Behemoth, by Scott Westerfeld. New York: Simon Pulse, 2010.
In Behemoth, Westerfeld returns to the alternate history he began in Leviathan, continuing the story of Deryn Sharp, a girl posing as a boy in the British Air Service, and Alek, the exiled and hunted heir to an empire. This alternate world is home to Darwinist countries, including Britain, who are at war with the Clanker countries, led by Germany. Darwinists have mastered genetic engineering, breeding “beasties” that are adapted to perform as living machines, while Clankers call such creatures abominations and base their technology on steam-driven machines.
Though Behemoth is the second book in a trilogy, it has its own vital storyline and does not fall into the middle book trap of serving only as a bridge between the first and last volumes. Deryn’s and Alek’s adventures in Istanbul radically impact the Ottoman Empire’s government and the balance of power in the war. Deryn’s ongoing masquerade as Dylan becomes ever harder to sustain. And Alek’s escape from Leviathan leads him to a partnership with a local revolutionary group. Deryn’s growing attraction for Alek also entangles her in the rebel conspiracy, leading to an explosive climax.
Westerfeld’s characterizations are vivid, with even minor characters fully developed and engaging. Readers will be hard-pressed to forget the shrewd Nene in her clockwork bed. The setting comes to life with dynamic descriptions of Istanbul and the various beasties and machines Alek and Deryn encounter. One minor criticism is that the portrayal of Deryn’s double identity occasionally feels strained. Overall, however, Westerfeld has again produced an exciting, well-written adventure that will leave fans eager for the next installment.