Sunday, February 12, 2012

Goliath by Scott Westerfeld

There are two reasons I expect this review of Scott Westerfeld's new novel, Goliath, will be short and desultory:

1) I've already reviewed the first two books in this series -- Leviathan (Book-A-Day #107) and Behemoth (Book-A-Day #326) -- which means that I've already written a thousand words or so about the series.

2) My younger son -- the frighteningly large eleven-year-old I call Thing 2 here -- is midway through Behemoth right now, and will want to jump into Goliath as soon as he's done.

So you Gentle Readers can jump back to those earlier posts, if you haven't been reading the series. And, if you have been reading the series, then you probably know that this book came out nearly six months ago, and there's a fair chance that you've already read it yourselves.

But, for those still unconvinced: Goliath continues the story of Deryn "Dylan" Sharp, a young woman posing as a young man to serve aboard His Majesty's airwhale Leviathan, and Prince Aleksandar von Hohenberg, secret heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, as they make their way through a steampunky alternate World War I, where the Allies are "Darwinists," using gene-altered animals, and the Central powers are "Clankers," with gigantic steam-powered mechanical war machines. It's 1914, and those augmented armies are tearing at each other offstage, in what it probably an even bloodier first year of the war than in our timeline.

And Leviathan, after partially fomenting a successful revolution in Istanbul -- and consequently turning the Ottoman Empire from a neutral leaning towards entering the war on the Clanker side (as its equivalent did in our world) to a neutral favorably disposed towards England and her Darwinist allies -- is headed to the Far East, ostensibly to show the flag and aid allies Russia and Japan against local German colonist forces, but actually to make a secret rendezvous and pick up a very important Clanker scientist at a secret base deep in Siberia.

Because Nicola Tesla -- genius scientist, and, as a Serbian living in the US, a Clanker congenitally opposed to the German cause -- has created a massive death ray cannon called Goliath, which he claims can strike anywhere in the world. And so Leviathan picks him and his crew up near the Tunguska River, where, six years ago -- during a test of Goliath on the other side of the world -- something unexpected, and massively destructive, happened.

So the geopolitical questions of Goliath revolve around that event: did Goliath cause the Tunguska Event in this world? And will Tesla's plan to, essentially, blackmail the Clanker powers into peace by threatening their capital cities actually work?

But the more important questions concern our heroine and hero: will Deryn tell Alex who she really is? (After all, he told her his equivalent secret some time ago.) And can they help to make a world in which they can be safe...and, just possibly, together?

Westerfeld ends the trilogy as well as he started it, full of adventure and danger both high in the air on Leviathan and in the face-to-face confrontations among his diverse cast, all of whom have their own agendas and plans. (There's one point when a minor character offers what could have been a deus ex machina to Deryn -- but it's deeply contingent on the current situation, which is already falling apart.) It is written specifically for younger readers -- there's nothing I wouldn't want my eleven-year-old son to read, and I mean that utterly literally, since he will read it in a couple of days -- but that's no more of a limitation than writing in any other genre or style. Goliath ends this series excellently.

Although...I still think that a series like this should have a book called Juggernaut, set in India -- come on, wouldn't that be perfect? -- and so I can always hope Westerfeld will eventually decide that he's not quite done with this world.

1 comment:

James Davis Nicoll said...

As I recall, Westerfeld's Uglies trilogy got a fourth book (Sadly, the least in the series).

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