Leviathan by Scott Westerfield
I bought this book solely based on the cool map on the inside cover. It is a stylized map of Europe during WWI, with the countries drawn as beasts such as Russia as a giant bear with it's mouth open and giant teeth ready to eat Germany, and Italy as literally a boot. I love imaginative illustrations and there are more by artist Keith Thompson scattered throughout the book.
Leviathan is a young adult, steam-punk adventure novel. It is WWI, but in an alternate universe where Darwin learned to create hybrid creatures that work like machines and the Germans designed enormous walking tanks much like the AT-ATs in Star Wars. This alternative world felt real and plausible and I was immediately drawn into it, and wanted to spend time in this world.
The main characters though are the standard issue for all young adult novels -- the tough and feisty girl who is out to prove herself in a man's world, and the uncertain boy who has a destiny to fulfill. I liked them, but my 14yo gave up on the book about a third of the way through because he said he has had enough of these types of characters, that their story arcs are always the same. While he appreciated the unique illustrations and steam punk setting, it wasn't enough to keep him engaged.
My biggest problem with the book is really a quibble, though. It could have been a stand alone book, but it is of course set up without a resolution because there will be another in the series. Harry Potter at least had a conflict and resolution in each of the 7 books, but this was 440 pages of exposition.
I think this would be a great book for any young lover of fantasy and sci-fi, and for any reluctant reader. It has enough real history for introducing a young reader to WWI, and cool machines and "beasties" to keep them interested. I love the fact that there is a trailer for the book which uses the illustrations to promote the book on YouTube (and imbedded in the author's website.) Check it out here on You Tube.