Goliath: The thrilling conclusion to the trilogy…

YA fantasy book reviews Scott Westerfeld Leviathan 2. Behemoth 3. GoliathGoliath by Scott Westerfeld YA fantasy book reviewsGoliath by Scott Westerfeld

Goliath is the concluding third book in Scott Westerfeld’s LEVIATHAN trilogy (imagine that — a trilogy with only three books) and it brings a wonderfully entertaining YA steampunk/alternate WWI series to a suitably strong close. I won’t bother recapping the world or background since you really need to read books one and two first, so read my review of Leviathan (above) to catch up on the backstory if you’d like.

Goliath picks up shortly after the events of Behemoth, with the British airship Leviathan cruising over the frozen waste of Siberia, having been diverted there on a top-secret rescue mission. Our two heroes — airman Dylan/Deryn Sharp (recall she’s masquerading as a boy) and heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne Alek — soon learn the mission is to rescue Nikola Tesla from the Tunguska site where he’s been investigating the effect of his ultimate weapon, the titular Goliath. Based on the devastation in the Tunguska forest, Tesla is convinced he can use Goliath to force an end to this horrific war, a concept that Alek, who feels responsible for the war due to his family’s involvement, quickly signs on for. Deryn, however, is not quite so sure about Tesla. From Siberia, Leviathan flies on in breakneck fashion for Japan, California, Mexico, and finally New York City.

One of the strengths of the series has always been the wonderfully inventive creations Westerfeld has dreamed up and placed in the hands of his warring sides, the Darwinists (bio-engineers) and the Clankers (steam engineers). There is less of this sort of thing here, and to be honest I missed it — not because it had any major impact on the book but simply because it was just so much fun in the first two books. But what is here has its moments, both dark and light, such as the grimly effective weapon the Japanese employ against an Austrian ship, how Pancho Villa gets around, or the underwater network that allows communication between the continents. As a side note, reading about these fantastic creations has always been enhanced by the illustrations by Keith Thompson and this installment is no exception. And make sure you look at the inside covers rather than simply skipping right to the text.

Deryn and Alek have always been enjoyable characters to spend time with, and this continues throughout Goliath. Westerfeld has always found a way to keep some tension between the two and in this book Tesla provides the catalyst. Tesla is an intriguing character, though he doesn’t get much time on the page. The same holds true for the other historical people we meet, such as William Randolph Hearst and Pancho Villa. My favorite new character is actually one of Hearst’s “girl reporters” (like many of the characters, based on a real person), though again, she doesn’t get a lot of page time. More so than the other two books, this is nearly wholly Deryn and Alek’s book, which is as it should be in the conclusion. I should point out, though, that perhaps the most interesting characters in this one, at least on an interest-per-word ratio, are the perspicacious lorises (lorisi?). I love their droll wit, their slow development, and their wryly terse but sage commentary.

Goliath draws an end to the series in a somewhat predictable fashion, but that doesn’t make the journey any less enjoyable. And it is a good place to finish it, so kudos to Westerfeld for not milking it too far. But I confess as well, I wouldn’t mind seeing a bit more of that American Civil War between the Clanker North and Darwinist South.

The LEVIATHAN books are wildly inventive, playfully creative, and intelligently paced, with strong main characters, evocative details that leave you wanting more, books exactly as long as they should be and no more, a great mix of technology and history, and illustrations that enhance rather than distract. Both Goliath and the entire series are highly recommended.

~Bill Capossere (2011)

Goliath is the third (and last) book in Scott Westerfeld’s steampunk LEVIATHAN trilogy, preceded by Leviathan and Behemoth. It follows two young protagonists (a prince disguised as a commoner and a girl disguised as a boy) through an alternative version of WWI in which the battle-lines are drawn between German Clankers and the Allied Darwinists. Westerfeld has created an elaborate world of opposing technologies and their requisite ideologies, where the Clankers construct large mechanical Walkers and the Darwinists genetically engineer a range of hybrid creatures in order to wage war upon each other. It’s an imaginative concept and Westerfeld milks it for all it’s worth, with plenty of ingenious creations strewn throughout the narrative. Discovering what clever idea he has next in store for the reader is half the fun.

So far a combination of luck, skill and teamwork has kept fugitive Prince Aleksander of Austria and Midshipman Dylan Sharp (actually Deryn) alive as they avoid Germans, stir up Turkish revolutions, and struggle to keep their secrets throughout. Of late, Deryn has a further secret to keep: that she’s nursing a pretty serious crush on her princely companion, who still thinks that she’s a boy. But there’s little time to worry about that, as the Leviathan is heading toward Siberia to answer a distress call from a stranded airship. Who should they find there but the infamous (and slightly unhinged) inventor Nikola Tesla, who brings aboard ship a device that he claims is a weapon that could end the war. According to him, this Goliath is a weapon of mass destruction like none the world has ever seen before.

Having already run across some of his weapons in the past, Alek and Deryn are leery. Is ending the war worth all the lives that would be lost in using such a weapon? As the Leviathan turns toward America both are beset with doubt. Tesla has Darwinist loyalties, which means that any city to fall prey to the Goliath might be part of Alek’s homeland. Should they trust such an eccentric and erratic individual? Or should Alek take Wildcount Volger’s advice and secretly dispose of Tesla by more subtle means?

It’s a hefty moral dilemma, and Westerfeld doesn’t provide any easy answers. When the truth about Deryn’s gender finally comes out, Alek finds himself struggling with who he can really trust. As always, the backstabbing politics of the war is juxtaposed with the genuine friendship that grows between Alek and Deryn — and which here is severely tested. Otherwise, their dynamic remains the same: whereas Alek is a meticulous planner who believes he is guided by providence, Deryn is an act-first, think-later type of girl who knows how to keep cool under pressure. Both accentuate the other nicely, and for the first time a hint of mutual romance begins to emerge between them.

Westerfeld shows a deft hand in melding real people and events (often tweaked ever so slightly) with his own characters and storylines. Familiar figures such as William Randolph Hearst, Adela Rogers and Pancho Villa are all incorporated into the story, and Westerfeld’s afterword is fascinating in discovering just what was true about his story and what was not — indeed, many of the facts sound too incredible to be true! His usage of such things does lead to a few stalled plotlines (the frequent reminders that Philip Frances is secretly a German ends up being a nod to history instead of an actual plot development) and some history buffs may be appalled at the liberties he takes (poor Nikola Tesla!) but it’s all in the name of a compelling story.

The real joy of the book is in the clear descriptive writing, and Westerfeld’s ability to paint a vivid picture of the world the characters inhabit. He also manages to outline the intricacies of warfare and politics without it getting too convoluted. It’s often difficult to balance the exposition of world-building with characterization and pacing, but Westerfeld hits that perfect note without getting bogged down in either vagaries or excessive detail. In this he is helped by Keith Thompson’s black-and-white illustrations, which provide great images on what exactly these characters, creatures, machines and gadgets look like.

To be honest, I didn’t enjoy Goliath quite as much as I did Behemoth, which was a near-flawless, action-packed story of suspense and scope. Despite being the final book in the trilogy, the stakes didn’t feel quite as high here, and a lot of time is spent at dinner parties, pit-stops and dealing with interfering journalists. But in saying that, it’s still a fantastic read, with a return from the conniving Wildcount Volger, the implacable Doctor Nora Barlow, and even an all-too-brief reappearance from the revolutionary Lilit.

As the final book in a gripping trilogy, Goliath ends on just the right note: lots of explosions, plenty of suspense, and a kiss.

~Rebecca Fisher (2012)

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 ofBehemoth. 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.

4 stars.

~Marion Deeds (2012)

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is lately spending much of his time trying to finish a book-length collection of essays and a full-length play. His prior work has appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other journals and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of several Best American Essay anthologies. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, co-writing the Malazan Empire re-read at Tor.com, or working as an English adjunct, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course, the ultimate frisbee field, or trying to keep up with his wife's flute and his son's trumpet on the clarinet he just picked up this month.

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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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One comment

  1. I agree with you about the enjoyment factor. The nearly non-stop action in Behemoth was more fun, but Westerfeld did a good job here. I’ve recommended this series to two or three young people so far; it’s fun and it has substance.

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