Goliath successfully wraps up the story of Alek and Deryn in Scott Westerfeld’s LEVIATHAN series. I do not think it’s the best book of the three, but the world and the characters are engaging, and I always wanted to know what was going to happen next.
Westerfeld’s original steampunk trilogy takes place in the early 20th century in a world somewhat like ours. The British have made great strides in genetic manipulation, while the Germans and their allies have invested in steam and mechanical technology. Alek, the prince of Austria, in on the run for his life, while Deryn, a girl disguised as a boy, serves as a midshipman on one of England’s organic airships, the Leviathan. Against the backdrop of a war like World War I, but different, these two young people meet and share adventures.
In Goliath, the Leviathan is directed to Russia to help an inventor who says he has created a doomsday weapon, one that will change the direction of the global war. Dr. Barlow, a “boffin” (scientist) and Charles Darwin’s granddaughter, has never trusted the enigmatic Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla, but his particle beam weapon is too intriguing to be allowed to fall into the hands of the Germans. The Leviathan is diverted into central Siberia, Tunguska to be exact. Tesla has gotten himself into a bit of a mess and retrieving the scientist and his invention is no easy matter, but the crew of the Leviathan manages. Once Tesla and his invention are safely onboard, the great airship heads to America.
The problems to be solved in Goliath tend toward the personal. Alek finally discovers Deryn’s secret. This leads to complications for him, because Deryn is a commoner. Alek is torn between his feelings for his best friend and his sense of duty to his beleaguered country. The revelation of Deryn’s identity creates serious problems for her, too. She could be court-martialed, and even at best, Alek’s sense of duty to his country will definitely take him away from her if he is returned to the Austrian throne.
These issues play out as the Leviathan heads for America. Dealing with a mechanical weapon is a bit of a switch for the crew of the organic airship. Barlow doubts that it will work. The Wildcount, Alek’s counselor, thinks it might work but suspects Tesla’s motives. Tesla tells Alek that the device can destroy a city, like Berlin, and that it is the ultimate “peacekeeper” weapon. Alek is young and naïve enough to believe in such a thing, even though several characters point out to him that weapons are not created for peace.
The sections with William Randolph Hearst and Pancho Villa were the least interesting to me. The events at the Mexican revolutionary’s camp could have happened anywhere. Westerfeld makes up for this by creating a layered, complex and mysterious character in Tesla. Tesla is one of the riddles of history. Was he just an also-ran? Was he the true genius who was defeated only by the corporatism of Thomas Alva Edison? Genius? Visionary? Nutjob? Westerfeld captures all of that, and Tesla’s actions force Alek to make fundamental choices, choices that define his beliefs.
Aside from the personal problems of Deryn and Alek, it was the development of Borvil, the “perspicacious loris” and its clutch-mate that held my interest and charmed me the most. The lorises were introduced near the end of Behemoth. They are practically organic networked computers, and watching them learn, synthesize, and try to communicate with their distracted (and sometimes just clueless) human companions is delightful. At one point, Dr. Barlow says that her loris is defective, but I think the character is just being sarcastic, because the genetically engineered critters are several steps ahead of the humans at all times. I love the irony; the lorises are the most powerful thing the “boffins” have created and they don’t even realize it.
Deryn is a well-developed character, but the growth arc in this series has always been Alek’s. Ultimately, Alek must decide his destiny, and the choice he makes rings true for him. The book resolves the personal story of Alek in a satisfying and honorable way. I could be cynical and say that Goliath leaves plenty open for future books, or I could just say that the world the Westerfeld has created is interesting, detailed and full enough that it seems like these characters will go on and have real lives and adventures once the last page is turned.