Scott Westerfield – Goliath (Book Review)

Goliath cover

Scott Westerfield - Goliath

Goliath concludes the trilogy that Scott Westerfield began in Leviathan. That first book was a revelation, being both a thrilling adventure and the introduction to an original world. The pace faltered a little in Behemoth, if only because the sequel couldn’t seem as new and surprising as the first one. But this third book makes good on the promise of the series, bringing everything to a fun and satisfying conclusion.

The alternate-WWI premise, with a steampunk empire battling against genetic engineering, is now well-established, so the book jumps right into the plot. Girl-disguised-as-boy Deryn finds her web of lies becoming more difficult to maintain, and Austrian prince in hiding Alek finds a new hope as he struggles with mixed loyalties. However, Goliath would have benefitted from more introductory action. While the other two books had life-or-death struggles within the first couple chapters, this just sets up the long-running plots for the books. Even when Deryn comes face-to-face with vicious Russian bears of war, it feels strangely safe.

Yes, there are Russian bears which have been engineered as war machines. There are also mechanical walkers in the Mexican revolution, flying platforms over New York City, Japanese war-beasts, and a burgeoning film industry. Goliath may not have a new world to introduce, but it explores as much of it as the previous two books put together. It’s intriguing and, even more importantly, easy to accept, as Westerfield has made a world that feels internally consistent and fits cleverly in with real history. (The afterward, as always, is well worth reading, as it explains both the little elements of reality that the book makes use of and the places where it deviates from our history. While no one would mistake this for a historical novel, it has real things to teach and makes the actual events as intriguing as the fictional ones.)

Fortunately, the slower beginning pays off. The plots it sets in motion mix with the arc of the full trilogy to create an exciting, high-stakes second half. There was always an pleasant fantasy to the story of children hiding their identities in a war, but the reality of this is deadly not just for them, but for the people and nations they love. These dangers seem real by the end, and both heroes find themselves needing to decide a new future path for themselves. They grow up without betraying the characters that they have always been.

The romantic subplot that began to form in the second book plays a larger role here, and it is also effective. I am not generally a fan of storybook love, and I even groaned a little when I read the opening dedication (“To everyone who loves a long-secret romance, revealed at last”), but I have to admit that it worked here. There are no easy answers or convenient plot devices. Every step forward in the potential romance involves sacrifice and in-character decisions.

One defining part of the Leviathan trilogy has always been Keith Thompson’s illustrations, which give the books a period atmosphere and also help the reader visualize the stranger aspects of this world. Though the series no longer introduces completely new concepts every chapter, the art is still an integral part of the book. This book actually provides more illustrations than either of the previous ones, fleshing out the story and providing visual hooks.

Goliath is an appropriate ending to a standout Young Adult series: Providing payoff to the initial hooks and interesting new elements of its own, this deftly guides the story (both for our heroes and the alternate war-torn world) to a well-earned ending that never feels easy to predict.

Grade: B+

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