The world of Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy is mind-bogglingly original. It recasts World War I as a battle between nations wielding steampunk warmachines and living beasts. The two protagonists, Alek, the on-the-run heir to an empire, and Deryn, a girl disguised as a male solider and the strongest female hero this side of Holly Short, have a will-they-won’t-they relationship of Austenian proportions.
When I first read the books, I couldn’t stop extolling the vibrancy of the world that Westerfeld had created. Every person who stood still long enough got an earful of the dashing adventures aboard the living airship, the Leviathan, and the delightfully infuriating manner in which Westerfeld strings along Deryn’s secret life as Alek hovers ever closer to the truth. Just look at the trailer! How could you not want to dive into the book?
My mother got the biggest dose of my Leviathan mania during daily phone calls. And at the time I was devouring the books, we were also in the midst of selecting new books for our book club — and it was Mom who suggested that I throw Leviathan into the ring. And I laughed at her until I realized she was serious, that she’d been drawn into the stories by my never-ending praise.
I was hesitant for purely superficial reasons. My bookclub is made up of former and current elementary school teachers (and me, a journalist who weaseled her way in through her mother). They are all funny, smart, sharp people who love to read. But their taste in book club selections skew heavily to realistic fiction. It took me well over a year to convince them to read Hunger Games, which they all love-love-loved (how could they not?).
And now you want me to pitch an alternative history fantasy steampunk story at them?
For some bizarre reason, they went for it and scheduled the whole series for our Dec/Jan reads. And I’ve been gnawing at fingernails ever since. These are the sorts of books that I need people to love in order to reaffirm my nearly psychotic level of adoration for them. But at our last meeting, the reviews were coming in, and they weren’t so hot — for precisely the reason I thought they wouldn’t be.
The world just doesn’t work. It goes into the recesses of the brain where logic sits and just spins there, being shredded. They’d taken to the Hunger Games just fine, with its barely-scifi level of post-apocalyptic technology. But Leviathan is another beast entirely, one that slams up against their ability to suspend disbelief.
We’ve likely all had these encounters in books where the story is lovely, but the world is so out of whack that you can’t focus. The most recent for me was Divergent, with its odd socioeconomic structure that was utterly untenable. The world was so distracting that I almost couldn’t concentrate on the story; it made the whole process of reading highly unenjoyable.
So I understand what my fellow book clubbers are going through, but it’s just tearing at my little book-obsessed heart. I can only hope that by book two, they will be just as in love with the story as I am.
What about you, Canaries? Has there ever been a book whose world was so crazy that you couldn’t enjoy it? Or what about the reverse — ever have a book you love poo-pooed by others because they simply couldn’t settle into the world?