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Teen review: Goliath (Leviathan Trilogy) by Scott Westerfeld

My name is Joshua, I attend Obama 6-12 where I will be a sophomore this year. Me and my afro greatly enjoy playing magicthegathering, reading, playing soccer, fencing, doing my school’s musical and hanging out with my friends. I know how to speak some Spanish (Hola hermosa, come estas?), can pretend to speak some Swedish (jog ticker om du), am learning some American Sign Language (…), and am hoping to learn some Thai.

Goliath by Scott Westerfeld

Goliath gives a strong ending to Westerfeld’s latest trilogy

With Leviathan and Behemoth behind him, one would wonder how anyone could top them. Fortunately, we have Scott Westerfeld to do the job. The book Goliath, by Scott Westerfeld, shows his skills as a writer and researcher, but also exhibits the lack of commentary in his art.

But before I start ranting on about Goliath, I should probably tell you what it is. Goliath is the third book in Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy. The trilogy is an alternate history of World War I. It is told from the alternating viewpoints of Deryn Sharp, an English girl masquerading as a boy to join the air-force, and Prince Aleksander, the son of the duke who’s assassination started World War I. In the world of the Leviathan trilogy the different sides which we would call the Allies (Britain, France, Russia, etc.) and the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, The Ottoman Empire, etc.), were called the “Darwinists” and “Clankers” respectively. These names were determined by the technology of the sides, where the Darwinists used genetically altered animals for war, the Clankers used extremely advanced steam-based walkers, aircraft and boats to fight back.

Goliath opens with Prince Aleksander and his entourage aboard the British airship Leviathan after they had been “captured” when in reality they are voluntary passengers who even help the ship with some of their technology, and only stay aboard because it suits them. The ship was headed to a Japanese port to assert British authority in the area until it changes its course on secret orders from the highest authority. When the ship reaches its new destination in the middle of the Siberian wilderness the crew who includes the two main characters, Deryn Sharp and Prince Aleksander, sees an huge swath of forest that has been flattened by an explosion. At ground zero of this wasteland stands none other than the scientist Nicolas Tesla, who the crew of the Leviathan has come to rescue. When on board Tesla tells of how he caused the destruction with his newly created weapon Goliath. It then becomes top priority for the airship Leviathan to take Tesla to New York City where his weapon is stationed. On the way they encounter the ruthless news tycoon William Hearst, and a Mexican Civil War which Hearst owns the movie rights to.

When they finally arrive at their destination, they are of course attacked by the “Clanker” (Central) Powers in an attempt to either dissuade the use of Tesla’s weapon or kill Tesla outright. Tesla does reach his weapon safely though and is prepared to use it to change the color of the sky over Berlin to flex the muscles of Goliath. However, he is attacked by Clanker war-machines, which nearly destroy his weapon, so he decides to hit Berlin with his full might. He is stopped by Prince Aleksander because the firing of the weapon would cause the Leviathan, Which has been waiting nearby for Tesla’s protection, and all aboard to go up in flames. Because Deryn Sharp is aboard the Leviathan, and Aleksander realizes he has strong feelings for her, he cannot allow that to happen. So Aleksander kills Tesla. Fortunately for the “Darwinist” (Ally) cause, the Clanker war-machines on American soil are enough to push the neutral country into the war fighting for the Darwinists. And fortunately for Prince Aleksander and Deryn Sharp, they are both alive and able to ride the Leviathan together, and confess their feelings for one another.

Westerfeld’s skill with words is shown in his ability to bring characters, and a world, to life. Were some writers may work to make sure there characters are as deep as they can be, but put them in an easily understandable setting, Westerfeld must create characters and settings. In his classic style he creates a new world that is very different from ours, and places his characters in it. However, he doesn’t use a glossary or other cheat-sheets to let us know how his world works, he shows us. He builds up from simple slang words used by the main characters, to whole political systems and intrigues, entirely of his devising. In his writing, Westerfeld even makes sure that everything matches up with our world were it must, specifically in the sciences. It is this depth and breadth of characters and worlds that shows Westerfeld’s skills as a writer.

As a researcher, Westerfeld stands above the others. To create such wondrous characters and fantastic places, Westerfeld must learn about what he is writing. He looks through not only the applicable science, as shown in the detailed descriptions of the war-machines of both sides in his book, but also the applicable history. That was something that made reading the Leviathan trilogy not only entertaining, but also educational (“Look Mom, I’m Studying World War I!”). This research is shown also in the afterwards of his books where he explains what in his books are “history” and what parts are “alternate.” Because of his detailed descriptions and meticulous notes, we can see that Scott Westerfeld is really just better at research than most writers.

However, Scott Westerfeld isn’t perfect, the commentary in his art is either weak or non-existent. He resorts to the use of different technologies to draw a very distinct line between the allies and central powers. Even the choice of technologies was not accidental with the allies using the power of life and progress, whereas the central powers use cold machines. This is not to say the central powers deserved to use the technology of life, but perhaps the allies did not either, and perhaps the line between the two sides is less distinct than we would like to think. Also Westerfeld portrays Tesla as a “mad scientist” suggesting that the wild claims Tesla made concerning his technology were promoted by insanity rather than Tesla’s need for funding. This painting of Tesla removes all fault from the system of scientific funding at the time and places it instead on Tesla himself. This lack of commentary is not only bothersome in its own right, but due to science-fiction’s standing as a method of commentary, is an abject betrayal. This cliché portrayal of both Nicolas Tesla and the allied/central powers is why I feel that Westerfeld does not have much useful criticism.

Despite, the faults I find with Westerfeld’s work, I still think he is a good artist if not good at adding extra meaning to his work. So I would Say that Goliath Is definitely worth the read.

Goliath by Scott Westerfeld is released on Tuesday–click here to reserve your copy today!

2 Responses

  1. [...] say you like a little Fantasy/Sci Fi in your Historical fiction?  Check out Scott Westerfield’s Leviathan Trilogy ably reviewed by Joshua right here on this blog.  Its an alternate reality version of the epic [...]

  2. I LOVE this series!

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