Goliath is the final book in Scott Westerfeld’s young adult steampunk trilogy. Since it’s set in the early days of World War One (a very alternate reality, in which “Clanker” technology – all metal and gears – is pitted against “Darwinist” technology – genetically altered beasts including the enormous flying airship “Leviathan”), it’s technically dieselpunk.
So is it as brilliant as the first two books? Yes. Does it satisfy the desperate reader? Yes. Does it have any of the usual book-three flaws? Yes, a little.
Let’s deal with the flaws first and get them out of the way. Every time an author sets out to write a series, they have decisions to make – most importantly, does each book stand alone? In this trilogy, the first and second books torment us by leaving some plot lines unresolved (to be fair, each book also has its own plot that does resolve). You can read and enjoy the third book on its own, but I don’t truly recommend it.
As always when a writer does have a series, the characters and their continuing issues have to be re-introduced in books two and three. In my opinion, Westerfeld did a better job of it in the second book than the third (the third also takes a little longer to get into the heart-pounding action). It was nice to have reminders of what was at stake, and if I wasn’t a writer myself I probably wouldn’t have noticed the props holding up the structural parts of the story.
I was surprised that one plot line, while enjoyable, honestly seemed to be a red herring after a great deal of buildup. That was a shame, I think.
So! Now that my moment of mild criticism is over, how was the book?
There are several really good steampunk works out there – Richard Harland’s Worldshaker series, Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines series (if you enjoy the occasional bloodbath), Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Angel series (if you like paranormal romance), and presumably others I’m yet to meet.
This one is the best.
The two main characters are Alek, who may or may not be in line for the Austrian throne – it was his parents’ assassination that brought Europe to war – and Deryn/Dylan, who is a girl disguised as a boy in order to serve on the “Leviathan” airship (and is by far the most competent person around). Both are excellently drawn, with a mix of good and bad qualities (Alek’s weaknesses are clearer in this book than the others).
This book introduces a vital new character. . . none other than Nikola Tesla himself. Tesla is a genius who says he has the means to end the war. It is not clear until the end whether he is a villain, a hero, a madman, or a liar. He has a weapon called “Goliath” which is the focus of the book. I don’t generally like it when real historical people show up in fiction, but I enjoyed this.
YES all is resolved, and all secrets are exposed. . . one way or another.
As mentioned in my previous review of the series, the world Westerfeld has created (technically two very different worlds at war) is possibly the greatest speculative fiction setting ever – and the illustrations are brilliant too.
I was surprised by a few aspects of the ending (which is a good thing), and as always I very much enjoyed reading the brief historical notes at the back.
The airship was still a dozen yards up when Deryn spotted the first fighting bear.
It was loping through the area of standing trees, huffing coils of condensation into the freezing air. The bear was a small one, its shoulders barely ten feet high. Perhaps the others had kept it away from the spoils of dried beef.
It certainly didn’t look like a beastie that had already eaten lunch.
“Climb!” Dern shouted, pointing up her own rope. “Tell them to climb!”
Rating: G. Westerfeld has the extremely rare gift of holding readers on the edge of their seats without using sex or gore.