Thursday, January 6, 2011

Book Review: Behemoth

Back in October I was checking out Scott Westerfeld’s list of tour stops and was astonished to find that he had one scheduled in Raleigh (not too far from where I live) and, better yet, it was during my fall break so I’d have a chance to see him. I squeed, was annoyed when none of my friends could make it, and checked online to see what the book signing policy was at the bookstore. They said you had to purchase a copy of his latest book and that would give you a ticket determining your place in line (so the earlier you ordered it the higher your place in line). Did that, since I didn’t want to get home too late, got to the signing late (stupid state fair traffic) and found that the bookstore wasn’t enforcing the “you must buy here to get books signed” rule. Lovely, but it was certainly fun to hear him talk and have the world of Behemoth explained just a little bit more.

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld, illustrated by Keith Thompson

Summary: Continuing from where the first book, Leviathan, left off, the Leviathan is resuming it’s course towards Turkey to complete the mysterious diplomatic mission it was entrusted with. But with the war gearing up both Deryn and Alek need to be extra careful in Clanker territory, and end up getting into more trouble than normal as a result.

The Good: One thing that I love about this series (and Westerfeld’s Uglies series) is how much world building he puts into it. The illustrations certainly help, and I know he goes out and does research to make the setting feel more real, but he has a very clear idea of what everything looks like and knows how to go about describing it.

The Bad: It’s not something that bothered me while reading the book but there is something just a bit odd about Deryn and Alek. Both of them are interesting characters to read about, have explained backstories, and act in according with their basktories, but they still seem a little flat. Neither of them has gone through a lot of character development yet (Alek more so than Deryn) so perhaps they feel odd since we don’t see them maturing. Learning more about the world and acting upon what they learn? Yes, but it doesn’t seem to change their characters. It may be that they started off a bit too mature in the previous book (ie, there’s not a lot about them that will change by the time they finish growing up) and they certainly aren’t unlikable characters, but I find myself reading the book more for it’s setting than for the actual characters or plot.

The Art: Yes, this is actually an illustrated book and it never fails to amuse me when first time readers in the series then declare that all books should have illustrations in them*. And I really do love the illustrations, there’s at least one small illustration per chapter (I believe there are about fifty total with one two page spread) and I like Thompson’s style quite a bit. I’m not sure what to compare it to (the way he draws noses reminds me of the Puffs tissues commercials but that’s the only thing his art reminds me of) but it is super detailed, often breaks the borders on the page and really adds to the story. If there was a book that was just extra illustrations from the story (and I think I may have heard there will be one) I would buy it in a heartbeat and spend hours staring at the illustrations.

I really did enjoy this book and I would have bought it anyway, I just wish I could have waited and used a coupon on it instead, $19 for a single book is a bit pricey for me. Still, it’s a pretty book and now I need to get my friends to read the series as well.

*It amuses me since this is what I’ve been saying for years, why else do I read so many manga/comics?