Review posted March 5, 2011.
Simon Pulse, New York, 2010. 481 pages.
Behemoth is the second book in "the Leviathan Trilogy," and as such, you really should read Leviathan first. Once you do, you'll be pleased with Behemoth. The plot threads that began in Leviathan get even further entangled in Behemoth.
The trilogy is an alternate history, steampunk version of World War I. The world is divided into two sets of countries: The Clankers, who use steam power to make large and complicated war engines; and the Darwinists, who manipulate DNA to create living beings that serve as powerful vessels of war. In the first book, we followed Alek, the son of the duke and his wife whose murders touched off the war. Alek is the rightful heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, and there are powerful forces that want him dead.
Meanwhile, Deryn has joined the Air Service of Britain, posing as a boy. In the first book, Alek and Deryn became unlikely allies. And could Deryn be falling for Alek? It's an impossible romance: In the first place, Alek doesn't know she's a girl, and in the second place, she's a commoner.
In Behemoth, the great living airbeast Leviathan reaches Constantinople. There Alek escapes and Deryn gets sent on a secret mission -- but both of them end up working together with the rebels against the sultan in Istanbul.
There's all kinds of intrigue and adventure in this book, and plot threads intricately weaving together. So far, this trilogy gives a rollicking good read. It presents war in all its complexity from the perspectives of two very likable characters caught up in momentous events. The fantastical machines and incredible creatures add to the fun. This would make an amazing movie, though it would present a huge challenge to moviemakers. You've got something to appeal to almost anyone -- plenty of action combined with characters facing difficult choices and frightening challenges. Good stuff!