RogerBW's Blog

Goliath, Scott Westerfeld 22 October 2018

2011 young adult steampunk SF, final volume of a trilogy. The living airship Leviathan crosses Russia en route to Japan; will Nikola Tesla's latest terror weapon end the Great War?

This is one of the few books I've read that bring Tesla into the narrative without making him an unambiguous hero. He has his own plans, which may be good things or may not, and other characters have to make their own decisions about how far to support him.

Alas, it's a step back in characterisation for Alek (hidden heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire) and Deryn (girl-disguised-as-a-boy midshipman) as the disguise is penetrated and they start to Admit their Feelings; while in the second book they seemed to be growing up a bit, here they're back to complete cluelessness, with a solid friendship coming close to disintegration. Ah well. At least there's no moment where Deryn suddenly gets Girlified and turns out to be Amazingly Beautiful; that would be a betrayal of the characters, and Westerfeld has more respect for them than to do that. The secondary cast are more in the background, though, and one feels their stories are largely left unfinished.

There are no real surprises here; once the pieces are on the board, it's quite clear how they will be played and what the endgame will be. That said, the journey from here to there is still an enjoyable one. The Perspicacious Loris is perhaps a little too obviously there to point the characters in the right direction when they're being dim, but it's more enjoyable this time (and would clearly be running the world by volume four).

The series set up the Clanker/Darwinist conflict in the manner of Bruce Sterling's Shaper/Mechanist duality, but it's the Darwinists who come off ahead in sense of wonder: who cares about mere walking warships when we have giant Russian fighting bears (and two-headed courier eagles), and as for what the Japanese have come up with…

There's a bit less action than in the previous books, and quite a bit of flying between the action scenes, but I never felt that the book dragged; indeed, I finished it in an afternoon.

While there is the possibility of further adventures with these characters, this book certainly offers a conclusion to the story. Overall, while one wouldn't mistake this for anything except a consciously YA story, I found it enjoyable and with plenty to offer the adult reader.

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Previous in series: Behemoth | Series: Leviathan

  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 01:42pm on 22 October 2018

    In a Space 1889 campaign I play in, the PCs all look for somewhere else to be when Tesla built equipment is around. It has a reputation for excessive power levels, and while it doesn't go wrong often when it does you know about it.

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