It was my plan to only start the Steampunk Challenge at the beginning of 2011 (it runs from Oct 10 to Oct 11), but I just got too excited to wait. I’ve recently got my hands on the audiobooks of Leviathan and Behemoth – books 1 and 2 of the Leviathan series – both read by the fabulous Alan Cumming. (And now just a little interlude to say how I just love Cumming’s character in The Good Wife. You’re never exactly sure what he’s up to, but he sure keeps you interested! I’m only sorry that they’ve decided to go for the American accent instead of maintaining his native Scottish). Talking of accents, what the audiobook gives you in richness of accents, it losses in the lack of images (available on the paper editions). I’m even tempted to actually buy the books just because of them.

Imagine a world where Darwin discovers a way to manipulate genes and starts creating fantastic mutant creatures. While he does this in England, other countries in Europe develop advanced machines. These two technologies become different economic philosophies and ultimately opposite ways of life. When the death of Franz Ferdinand (and another wee interlude just to say that Franz Ferdinand in Antwerp was my favorite concert of 2009) in 1914 triggers WWI, it becomes a fight between the English – the Darwinists, and the Germans – the Clankers.

Throughout the two books we follow the lives of two teenagers on difference sides of the fence: Aleksander, Ferdinand’s only son and heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne goes into exile to preserve his birthright, and Deryn Sharp, a Scottish commoner, disguises herself as a boy to fulfill her dream of serving in the British Air Service.

The best thing about the series is how Westerfeld mixes reality and an alternative past (or is future?). At the end of both audiobooks, he even makes a short comment on what’s fiction and what’s History. Actually, it’s a strangely effective way to learn. For instance, although you’re following the adventures of the passengers aboard a floating, living whale filled with hydrogen, you still find out lots of stuff about the history of Istanbul when the war broke out.

Deryn in particular is a great heroine, full of spark and sense of humor and I swear that by the end of the book I was already saying to myself “barking spiders!” or to people “are you barking mad?” with the heaviest of Glaswegian accents 😀

The second book ends with a cliffhanger worst than the first, so I’ll have to wait for the next to see how the story ends… or at least I hope so. Dear Mr. Westerfeld, please don’t drag the story too long. Pretty please?