Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Leviathan

Go To

"Choose your weapon: Clanker or Beastie"

Leviathan is a book series (and the first book in the series) by Scott Westerfeld that takes place in an alternate version of World War I Europe. Some of the differences are that Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife are assassinated in the evening, as opposed to the afternoon, they have only one son... Oh, and Germans and Austrians use giant Walkers to fight the British and French Fabricated Animals. Obviously, he took liberties with history.

In this version of history, when Charles Darwin came up with the theory of evolution, he also discovered the 'threads of life', or DNA - and, more importantly, how to manipulate them and construct new creatures. Fast forward 50 years, and you find London crawling with fabricated elephants and giant oxen instead of cars, and gecko/parrot hybrids are used to send messages.

The series follows two characters - the Archduke's son, Prince Aleksandar, who is whisked off on the night of his parents' assassination to a secret hideaway in the Alps before his enemies can assassinate him. The second character is a girl, Deryn Sharp, who poses as a boy in order to join the British Air Service and eventually finds herself aboard the Leviathan, a massive Flying Whale Airship that is bound for the Ottoman Empire with one Dr. Nora Barlow, a Boffinnote  and her very secretive cargo. As a war between the fabricated animal-using "Darwinists" (not like that) and Walker-using "Clankers" looms, Alek soon finds himself aboard the Leviathan as his enemies close in.

A second book, Behemoth, was released October 5, 2010. The last book in the trilogy, Goliath, was released on September 20th, 2011. Westerfeld also wrote a bonus "fanfiction" chapter on his blog and commissioned a new piece of art for Christmas 2011. Finally, a companion book titled The Manual of Aeronautics, featuring full-colour illustrations of the creatures and machines from the series (and several that weren't), was published in 2012.

Not to be confused with Leviathan, the third novel in the Illuminatus! trilogy, nor the magnum opus of Thomas Hobbes, nor Boris Akunin's detective novel Murder on the Leviathan. If you are looking for the novel about a British aircraft carrier, this is HMS Leviathan.

Provides examples of:

  • Ace Pilot: When it comes to Stormwalkers. Master Otto Klopp, who is, according to Alek, "the best master of mechaniks in Austria". And Alek's quite the pilot, too - he's mastered night-walking.
  • Action Girl: Deryn and Lilit.
  • All for Nothing: It is implied by evidence observed and collected by Dr. Barlow and the Zoological Society that Goliath was not the Doomsday Device Tesla claimed it to be, the destruction in Siberia having been caused by a meteor. Because of this, both all of the time and effort Alek and the crew of the Leviathan put into helping Tesla would have been all for nothing, and that Alek really didn't save Deryn and hundreds of others by killing him. When Deryn is guilt tripped into telling him this fact, Alek confesses that he still does not regret his actions because even then he made a decision that would have saved her and Berlin anyway.
  • Almighty Janitor: Adela Rogers' view of Deryn.
  • Alternate History: Armored vehicles pre-1916, the Archduke having only one child, the Archduke being assassinated at night, Darwin discovering genetics and DNA, etc.
    • The ending of the series distances it even further from our timeline: the War ends on fairly amiable and equal terms instead of a Treaty of Versailles analogue (although the US still ends up joining the Darwinists). The Russian Revolution never happens, Austria-Hungary seems to have all but usurped Germany as head of the Clanker nations, Britannia still rules the waves and the odds of a parallel World War II happening are pretty slim. Although the Ottomans are mentioned as having undergone a revolt and there remains concern with the Japanese.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Lilit kisses Deryn full on the lips at the end of Behemoth, and it's heavily implied that she knew Deryn was a girl all along.
  • Ambiguous Situation: The nature of Tesla's Goliath device, which the entire plot of the third book revolves around, is never revealed. It is implied to be an extremely powerful magnetic device weaponizing comets and meteors, but the characters refuse to cede that much credit to Tesla. Likewise, most characters instead believe Tesla was insane and his Goliath device completely bunk. The fact of the matter is that The Tunguska Event happened right after Tesla tested the device and that the sky over England changed colors when he tested it again later. No hard evidence is put forth regarding whether those were atmospheric coincidences that Tesla shamelessly took credit for in his madness, or legitimate results of his experimentation. Because Tesla was killed and his device destroyed, those answers are forever lost In-Universe.
  • Animalistic Abomination: Most Clankers see fabricated beasties as "godless abominations". The Behemoth counts as well.
  • April Fools' Day: On April 1st, Scott Westerfeld "revealed" a piece of art from ''Goliath'' featuring Lilit and Deryn getting married, with Alek crashing through the wall on a giant mech. The art was part of a gag with the book's illustrator.
  • Artistic License – Linguistics: "Aleksandar" is the Croatian version of the name Alexander (which is the same in German as it is in English). No self-respecting German Austrian noble, much less a member of the ruling House of Habsburg, would think of giving their child a name in the language of one of their subjects.
  • Artistic License – Physics: This is a given, but the series is curiously un-evenhanded about it. For some reason, whether you prefer steampunk (villainous) or biopunk (heroic) tends to arbitrarily determine how far along the morality scale you are. The machines used by the villainous Central Powers hew close to real-world physics and hydraulics, and are unwieldy and inefficient because of it. However, the Allies are able to use super-obedient, super-genetically enhanced monstrosities, who move with a grace and cleanliness and are presented without irony as superior to mechanics in every way.
    • The biggest discrepancy is that living creatures should be ridiculously fuel-inefficient, far more so than diesel powered engines. Nevertheless, the Allies' biggest advantage is the quantity and diversity of fabricated creatures they can draw on, while the Central Powers' wear-and-tear and reliance on fuel is repeatedly pointed out and exploited. This did work against the Leviathan after the mountainside crash: the living parts of the airship needed food, not spare parts, and there was no food to be had where they were.
    • The upkeep required of large numbers of military-standard living animals would also be a logistical nightmare, but the fabricated creatures just keep recycling their own waste, keeping themselves clean, and remaining in their designated habitats even during crisis conditions. If applying the same level of realism that is displayed by the Clanker powers, the streets of Darwinist countries should be paved with feces.
    • Charles Darwin is also relegated to a sort of scientific Ubermensch, developing not only evolutionary theory, but also discovering DNA and genetic extraction, manipulation, and insertion, all under primitive microscopesnote .
    • On the other hand, the Clanker powers field Humongous Mecha in large numbers on the outset of the war (with all the weaponry that implies), are building functioning lightning guns by the second book (capable of destroying the Leviathan and other airbeasts in a single shot), and are shown to adapt quickly against Darwinist weaponry (kraken-fighting arms mounted on their ships, using flamethrowers to startle and chase off flechette bats). There's also the fact that mounting a couple of Clanker engines on the Leviathan makes the ship faster than its Darwinist motivator engines ever did (their unwieldiness attributed to hasty installation rather than inherent to mechaniks).
  • Attractive Bent-Gender: Judging from the illustrations, Deryn makes a damn fine guy and girl.
    • Alek and Lilit vouch for this as well.
  • Bait-and-Switch Sentiment:
    Alek: What I'm really trying to say, Dylan, is that I think I'm in love... with the ship.
  • Bears Are Bad News:
    • It's mentioned that Russia uses genetically-engineered bears. Russia is also drawn as a giant, rotting bear on the inside cover maps.
    • As of Goliath, we have seen the bears; not only are they huge, it also turns out everything's even worse with starving bears.
  • Beta Couple: Dr. Barlow and Volger, it seems.
  • Big Damn Kiss: Alek and Deryn atop the Leviathan.
    • With a followup in the bonus chapter, close up this time.
  • Bilingual Backfire: Played with. Dr. Barlow pretends not to speak German in the hopes of tricking Alek and Volger into thinking it is safe for them to discuss their secrets in German in her presence.
  • Bio Punk: Darwinists.
  • Biotech Is Better: Somehow Fabricated Beasts are almost always portrayed as better than Clankers despite the problems listed above under Artistic License Physics. A couple of times, the titular living airship takes on Clanker planes and zeppelins two-to-one and wins. Of course, it's packed with flechette bats and strafing hawks that can Zerg Rush the Clankers and breed reinforcements for the next battle.
  • Bioweapon Beast: The entirety of the Allied forces is made out of these, counting things like airships created from very heavily modified whales, house-sized war bears, ship-sinking krakens and behemoths, and the amphibious flesh-eating kappa. There's even mention of fabricated beasts derived from dinosaurs. Some are created for more mundane activities than open combat, however, such as elephant and mammoth derivatives used as beasts of burden.
  • Body Horror: Great googly moogly! The story itself isn't quite so much in this category, the descriptions are not by any means disgusting. However, the books have pictures. Special mention goes to Deryn's compress after she busts up her knee. It is some kind of fabricated beast that extends its tentacles into her knee to fix torn ligaments, and if she tries to put weight on her leg it sounds and feels like she has a swarm of angry wasps in her knee. It's one of the few places where the description in the text is worse than the pictures.
  • Bonding over Missing Parents: Sharing the pain of having dead parent(s) is one of the things that help Alek and Dylan/Deryn grow closer.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Every time Deryn comes close to admitting to Alek that she's a girl, either she cannot go on for fear that telling him the truth will upend their friendship (it does for a while after he finds out), or something conveniently ends the conversation. This behaviour is lampshaded by Alek himself.
  • Catchphrase: "Barking spiders!" might as well be one for Deryn, considering how much she says it. And Bovril has "Mr. Sharp!", usually followed by giggles.
    • "...a barking prince," is used quite a bit.
    • Dummkopf! (At least in Behemoth.)
  • Caught in the Rain: Goliath takes this to extremes when Alek and Deryn are stuck in a flood on top of the ship.
  • Chariot Pulled by Cats: The Darwinists use a large variety of bio-engineered creatures as chariot-pullers and beasts of burden. Among those seen are elephantines and mammothines (presumably modified elephants and mammoths) as well as a cart pulled by a pair of wolf-tiger hybrid creatures.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Tesla's electric walking stick.
  • Comically Missing the Point: In Behemoth, while drinking tea, Deryn calls Volger out on feeling pleased and drinking tea from a fancy cup while Alek is left without allies while in the city of Istanbul. Volger's response is to point out that Deryn's tea cup is the fancy one. His is quite plain.
  • Concussions Get You High: Alek was a bit boggled after slipping and hitting his head on the topside of the Leviathan.
  • Covert Group with Mundane Front: The London Zoological Society. In Goliath, Dr. Barlow says that it's involved in a good deal of espionage and offers Deryn a job.
  • Dashingly Dapper Derby: The boffins all wear bowler hats.
  • Deceased Parents Are the Best: Played straight with Deryn's da, who she adored and supported her dreams of flying. It's less the case with Alek's parents. He angsts less that Deryn does and describes them as selfish for putting their love for one another before the stability of the royal family and the empire.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Alek is rather sexist, much to Dylan/Deryn's chagrin. After meeting Lilit, however, he's started to improve, and finding out that Deryn is a girl in Goliath also does a lot to change his mind. Subverted by Zaven, who is extremely enthusiastic about equal rights for women, but played straight in that most people think he's a Cloudcuckoolander because of it.
  • Dramatic Irony: Close to tears, Alek wishes Dr. Barlow would leave because he doesn't want to cry in front of a woman. Instead, Dr. Barlow asks "Mr. Sharp" to take care of him... and Alek spends the following chapter sobbing on "his" shoulder.
  • Dull Surprise: Invoked by Dr. Barlow, who makes a point of never showing surprise or astonishment. Her reaction to learning Deryn's gender is so placid Deryn thinks she already knew and Barlow has to tell her it's a huge shock.
  • Establishing Character Moment: When we first meet Tesla, he reveals that he killed his own airship and fed it to feral Russian fighting bears so that he could stay in Siberia to continue his research. A while later, the party is attacked by the giant Russian bears. Everyone else scrambles for cover, but Tesla stands dead still as they charge him, and when he's only seconds away from being torn to shreds, fries the lot of them with the lightning cannon hidden in his walking stick.
  • Everyone Can See It: Almost everyone who knows about Deryn's true gender questions her relation to Alek.
  • Evil Uncle: Alek's Granduncle, Emperor Franz Joseph, did not approve of Archduke Franz Ferdinand falling in love with Sophie Chotek, which is why they had to get a morganatic/left-handed marriage...which is why Alek isn't his father's heir.
  • Falling into the Cockpit: Apparently Alek's mother would not have approved of him learning to pilot the Stormwalker unless it was such an emergency.
  • Fascinating Eyebrow: Volger and Deryn know how it's done.
  • Fate Drives Us Together: Alek and Deryn believe this by about halfway through Goliath.
  • Flechette Storm: The Darwinists have beasties designed to take down aircraft this way. They even call them flechette bats.
    Alek: Flechette? Like 'dart' in French?
    Deryn: That sounds right. The bats gobble up these metal spikes, then release them over the enemy.
    Alek: They eat spikes. And then...release them?
    Deryn: *stifles laugh* Aye, in the usual way.
  • Flesh Versus Steel: To a T.
  • Flying Seafood Special: The Leviathan.
  • Follow the Leader: In-universe, The Perils of Pauline inspire a number of movies that sound rather similar. The same thing occurred in real life.
  • Foreign Cuss Word: Alek often breaks off during conversations in English to swear in German.
    Alek: Dummkopf!
  • Future Slang: Future-past Steampunk, occasionally period-accurate slang. Blisters!
  • Giant Robot Hands Save Lives: It's actually how Alek meets the Committee for Union and Progress - Zaven saves him from a long fall from a rooftop gutter. Justified because Zaven caught him before he'd fallen too far.
  • Gilligan Cut: Alek ends one chapter saying he'll be fine carrying Ms. Barlow as long as she doesn't bring her pet along. Next chapter:
    Tazza seemed to enjoy riding in the Stormwalker.
  • Green-Eyed Epiphany: Played With. Alek actually realizes that Deryn is in love with him through Deryn's own jealousy over Lilit.
  • Grey-and-Grey Morality
  • Grow Old with Me: Alek momentarily wants Deryn to live with him in New York away from the troubles of the war.
  • A Handful for an Eye: Deryn takes down the Dauntless' hijackers by throwing strong spices in their faces, incapacitating them via Sensory Overload. It's also how they take down the sultan's walkers at the climax of the book.
  • Hands-On Approach: Alek giving Deryn fencing lessons. She gets a bit flustered, but he thinks nothing of it since he doesn't know she's a girl.
  • Harmony Versus Discipline: Played completely straight in the series. The Darwinists represent Harmony, harnessing nature for war and having a generally more organic aesthetic about them. The Clankers on the other hand represent Discipline, manufacturing whatever they use, with an aesthetic characterised by angularity and general disregard for nature. In fact, the two main characters themselves embody this conflict very neatly. Deryn is very obviously set up as the harmonious one, defying Victorian social conventions (a very Discipline-esque system) by disguising herself as a boy and entering the British Air Service. As a person, she shows little inhibition and respect. Alek, who was raised surrounded by rules, obligations and restrictions, is almost exaggeratedly disciplined: controlled, virtuous and very formal, but unable to adapt and with a certain belief that everything must be planned and predictable.
  • Heroic Sacrifice
    • Before the book, Deryn's Da, who pushes her out of a flaming balloon to save her, at the cost of his own life.
    • Zaven, who electrocutes himself in his mech to bring down the Tesla cannon, thus saving Deryn, Alek, and everyone aboard the Leviathan.
    • To save Deryn's Sweet Polly Oliver identity, Alek reveals himself as the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary.
  • Historical Domain Character: Westerfield makes liberal use of this. There's Emperor Franz Joseph, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, Charles Darwin, Winston Churchill, and The Pope (Pius X... unless it's someone different). For those who appear in person, Darwin's granddaughter Nora Barlow is a major character. Behemoth introduces Wilhelm Souchon, a certain Serbian scientist called Tesla, Pancho Villa, and William Randolph Hearst.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: The Committee of Union and Progress. In the books, they are a rag-tag group of multi-ethnic rebels against the oppressive Ottoman Sultan. In the real world, by the time the books take place, the CUP had already come to power and devolved into a military junta. Invoked, as the author noted in the afterward that he preferred an alternate history with a clear good faction within the Ottoman Empire.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: The Orient Express. Not only is it actually used to ship parts for their Tesla cannon, but it was built with Clanker technology, and so it has giant robot arms.
  • Holding Hands: Dery and Alek throughout Goliath, with varying degrees of romantic subtext.
  • Honour Before Reason: The main reason Clanker warmachines are mechs rather than tanks. Alek finds the idea of them using wheels or treads ridiculous, since they're weapons, not farm equipment (which is pretty funny, since IRL tanks started out as caterpillar-treaded tractors with guns and armor plating slapped on), despite the logistics and mechanics of wheels being far simpler and easier to deal with than walking armatures.
  • Horse of a Different Color: The Darwinist beasties.
  • Humiliating Wager: In the bonus chapter, Deryn and Alek arm wrestle with whoever loses having to go to the Zoological Society's New Year's Eve party dressed as a girl.
  • Humongous Mecha: The Germans and Austrians favor Walking Tanks while the Ottomans and their various subjects use walkers modeled after animals or beings from mythology.
  • Idiot Ball: Alek and Deryn discussing her identity at length with nothing but a hastily-constructed tent to ensure their privacy. In a ravine full of cameras and reporters.
  • I Kiss Your Hand: Alek to Adela Rogers, by her demand. She teases him for not making contact with her skin. Deryn also jokes about it during her goodbye to Alek in New York, but it doesn't actually happen.
  • Improvised Zipline: Deryn is up in a scouting balloon and sees Alek's "family" coming to the shipwreck looking for him in their Stormwalker. The message lizard won't get down the cable in time, so she slings a leather strap over the tether and zips down to camp. It is noted that the odds of one surviving this sort of escape are against you.
  • Insistent Terminology: It's not an iceberg, it's a glacier, Newkirk. Also, Is-tan-bul (not Constantinople).
  • Instant Sedation: The fighting bear experiences the tranquilliser dart's effects seconds after it is hit, highly improbable since the bears are described to be as large as houses.
  • Inter-Class Romance: Alek (rich) and Deryn (poor).
  • It Can Think: Though never explicitly revealed, by the end of Goliath it's implied that the perspicacious lorises are capable of thinking and learning, and are in fact just as intelligent as humans.
    • To a milder extent, the Leviathan. During the encounter with the Goeben in the Mediterranean, the airbeast is shown to sense that the Tesla cannon is dangerous, and causes structural damage in attempting to avoid it. Interestingly, it never does this again— even when Goliath, Tesla's attempt build a Kill Sat out of his eponymous Clanker Lightning Gun is readying to fire nearby.
  • It Will Never Catch On: In the bonus chapter, Alek wonders if women will ever start wearing their hair as short as Deryn's and dismisses the possibility.
  • Jackie Robinson Story: A mild case, all things considered, but Deryn.
  • Kidnapped by an Ally: Volger and Klopp tell Alek his fathers wants him to practice fleeing his home at night with the Stormwalker.
  • King Incognito: Alek, the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary. Although he's the result of a morganaticnote  marriage, Franz Ferdinand went to the Vatican and got a papal dispensation to make Alek heir, although it would only apply after the Emperor's death.
  • Kraken and Leviathan: The eponymous Leviathan isn't actually an example, but krakens, complete with Combat Tentacles, are part of the Darwinists' arsenal. The behemoth is basically a kraken turned up to eleven.
    • In fact, fighting-krakens are apparently common enough in the Darwinist naval forces that some of the Clanker warships are outfitted specifically to combat them, equipped with giant mechanical arms ending in scissor-like claws for severing kraken tentacles.
  • La Résistance: In Istanbul, there is the Committee of Union and Progress which wants to remove the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and replace him with an elected government. They existed in Real Life too, and were successful the first time they tried to overthrow the sultan.
  • The Lad-ette
    • Deryn's this to those who know she's a girl.
    • Lilit's a toned-down ladette.
  • Lady of Adventure: Dr. Barlow, during her time on the Leviathan.
  • LEGO Genetics: The 'Darwinist' Nations can combine the DNA of species like whales and jelly fish. The eponymous Leviathan is supposedly composed of the DNA of hundreds of species, and is more of an ecosystem then a single animal.
  • Lightning Gun: Despite being a self-proclaimed man of peace, Nikola Tesla has created a hodge-podge of powerful weapons that harness lightning, ranging from a cane that can shoot bolts of lightning, Tesla Cannons (watchtower-sized devices that shoot lightning as a means of bringing down air-beasts) and Goliath (a Doomsday Device capable of harnessing the Earth’s electromagnetic field and weaponizing it).
  • Living Gasbag: Hullo, Huxleys...!
  • Living Weapon: Somewhere between this and an Attack Animal with the Fabricated Animals. There are examples of the later (like the flechette bats that you feed them fruits filled with metal needles, then scare them into pooping the needles on enemies) and examples of the former (the Leviathan, an airship that is alive).
  • Love Across Battlelines: Deryn and Alek.
  • Love Makes You Crazy: How Alek feels about his actions during the climax of Goliath.
  • Love Epiphany: Alek realises that he loves Deryn when he kills Tesla not to save Berlin, but to save her.
  • Love Triangle: Type 5: Lilit has a crush on Deryn/Dylan, who likes Alek, who thinks Lilit is attractive but can't have any real feelings for her because she's a commoner. Deryn faces the same problem, with the added stumbling block that as far as Alek knows, she's a boy.
  • Meaningful Name: Though it seems like a case of Aerith and Bob at first glance, Deryn is a real Welsh name...meaning "bird".
  • A Mech by Any Other Name: Walkers. In Istanbul, they also have iron golems (used by the Jews), djinn (used by Arabs), werewolves (Vlachs), and Minotaurs (Greeks).note 
  • Mechanical Horse: Some of the smaller Clanker machines, and the transports featured in Constanti - sorry, Istanbul during Behemoth.
  • Media Scrum: After he arrives in America, Alek's attacked by one.
  • Mini-Mecha: Used for scouting.note 
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: The fabricated animals.
    • Of particular note are the British beasties that are combined with dinosaurs.
  • More Dakka: The Clankers.
    Dr. Barlow: "What the Clankers lack in finesse they make up for in blanket ruination."
  • Motile Vehicular Components: The Orient Express has a pair of mechanical arms to aid in loading and unloading cargo.
  • Multinational Team: The Committee for Union and Progress. They're all living in Istanbul, but individually they are Greeks, Turks, Jews, and more, and they only became united under one purpose recently in Behemoth.
  • Mother Nature, Father Science: Dr. Barlow (a Darwinist boffin) and Nikola Tesla (a Clanker inventor).
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: Everyone seems to think Alek never curses, but when you count all the times it says, "Alek swore" or "Alek cursed softly in German," or anything like that, you can see that he's almost as bad as Deryn. Alek has also mentioned Deryn teaching him how to swear properly in English.
  • Nature vs. Technology: The book series is an Alternate History retelling of World War I. The Central Powers (Germany, Austro-Hungary, and The Ottoman Empire) are here named the Clankers; possessing sufficiently advanced (though not exactly fuel-efficient) Mechs, Spider Tanks and artillery. The Entente Powers (Russia, France, and The British Empire) are known as the Darwinists; having used Charles Darwin's discovery of DNA, their technology takes the form of Bio Punk animals that function as vehicles, weapons, and a wide variety of other things that take the form of machines in Real Life. Other countries beyond the various powers (the Americas being one) use off-hand mixtures of these two conflicting forms of innovation.
  • Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: Flying whale battleships with electric (and later diesel) engines! Flying manta rays with Gatling guns! Robot elephants! Jewish mecha-golems! World War I battleships with Tesla cannons! Walking submersible warships!
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Averted; all the real historical figures who appear (including Dr. Barlow, Nikola Tesla, William Randolph Hearst and Pancho Villa) or get mentioned (Emperor Joseph of Austria, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, Winston Churchill, etc.) are given their real names. And at least one celebrity gets most thoroughly harmed when Alek electrocutes Tesla with his own walking stick.
  • Non Sequitur, *Thud*: Alek has a couple mild ones in Goliath after he bangs his head topside. But it's treated as more worrisome than funny.
  • Not in Front of the Parrot!: Volger in particular is leery of speaking in front of messenger lizards, which are bred to be talented mimics. The perspicacious loris is even better/worse.
  • "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer: Played with in the afterword of each book, where Westerfeld explains that the books are based off of actual events of World War I, and elaborates on which elements are kept mostly the same and which have been altered for the sake of atmosphere.
  • No Periods, Period: According to Scott Westerfeld, "Women back then didn't menstruate as early, and women who pretended to be soldiers often stopped menstruating altogether. (Hard physical exercise and not a lot of food will do that.) So my guess is that she's not having any periods."
  • Oblivious Guilt Slinging: Alek at the end of Goliath, when Deryn is debating whether or not to tell him that Goliath didn't work.
  • Oblivious to Love
    • Alek to Deryn, although justified in that he was under the impression she was a boy. To his credit, he actually puts it together pretty much immediately when he finds out that she's a girl.
    • Deryn to Lilit, too, until Alek tells her.
  • Odd Name Out: The first two novels are named after beasts from Jewish mythology (Leviathan and Behemoth) representing sea and land respectively. The beast representing the sky, Ziz, won't be the name of the third book because it was deemed too obscure and too short. Instead, the third book will be named Goliath. Westerfeld also said on his blog that he thought 'Ziz' wasn't well known enough. Goliath was suggested by a fan. The Goliath isn't a beastie, anyway, so this trope is entirely appropriate.
  • Older Than They Think: The cliff-hanger, in-universe.
  • One-Man Industrial Revolution: Charles Darwin.
  • Organic Technology: Fabricated beasts.
  • Orient Express: Heavily involved in the climax of Behemoth. This version has robot arms and transports military material.
  • Parental Abandonment: Alek's parents are dead (of course) and so is Deryn's da.
  • Plucky Middie: Deryn, Newkirk and the other, briefly seen middies.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Doctor Barlow shows up in several, leaving Deryn wondering where she gets them from.
  • Pinkerton Detective: Apparently, they also provide armed mechs and other services for anyone willing to pay the hefty price tag. The fact that America is neutral in the War probably helps as well.
  • Pursuing Parental Perils: The fact that her father died ballooning has done nothing to diminish Deryn's desire to fly.
  • Real Robot: The walkers run on finite fuel supplies, the difficulties in piloting them in varied terrain are detailed, and they are not at all easy to manage.
  • Recursive Crossdressing: Discussed. After Dr. Barlow proposes that Deryn join her diplomatic (that is to say, spy) organization, and after Deryn tells Dr. Barlow her big secret, Barlow jokes that Deryn could end up disguising herself as a girl. In the bonus Christmas chapter on Westerfeld's blog, Deryn does disguise herself as a girl at a fancy dress party. As does Alek.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Sweet Polly Oliver Deryn Sharp is the red to Blue Blood Prince Alek.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Does Goliath actually work, or does Tesla only believe it works because he's insane? Dr. Barlow supposedly disproves the weapon's capabilities, but she has an obvious bias towards Tesla and her proof is only circumstanial. She establishes that the Tungaska event was caused by a meteorite strike and that Tesla was expecting to find a meteorite, but dismisses the event as purely coincidental while acknowledging but not addressing the possibility that Goliath is what called down the meteorite.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: Bovril and the other perspicacious loris.
  • Rule of Cool: The entire premise basically runs on this. Alternate History World War I fought between Spider Tanks and Humongous Mecha versus Bioweapon Beasts and Organic Technology? Implausible as hell for anyone with even basic knowledge of biology, history, and/or engineering, but it's also awesome as hell, so it's worth suspending your disbelief.
  • Rule of Three: Tesla insists that all his silverware be arranged in sets of three.
  • Running Gag: Dummkopf! in Behemoth. In the same book, "Mr. Sharp!" is Bovril's favorite phrase, using it try to point out something (he/she/it?) is trying to explain... and poor Alek can't pick up the hint.
  • Russian Bear: The signature Bioweapon Beasts used by the Russian Empire are immense, ferocious war bears.
  • Sadly Mythtaken: Both the Leviathan and Behemoth. In Hebrew myth, the Leviathan was a sea monster and the Behemoth was a land beast. However, here the Leviathan is an organic airship (although admittedly, derived primarily from a whale) and the Behemoth is a kraken-like sea beast (and of course, there's no mention at all of the actual air monster of Hebrew myth, Ziz).
  • Samus Is a Girl: Alek's first meeting with Lilit, in which he assumes she is a man in a disguise.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Dr. Barlow, at times. It takes roughly half of Behemoth for Deryn to find out why Barlow called a certain fab the perspicacious loris, and Deryn thinks that "nascent fixation" sounds "a bit sinister, even if baby ducks [do] it too."
  • Shipper on Deck: Alek appears to be this for Dylan and Lilit, little realizing Dylan is actually a girl who has a crush on him.
    • Bovril, of all things, gets into this to some degree, for Alek and Deryn. It goes so far as to reveal "Dylan's" little secret...
  • Shout-Out:
    • Nene claims the world is on a turtle resting on elephants all the way down.
    • Possibly unintentional, but the Dauntless, the Ottoman ambassador's elephant walker in Behemoth, bears a certain strong resemblance to The Sultan's Elephant.
    • The surname of the Leviathan's captain is Hobbes: possibly a reference to the philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who wrote a manuscript in 1651 also titled Leviathan.
  • Significant Green-Eyed Redhead: Alek has reddish-brown hair and green eyes.
  • Simultaneous Arcs: Alek and Deryn alternate usually every two chapters as the viewpoint character; sometimes they're off doing separate things, sometimes they're together. In those chapters, the main difference (since it's third person all the time) is that Deryn refers to herself as such, while Alek knows her exclusively as "Dylan." Which gets really confusing in Goliath once Alek learns "Dylan's" real identity.
  • The Smurfette Principle: If we only count openly female characters, then Dr. Barlow has a very strong record of this in Leviathan, and for the majority of Goliath as well.
  • Spider Tank: The Clanker Land Frigates.
  • Steampunk: The Clanker Nations, including Germany and Austria-Hungary.
    • Additionally, since they run on Kerosene, Diesel Punk.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Deryn disguising herself to work as an airman.
  • Sweet on Polly Oliver
    • Averted as of the end of the first book; Alek seems to have only comradely feelings towards "Dylan"/Deryn, although he does consider "Dylan" good-looking.. There are hints of UST on her part, however, and Alek definitely gets into this in Goliath, going so far as to kill Nikola Tesla and abdicate the throne for her by the end.
    • Lilit also has a thing for "him." Wordof God says she knew very well Deryn was a girl. Also, when she and Deryn meet again in Goliath, Lilit lied when she said that kissing Deryn was just curiosity; Lilit really fell in love with Deryn.
  • Tangled Family Tree: Deryn told the crew of the Leviathan that Artemis Sharp was her uncle to prevent suspicion over the fact that Artemis Sharp only has one son and one daughter. However, Alek was told in confidence that Artemis Sharp is indeed her father.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Eddie Malone in Goliath. He's dead-set on publishing Deryn's real identity without regard to the fact that it will ruin her, even though she smuggled him onto the Leviathan. He even insists that Alek saving his life isn't enough to dissuade him and only relents after Alek gives him an alternate story.
  • The Unreveal: We never do really find out what the perspicacious loris was supposed to do.
  • Tranquilizer Dart: The czar sends some of these in his package, along with numerous hunks of meat, which, the Leviathan's crew members later work out, are meant to be used to hinder Tesla's hungry fighting bears while they rescue the inventor.
  • Translation Convention: Every conversation between Alek and his men is typed in English, though they really are speaking in German. When Deryn is narrating, though, their conversations are in German.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: There is a lot of this between Alek and Deryn in the second half of Goliath. Their unwillingness to advance is justified since both have their futures to consider, though both eventually overcome their fears of losing the things they once lived for, and find a new life together at the London Zoological Society.
  • Unusual Euphemism: "Bumrag" = "asshole," "barking" = "fucking," "clart" = "shit".
    • Or "jerk", "freaking", and "crap" respectively, given how casually they're thrown around, even in mixed company.
  • Unusual Pets for Unusual People: Dr. Nora Barlow, a geneticist who is personally responsible for a lot of the Organic Technology used by Britain in that alternate timeline, has a pet Thylacine named Tazza. Many people mistake him for a fabricated beast and have to be told that he's actually completely natural.
  • Weapon of Mass Destruction: Goliath is a Doomsday Device created by Nikola Tesla with the power to harness and control the Earth's magnetic field and weaponize it, possessing enough destructive power of annihilate whole cities from anywhere in the world with lightning. When Dr. Barlow and the Zoological Society analyze the mineral sample from Siberia, it is revealed that it was a meteor that caused all of that destruction and not Goliath, implying that either Nikola was just manipulating everybody into thinking this or that he was as mad as he seemed and that he really did think Goliath was as powerful as he claims.
  • Whale Egg: The perspicacious loris is hatched from an egg and, judging from what Deryn says, many fabricated beasts are "born" this way.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: ''Mr.'' Sharp.
  • Wham Line: Warning: Goliath gets a couple, particularly "Can I trust you? Can I trust you, Deryn?" and "Deryn Sharp was in love with him."
  • You Didn't Ask: Volger's reasoning for not telling the Leviathan's crew about his wireless radio.
  • You Just Told Me
    Alek: Can I trust you? Can I trust you, Deryn?
    Deryn: Aye, of course you can.
    Deryn: (Internally) Oh, blisters.
  • Zeppelins from Another World: The Germans use zeppelins extensively, and the Leviathan for the Darwinists. It is also implied that they use other, smaller airship fabs too.