Goliath by Scott Westerfeld

Ages 12 and up

With disaster successfully averted in Istanbul, the Leviathan and her crew are headed to an unknown destination in Asia. But of course, when you’re just a few months into a world war, trouble is always sure to pop up. The airship is rerouted to Siberia first, where Deryn has to deal with the brilliant (and possibly mad) Dr. Nikola Tesla who claims that his weapon, the Goliath, has the power to level cities from half a world away. He believes it will stop the war. Alek instantly sees Tesla’s invention as his chance to stop fighting that he feels his family is responsible for. After all, his father’s marriage to his mother, a commoner, is what made them targets in the first place. And if they hadn’t been killed, Austria would never have invaded Serbia. To further complicate things, he discovers that the boy he has known as Dylan, his best friend, is actually a girl. Hurt and betrayed, Alek pulls away from everyone but the eccentric doctor. Will Deryn convince Alek to trust her again? Will Alek be able to stop the war? And is Tesla a genius or a madman?

I have had to put this book down at least five times since I sat down to write that bit. In fact, I think I better put it back on its shelf. Out of sight, out of mind. Right?

Okay, I’m back.

So, Goliath. Oh, Scott-la, you have outdone yourself again. I’m still giggling from my favorite bits and pieces. And my fingers are itching to pick it back up and reread right now. If I didn’t have at least fifteen other books on my “to-read” list, plus the research for my book and my book, I would gladly spend another lunchless afternoon. I was little more than a bump on a log (well, bed) yesterday. You can ask my mom. A giggling, cackling, kicking with joy bump.

So what is that made Goliath so good? Other than the fact that it’s the final tome in a series that I love?

I think Scott Westerfeld’s biggest strength as a writer is his world-building. It is so easy to get caught up in the world that you’ve created and go overboard on the detail. Westerfeld has never done this for me. If I could pick one series that I would most want to have turned into a movie (a good movie, that is) right now, this would be it. Westerfeld uses beautiful, vivid, colorful detail in his story. I can almost see and touch and smell the world that he’s made in the Leviathan series. I was transported to Tokyo and to New York, as well as into the familiar passageways of the airship.

But wait, that’s not the only thing.

It’s not just this new world that he has created that makes this book so unique, but the way he integrates that world into history. For all of the new ideas between the Clankers and the Darwinists that are included, it never feels outrageous. And that’s saying something when you’re dealing with a giant flying whale. I think the reason is because he uses facts to ground the story. There is just enough of the world we know to make this fantasy real. For example, one of the characters that makes a brief cameo is William Randolf Hearst. In our world, he was a sensationalist newspaper mogul. In their world, he is a sensationalist newspaper mogul. Through his character we get to experience the conflict between the New York Journal and the New York World. We get to glimpse a little of the silent film era through him also. All of these are elements that existed in the real U.S. or A. around the time of WWI. For his use of history alone, I would recommend this series to anyone looking to write historical fiction (whether or not you’re going to change history in your book).

His characters were just as much fun as in the previous books and showed just as much growth. I loved how when Alek found out Deryn’s secret (oh, c’mon guys, it’s on the front jacket flap) he was upset for a variety of different reasons. Not just because she hadn’t trusted him or because he’d felt that she betrayed him. But more on that later. I believe that I have already talked about how well Westerfeld crafts his main characters in my Behemoth review. It wasn’t until Goliath that I truly appreciated how well-rounded his side characters are. They were never stereotypes. You know that thing they say about small actors? I think perhaps here the phrase should read “There are no small characters, only small writers.” When I shut that book, it wasn’t just Deryn and Alek that I missed (as is often the case), I miss them all. Klopp and Bovril and Dr. Barlow and even Eddie Malone (despite the desire to strangle the man). I missed their personalities and their quirks and even the way they talked.

My final favorite part of this book was the relationship between Alek and Deryn (no brainer, I know). Westerfeld could have easily ruined it for me, but instead he had the relationship grow naturally, after Alek knew Deryn for who she truly was. And though it was awkward at first, I think they both handled it in a way that showed how much they had grown over the last three books. And that’s as far as I can go on this subject without getting myself in trouble.

If you have not read Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series, I have only two things to say to you. First, shame on you for reading this whole review without having read books one and two. Second, get thee to a library/bookstore and obtain thee copies of these books. This series is in no way a waste of time and probably the most good, clean fun you will have until Oct. 4th. (You can’t see it, but typing that date has put a manic grin on my face.)

This is a good example of:

  • World-building
  • Integration of fact and fiction
  • Characterization
  • Character utilization
  • Pacing

This book is on my recommended reading list.