Shortcut #40: Behemoth

And so I question: Be he moth?  Or be he man?

Please write your answers down in a clear script and then turn over your test papers, the answer is at hand.  Please hold your tongues and listen, because now we are going to present an example of the long-maligned and mis-labored Shortcut that has been so very absent from these pages.  Today, we will be talking about

Shortcut #40: Scott Westerfeld’s Behemoth

Behemoth cover

and wringing all we can from its deliciously-typed 485 pages.

I have torn through both Leviathan and Behemoth.  A few weeks ago I went on a Young Adult book-buying binge and bought Behemoth, M. T. Anderson’s Octavian Nothing, and Rick Yancey’s The Monstrumologist all in one fell swoop.

[Now I’m realizing that these are all books by men and that there are, indeed, only three books, which does not a binge make.  I have no excuses.  I’m holding no hidden cards.  You may pillory me now.]

Megan took The Monstrumologist under her wing and did not come up for air until it was cold and dead and motionless at her feet.  I grasped Behemoth in my hot little hands and did not stop reading until the day was done and begun again.  And the book was finished.

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation &c, &c is still being read and, at this present moment, looks to be finished today just in time for the non-Pox party tonight.

But it has taken me much longer to read Anderson’s book than Westerfeld’s.

For a long time, this bothered me.  In fact, it still does, in some primal manner.  I find Octavian Nothing to be immensely more complicated of a book, both in plot and in construction.  The style is so woven into the substance that it is impossible for me to simply be carried along by the plot.  I find Anderson’s storytelling more comprehensive of all my faculties – and I was about to go into exactly what I mean about Octavian Nothing, but this is a shortcut about Behemoth and Anderson will have to wait his turn.

But, as you can probably surmise from the above, I feel that Westerfeld’s writing – at least in The Leviathan Trilogy – is a little simple.  Maybe this is a reflection (reading backwards into things) of his books being aimed at 12+ while Anderson’s Octavian Nothing is a 14+ book.  And I haven’t read any other of Westerfeld’s books, so I don’t know if this is indicative of his writing for young adults in general or is particular to this series, but I’m always left a little, I don’t know, unfulfilled.

To bring in another author who is certainly not under discussion at the moment, I’ll say that I never felt this way about Lemony Snicket.  A Series of Unfortunate Events was certainly aimed at younger readers, but I always felt fully engaged – all of my brain and my soul – in the work.  With The Leviathan Trilogy, that hasn’t been the case.

Now, at this point you may be thinking, Oy, if this here was a review and not a shortcut, this would be a panning of the highest order!

But that’s not the case.  What I’m trying to do is figure out why I feel this way about Westerfeld’s books when I in fact like them very much.  So much, in fact, that if I pre-ordered books I’d pre-order the last in the trilogy because I know that when it comes out I’ll be buying it, and I’ll be buying it in hardcover.

[Partially, that hardcover buy is simply because the books are so beautiful.  The cover design is wonderful, the feel and look of the dustjackets is top notch, and the illustrations… oh, the illustrations are glorious.  I know that the paperback will have (it better!) the same Keith Thompson illustrations from inside the book, but I don’t know if they’ll have the propaganda poster that so perfectly serves as the endpapers of the hardcover.  Lastly, there’s simply the heft of the book, the solid, comforting weight of it in the hand.]

Though that heft is part of why I think I downgrade the books.

Why I like the books: The main characters of Deryn (a girl whose snuck into the British Air Service) and Alek (the in-disguise heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire) are so well-realized, their emotions and motivations palpable and impossible to ignore; the imagination girding a this re-visioning of the first World War using steampunk and biotech to embody the opposing sides; the pace of the plot which, to its credit, never lets up, but also never leaves you completely breathless.

Okay, great, but what about that heft crack?  What did you mean by that?

One reason I’m left wanting at the end of each of these books is that the books look big and feel big, but they are artificially inflated.  The text is large and there’s a lot of space on the page.  I get to the end of nearly five hundred pages and I expect an ocean to have washed over me, but in this case, it’s more a step or two into a pool.  It makes me feel that the whole trilogy could have been published as one book.

AND YET here’s the deal: If you like YA literature or you like fantasy & science fiction, you will like The Leviathan Trilogy.

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One Response to Shortcut #40: Behemoth

  1. Pingback: Shortcut #55: The Prince of Mist | An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump

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