much more than "that book in the middle" of this trilogy. There's something for everyone here: espionage, great escapes, high-speed chases, and even a bit of budding romance, at least from Deryn's perspective. I look forward to Goliath. I know it's going to be, well, big!
*In the interest of full disclosure, Behemoth was sent to me by the publisher, Simon and Schuster. The opinion expressed above, however, is entirely my own.