Friday, February 3, 2012

Book Review: Goliath

*Warning: There may be spoilers*

Before I forget, because I know I will, going to do this review while it’s fresh in my head. Goliath is the third book in the Leviathan trilogy by Scott Westerfeld, so this is going to be a bit of an overview of the entire series, because there’s nothing suckier than investing in a book series that turns out badly.

This YA series is an alternate history steampunk of WWI. There are two main: Deryn Sharp who disguises herself as a boy named Dylan so she can serve on an airship (fabricated using genetic engineering) in the British Air Service – because girls weren’t allowed to serve in the military at this time --  and Prince Aleksander of Hohenberg, heir to the Austrian-Hungarian throne. The unlikely pair meet – and fall in love – while helping to shape the course of the war.

It’s been a year since I read the last book, and I don’t normally read YA – in fact, I’ve sworn it off after I read The Demon’s Lexicon – which is nothing more than Harry Potter fanfic dressed in the TV show Supernatural’ s clothing. So it was a real gear shift to go from reading books like The Skinner to this. It makes you realize how lazily written YA is. Let’s just say, the little editor in my head wouldn’t shut up once I started reading this.

I did enjoy the first and second book. This one, not so much. Alek spends the first chunk of the book being moody, “boo-hoo, I’m worthless”. Alek’s character has never had much going for him; he’s nice but he’s bland. And after three books, never really develops a personality.

 Deryn is still the most interesting character, but I found she hardly developed, either.  And it’s unfortunate because I know Westerfeld can create amazing characters since I read Evolution’s Darling.

Aside from Alek’s wangst, he has to play catch up on his feelings for Deryn once he figures out she’s not really a boy. This is what leads to the book having a slower, almost crawling, pace than the previous two books, which went by lickity split. Also a lot of derailing the plot so we can pick up or meet historical figures. It’s almost like Westerfeld had a check list of all the historical figures he wanted to include, and instead of working them into the plot (aside from Tesla), he stuffed them in.  Like Adela Rodgers. I don’t know why she was in this, all she did was pop up randomly and be annoying.  And everything with Hearst and Poncho Villa could’ve been cut out. Easily could’ve had the reporter, Eddie Malone, sneak in on Deryn while she was dressing to figure out her secret, considering his lack of decency toward others.

Then Alek was spouting lines about destiny that sounded like they’d been lifted from the Star Wars script.

This one really bugs me: making Nikola Tesla the antagonist. I can understand it since Tesla did go a little loopy, but what genius doesn’t? But making his character a complete arse? I like Tesla! I think he was a good guy and this wasn’t a fair portrayal of him. Yes, I know this is fiction, but why take a beloved historical figure and throw dirt on him? This is an issue I’ve been noticing in fiction, both short and long, where the antagonist is made a jerkoff so we don’t feel badly when he/she dies. I can see what you’re doing Mr. Writer, and I don’t like it.

I will admit, the ending is cute. Of course, who thought our young heroes wouldn’t end up together? There are also some laughs, and I do like the reference to the stone that felled Goliath (Tesla’s invention).

Something that I thought was a missed opportunity was the perspicacious loris. These cute little creatures were a driving force for the first and somewhat second book.  It’s clear that in the third book they’ve gained sentience, a childlike intelligence, but they’re still capable of independent thought and feelings. This is a problem because the Darwinists don’t create sentient creatures; all these fabricated creatures are meant to serve them. Perhaps this will be explored in a later book; it’ a cool universe he’s created, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he wrote more steampunk books. But I’d like to see how the perspicacious loris personhood is dealt with.   

Is this a series worth picking up? If you’re into YA, then this is one of the better YA books out there – but that’s not saying a lot. This is not Westerfeld’s finest – and shame on you Westerfeld, you can do better than this!  

The illustrations by Keith Thompson, gorgeous as ever.

Rating: 3 out of 5 steampunk stars


  1. YA and steampunk aren't really my thing, so I think I'll give this one a miss.

  2. I'm too old (or maybe too bitter) for YA.
    All that love wangst just pains me.

    And I like Tesla too :(

  3. Yeah, I've lost my interest in YA. It just feels lazy when you read it, and I kept thinking: I can write better than this!

    I might pick up "The Uglies" since that's supposed to be good -- but that's according to YA standards, which aren't very high. Remember, it's YA's fault that we have "Twilight". :P

  4. I only read the first Twilight. Just to see what the fuss was about.

    I couldn't get past the bit where there is a really old bloke, and he's at school, pretending to be a teenager, and desperately restraining himself from murdering a girl who's young enough to be his granddaughter.

    That's just weird.
    Why's he even at school?
    Isn't he bored?

  5. I'd say overall, "Twilight" makes absolutely NO sense. Sparkling vampires? WHY???

    I tried reading SMeyer's "The Host", a SF aimed at adult audience. Prologue was fine (makes me think someone else wrote it) but the minute you hit the 1st-person narrative...augh!

  6. Lifted from Star Wars -- original trilogy or the more recent trio? Not that it makes much difference, I suppose. Lucas didn't become famous for his writing!

  7. Milo, it was along the lines of: "Luke, it is your destiny..."

    I'll hand it to Lucas, he has one hell of an imagination, but a writer he is not.