Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Review: Goliath by Scott Westerfeld

Goliath by Scott Westerfeld
Published: Simon Pulse, 2011
Series: Book 3 of the Leviathan Trilogy

Awards Nominated: Locus YA Award
**Spoiler Alert: I've tried to keep clear of spoiling plot points.  However, given that this novel has only been out for a couple of months (and that it is the final novel of a trilogy), it might be a good idea to stop here if you don't want to be spoiled.
The Book:
“Alek and Deryn may have helped resolve the situation with the Ottoman Empire, but World War I is still escalating.  Alek is determined that it is his destiny to end the war, since it was his parents’ deaths started it. However, he’s stuck aboard the Leviathan, which is heading further and further from the heart of the conflict, for reasons no one seems inclined to explain to him.
Deryn’s secret—that she is a woman—is getting harder to keep, particularly now that she has fallen in love with her best friend Alek.  She feels certain they could never be together, since he’s the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and she’s a cross-dressing soldier.  What she doesn’t know is how Alek will react if he ever learns the truth.
As the course of the Leviathan is diverted through Siberia, Japan, Mexico, and finally to New York City, Deryn and Alek will encounter new dangers, new people, and new hopes for an end to the war!” ~Allie  
This is my final review for WWend’s Month of YA GenreFiction.  Once again, Goliath picks up right where Behemoth left off, and the first two novels are necessary reading before picking this one up.  In most series, I can pick out the stronger and weaker installments, but the novels in the Leviathan trilogy are of remarkably consistent quality.  Westerfeld has crafted an even, continuously exciting trilogy that has now come to a very satisfying conclusion.
My Thoughts:
As in the case of the previous two volumes, Goliath is packed with many of Keith Thompson’s wonderful illustrations.  These are particularly good for showing off the many creative steam-powered machines and fabricated animals that Deryn and Alek encounter on their travels.  This time around, the Leviathan airship journeys through many exotic locations, though none of them are nearly as fleshed out as Westerfeld’s Istanbul.  While there’s still plenty of action, this is more of a character-oriented book than the previous two. It feels as though it is more focused on Alek and Deryn’s personal stories, though they are still caught up in dramatic historical events.  
 Aside from the continuing cast aboard the Leviathan, a handful of characters from earlier in the story also make appearances in Goliath.  The ‘perspicacious lorises’ from Behemoth are still around, and I feel like I can comment on their role in the story now.  While the lorises are quite adorable, in pictures and in actions, they seem to exist solely to point out important clues to the characters (and readers).  Considering they were Dr. Barlow’s life work, I had hoped that there would be something more to them.  The size of the novel’s cast also swells from the addition of many new characters, some of which are based on historical figures. Though it’s neat to see fictional representations of well-known people from history, I was a little concerned by the strong negative characterization of a certain famously eccentric scientist.  I hope that younger readers will understand that while these characters are based on real people, a fair amount of artistic liberty is taken in their portrayal. 
I think Goliath handles the budding romance between Deryn and Alek much more skillfully than the previous volume.  The original ‘falling in love’ of Deryn seemed abrupt, but the development of their relationship seemed much more natural in Goliath. Deryn’s constant angsting about her and Alek’s relative social status got a little old, but I can’t claim that her obsessing isn’t realistic for someone caught in the grips of first love.  I think the story involving Deryn’s secret gender stretched credulity a bit, but I was mostly willing to just go along with the ride.  While their romance took a much larger role in this novel, there’s still quite a bit more to the story.  Throughout their adventures, I enjoyed watching Alek and Deryn try to make sense of the chaotic world and their places in it.
I’m not aware of any way of connecting Thomas Hobbes to the title Goliath, so I’m going a little further back in time with this title.  The obvious reference is to the biblical story of David and Goliath.  However, I think Goliath has more to say than the usual statements about a small hero defeating a giant enemy through faith and intelligence.  I think Goliath was intended to provoke discussions about morality of the David/Goliath situation.  If it will end a war, is it moral to kill someone, as David did Goliath?  If by violence, or threat of violence, you can protect the people you love and bring about peace, does that make your actions acceptable?  Westerfeld does not provide a simple answer, but these are interesting questions to discuss against the events of Goliath.
My Rating: 4/5
Goliath is consistent with the high level of quality I have come to expect from Scott Westerfeld’s young adult novels.  Deryn and Alek continue their adventures on the Leviathan, traveling to new and exciting locations. Many characters, new and old, show up along the way, and some of them are based on actual people.  Goliath deals both with the small-scale story of Deryn and Alek’s personal troubles and secrets, and the large-scale story of attempting to end World War I.  I was pleased that Westerfeld did not choose, in the end, to give his readers an unrealistically happy ending.  Overall, I think this was a highly satisfying conclusion to the Leviathan trilogy. 

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