It’s all aboard the mighty airship Leviathan once more for this second instalment of Scott Westerfeld’s steampunk trilogy. Set against events which bare a passing resemblance to those of the early months of the Great War, Behemoth picks up where its predecessor left off. The airbeast Leviathan arrives in the bustling splendour of Istanbul, a melting pot of cultures and allegiances on which both Clanker and Darwinist powers have designs. Prince Aleksander – aka Alek – heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is still on the run from his German Clanker enemies, whilst Deryn – aka Dylan – Sharp, a girl commoner is holding onto her disguise as a boy serving in the British Air Service on the Darwinist side. Deryn and the crew of the Leviathan are on a mission to deliver a secret cargo to the Sultan, hoping to end the war once and for all. But their assignment fails to go to plan, and soon, both Alek and Deryn find themselves on the run in enemy territory.
This is not an easy book to tackle if you haven’t read the first instalment of the trilogy. Westerfield pitches the reader too precipitously into the action to allow for much catching up time. This is a full-on weird world of krakens and iron walkers; golems and gyrothopters; lady boffins and spice-wielding revolutionaries; vitriolic barnacles and perspicacious lorises, all conjured up for us visually by Keith Thompson’s intricate illustrations. The novel is all but over by the time the awesome Behemoth can be brought to bear against the German warships. But what we have in the meantime is a terrific twisting tale, by turns charming, sinister and monstrously inventive. And the story isn’t over yet.