Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld is the second in a series of which the first is Leviathan. The series is not quite Young Adult but is written for a slightly younger age range. I would put it at 12 – 14 years old but as an adult of considerably more years than that I found it an entertaining read and think that I would have loved it when I was younger.
The book is set at the time of WW1 but in a world that is the same but different from our own. The world is divided into two types of countries distinguished by the type of technology they use. Germany and its allies are Clankers. They make huge machines, often resembling animals, powered by steam. They use the technology we would recognise. Darwinian countries such as England have developed and grown animals which are adapted to perform the same functions as the Clanker’s machines. The two alternative technologies are at war.
Alek is the illegitimate son of the Imperial Emperor of Austria. His parents have been assassinated and he is being pursued with others within the Empire who want to eliminate him because of his claim to the throne, now backed by a letter from the Pope. Alek has led a sheltered life and needs to learn how ordinary people live. He comes accompanied by a tutor and a pair of bodyguards. He is a nice boy who is learning but has been handicapped by his upbringing.
Deryn is the daughter of a hero of the Darwinians. Her father is dead and she wants to be a sailor and serve on the airships. Because she is a girl she has no chance of enlistment so she disguises herself as a boy and becomes a midshipman. Deryn is a practical young woman who is handicapped by her sex.
The story is full of intrigue and excitement and it is best to start at the beginning of the series to follow the story through. I liked the way that the author brought this world to life and also by the way that he makes the majority of her characters likable albeit flawed. I am not fond of books where females have to pretend to be males but I think that this book deals with this issue well.
Alek and Deryn are an intrepid pair who have enjoyable adventures and are always beginning to understand more about who they are and how similar they really are to people who appear on the surface to be very different. A fun read.