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A Reading Group Guide to

The Leviathan Trilogy
By Scott Westerfeld

About the Trilogy

It is the cusp of World War I. The Austro-Hungarians and Germans have their Clankers, steam-driven iron machines loaded with guns and ammunition. The British Darwinists employ genetically fabricated animals as their weaponry. Their Leviathan is a whale airship and the most masterful beast in the British fleet. In this striking, futuristic rendition of an alternate past where machines are pitted against genetically modified beasts, Aleksandar Ferdinand, a Clanker, and Deryn Sharp, a Darwinist, are on opposite sides in the war. But their paths cross in the most unexpected way, and together they embark on an around-the-world adventure, one that will change both their lives forever.

In addition to the three novels, there is The Manual of Aeronautics, a lavishly illustrated, full-color companion. The Manual of Aeronautics is a guide to the inner workings of the Darwinist and Clanker powers. Loaded with detailed descriptions and elaborate illustrations of Darwinist beasties and Clanker walkers, weapons, transport, and uniforms, this manual highlights the international powers that Deryn and Alek encounter throughout their around-the-world adventures. This guide draws back the curtain and reveals the inner depths of Westerfeld’s fascinating alternative world.

Book 1: Leviathan

About the Novel

Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battle-torn war machine and a loyal crew of men. Deryn Sharp is a commoner disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She’s a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered. With World War I brewing, Alek’s and Deryn’s paths cross in the most unexpected ways, taking them on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure that will change both their lives forever.

Prereading Activities

1. The Leviathan trilogy is an example of steampunk. Some students may be unfamiliar with steampunk, or they may have read stories or seen films that fit the category but do not realize it. Here is a brief description:

Steampunk is a literary genre or sub-genre of science fiction that features steam-powered machinery inspired by the industrialized Western civilization during the nineteenth century. Such machinery may be fictional like those found in this series by Scott Westerfeld, or in the works of H. G. Wells. See http://www.steampunk.com/what-is-steampunk/ and http://steampunkscholar.blogspot.com/ for further background information and to learn more about Steampunk. Some terms cited in the story will likely be unfamiliar to most readers. Ask readers to use reference books or electronic research sources to find out as much information as they can about the following: boffin, bulbous, emissary, fortnight, iridescent, Luddite, propaganda, skulduggery, solidarity, sustenance, translucent, and tremulous.

2. Have students work in small groups to research and present a multimedia presentation on the causes of World War I.

Discussion Questions

1. What is Alek doing at the opening of the story that foreshadows events to come?

2. Why does Alek sleep with a knife under his pillow?

3. What kind of relationship does Alek have with Count Volger and Otto Klopp?

4. What was Alek warned of by his father?

5. What shocking news does Count Volger share with Alek?

6. What is Deryn Sharp’s “mad scheme”?

7. Why are Monkey Luddites afraid of Darwinist beasties?

8. What is unique about the Huxley ascender?

9. Why does Alek refuse to believe his parents are dead? How does Count Volger convince him?

10. What kind of airship is the Leviathan? Why was it fabricated?

11. Why does Count Volger tell Alek he matters more than anyone he knows? How did Alek’s father prepare for the coming war?

12. Why does Alek resent the way Count Volger treats him?

13. What does Alek come to appreciate about his men?

14. What is Alek’s inheritance?

15. How does Deryn convince the Leviathan’s officers to make her a temporary middy on the ship?

16. What does Deryn enjoy most about the bosun’s lectures?

17. Why do fabrications make Midshipman Newkirk nervous?

18. How does Deryn feel about Newkirk’s war talk?

19. Why does Alek doubt the headlines he sees in the newspapers about Europe’s solidarity against Serbia?

20. Who does the Leviathan take aboard as a passenger, and what is its destination?

21. What does it mean that the Leviathan is “aerostatic”?

22. Why is Deryn sent to meet Dr. Barlow?

23. What is Dr. Barlow’s unusual traveling companion?

24. What is Deryn concerned that Dr. Barlow might do?

25. What prevents Alek and the Stormwalker from reaching Switzerland?

26. What does Alek do with his saber?

27. What role do bees have on the Leviathan?

28. Where does Count Volger take Alek?

29. What secrets does Count Volger reveal to Alek at the castle?

30. What is Alek’s reaction to the sight of the Leviathan?

31. What awful stories had Alek heard about Darwinist creations?

32. Under what circumstances do Alek and Deryn meet?

33. Why does Alek say it was “madness to try to cross the gulf between his world and theirs”?

34. How does Alek react when he discovers he is inside an animal? What do Dr. Barlow and Dylan think of his reaction?

35. How is hydrogen for the Leviathan produced?

36. Why is Alek surprised about the Leviathan heading for the Ottoman Empire?

Postreading Activities

1. Have students work in small groups to research the following references in the novel and share their findings with the rest of the class: Balkan Wars, battles of Nelson, Charles Darwin, DNA, theories of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Aldous Huxley, Maxim gun, thylacine, and Zeppelins.

2. Look at the map of Europe by Keith Thompson and discuss its symbolism.

3. Create a chronology of events from the story.

4. List what animals are mentioned in the novel and describe their role and/or impact in the story.

5. Compose an acrostic poem describing Darwinist or Clanker.

6. Create a crossword or word search puzzle based on animals, beasties, characters, events, and machines in the novel. See http://www.discoveryeducation.com/free-puzzlemaker/ and http://www.crosswordpuzzlegames.com/.

7. Illustrate a favorite incident or scene from the novel.

8. Retell a favorite episode from the novel in your own words.

9. Create a WANTED poster for Alek.

10. Design a map of Deryn’s and Alek’s respective journeys with captions and images highlighting important events.

11. Identify three problems in the story and explain how they are resolved.

12. Write a “How to” guide for an activity depicted in the story, such as running in a Walker or riding safely in a Huxley.

13. If you included yourself in the story, who would you be? Why?

14. Create thumbnail sketches of characters from Leviathan, including both physical and character traits. Label the character traits you attribute by citing dialogue or events from the story.

15. Write a brief essay in which you explain the differences between Clanker and Darwinist societies.

Book 2: Behemoth

About the Novel

The Behemoth is the fiercest creature in the British navy. It can swallow enemy battleships with one bite. The Darwinists will need it, now that they are at war with the Clanker Powers. Deryn is a girl posing as a boy in the British Air Service, and Alek is the heir to an empire posing as a commoner. Finally together aboard the airship Leviathan, they hope to bring the war to a halt. But when disaster strikes the Leviathan's peacekeeping mission, they find themselves alone and hunted in enemy territory. Alek and Deryn will need great skill, new allies, and brave hearts to face what’s ahead.

Prereading Activities

1. Some terms cited in the story will likely be unfamiliar to most readers. Ask readers to use reference books or electronic research sources to find out as much information as they can about the following: amenable, automaton, colonnade, conspicuous, countenance, halberd, imperious, impertinence, improvisation, keelhaul, luminous, maelstrom, malady, nascent, parley, perspicacious, primordial, scimitar, sinuous, surreptitious, translucent, tumult, undulating, vitriolic, voluminous, and wan.

2. Have students work in small groups to research and present a multimedia presentation on the major conflicts that occurred in one of the World War I theaters of engagement: Africa, Middle East, Eastern Front, Pacific, and Western Front. Students should cite all sources consulted.

Discussion Questions

1. What does Deryn observe about Alek when they are fencing?

2. Why does Deryn think it is unfair to think of Alek as an enemy?

3. Why does Alek have reservations about joining in the attack on the ironclads?

4. What are the fléchette bats?

5. In what way is the Leviathan an ecosystem?

6. What new weapon does Klopp see the ironclad armed with? What can the weapon do?

7. What is the “diplomatic ruckus” that the Leviathan is sent to Constantinople to sort out?

8. What bad news does Captain Hobbes share with Alek? How do Alek and Volger respond to the news?

9. What is Deryn’s impression of Constantinople?

10. According to Dr. Barlow, how are the Ottomans different from other Clankers?

11. In what way are Americans an “odd bunch”?

12. What is “the biggest story in Istanbul”?

13. What does Alek see hatch in the machine room? How is his reaction to it different from other Darwinist creatures?

14. What is Dr. Barlow’s explanation of a behemoth?

15. What prompts Dr. Barlow to gasp in horror in the sultan’s throne room?

16. What offer does Dr. Barlow make to the sultan that shocks Deryn?

17. Why does Alek decide to talk to Malone?

18. Who is Zaven and what group is he a part of?

19. What is important about the Dardanelles Strait?

20. Why does Deryn feel like more of a spy than a soldier?

21. In what way is the Orient Express “a strange crossbreed of Ottoman and German design”?

22. Why is Deryn suspicious of Bovril?

23. Why does Dylan disagree with Alek’s idea of telling the Committee of the new developments?

24. What is Lilit’s plan to destroy the Tesla cannon?

25. Why does Deryn find it “hardest of all . . . being so close to Alek, while still hiding from him”?

26. What does Volger’s news of the pope’s death mean for Alek’s plans?


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