by Scott Westerfeld and Keith Thompson
(October 5th, 2010, Simon Pulse)
The Leviathan and her crew have finally landed in Constantinople. But what starts off as a diplomatic mission to sway the Sultan into remaining at least formally neutral during the war soon descends into attempted revolution. With Germans controlling the Ottomans behind the scenes, Deryn and Alek – with the assistance of some new allies – must fight with all their wits to turn the tide of the war.
Some of what made Leviathan so excellent is still present in this volume. The book starts off well, succinctly recapping previous events without ever resorting to info-dumps. The characters, although somewhat inconsistent, are almost as likeable as they were in the first book. Alek especially further develops into the leader that he one day can be. The addition of the “perspicacious loris” Bovril to the cast was great. Throughout the book, he succeeds in bringing much-needed humor and levity to the story. I also liked Dr. Barlow, whose scheming was both highly amusing and interesting.
As in Leviathan, Scott Westerfeld’s presented a very well-researched book that deftly mixes fact with fiction to good effect. Details like the weapons used, for instance, are just as fantastic.
There are some very moving episodes. Chief among them is Deryn’s account of her father’s death, which further explains Deryn’s character and endears her to the reader.
But the biggest draw here is that Behemoth really ends with a bang. The battle at the finale is stellar – delivering plenty of nonstop action – and was a welcome change for the throwaway action earlier in the book.
Despite some good points, this book fails to gain much traction. The plot lacks a visible conflict early on, and frankly, the basis of the events of the book is never sufficiently explained, as least to my mind. The action sequences in the first half of the book seem gratuitous, and are consequently boring. The colorful locale, which should have been an attraction, also feels oddly flat, despite being evidently well-researched.
Unfortunately, there are some glaring character inconsistencies as well. Alek is repeatedly sexist and although that can be justified, at least partially, by the time and manner in which he was raised, it undermines his likeability and intelligence nonetheless. That being said, it’s only fair to note that Alek learns to respect women’s prowess on the field by the end. Although it’s great to have a young female character that is intelligent, accomplished and taken seriously by others, Lilit is quite unlikeable. Her thoughtless brutishness and rudeness, at the start of the story especially, is grating and undermines the many legitimate things she has to say.
But I think it’s reasonable to say that the thing that most annoyed me was the characters reactions to death. What began in the first book as a certain obliviousness to dangers of war has become an unrealistic, cavalier disregard for life. For example, Deryn’s reaction to the death and capture of the men under her command is completely ridiculous and again, inconsistent with her character. Her uppermost worry isn’t that some of these men have perished or are no doubt going to be tortured. Rather, it seems to be her selfish desire to have done better that bothers her!
In spite of – and perhaps because of – its excellent predecessor, Behemoth falls flat. Suffering from sophomore lag and a lack of a cohesive plot, this mildly entertaining volume may be necessary reading for those already invested in the series, but it’s unlikely to make it many new fans.
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