With Goliath, Scott Westerfeld has wrapped up his Leviathan series, an alternate-history look at the events leading up to World War I. In his history, the two sides are either Clankers — people who rely on steam-powered mechanical machines to drive their technology — or Darwinists — people who derive new functional species by splicing and combining DNA from existing animals — or some combination of the two. I think the two technologies represent the two conflicting ideologies of the two sides of the war, but to be honest, I don’t know my history well enough to know if it’s a firm demarcation, and besides, in this volume, Japan and the US use a combination of the two technologies instead of favoring one over another. Regardless, Westerfeld uses the two ideals as a way to represent the ingrained prejudices people have for different groups and races.
The series is a little bit of everything. It’s one part science fiction, one part historical fiction, one part adventure fiction, and one part romance fiction. It’s a YA series, and Westerfeld does a good job of making it appealing to all audiences of his target audience. The main subplot of the series involves Prince Alek and Deryn Sharp, the Austrian heir to the throne and the young woman commoner who disguises herself as a boy to serve in the Royal Air Force, and their developing friendship. With the Uglies series, Westerfeld proved that he could write strong female leads, and he does the same here with Deryn, who often proves herself to be just as strong — and usually stronger — than Alek. Deryn could have easily fallen into an anti-stereotype, but her strength is never forced, nor does it ever ring false. Westerfeld does the character justice, which is part of the reason why the story succeeds.
Like the previous books in the series, Goliath got me interested in the real history that inspired the novels, which got me to do a little research to learn more about what really happened. The book also features Nikola Tesla as a character (who, as a real person, has always intrigued me), so of course it makes me want to read more about him. I’m not much of a history buff, so any time a story can inspire me to learn more about real events, I take that as a sign of success for the story itself. Oftentimes it’s a lot easier to get into history by framing a real event with a fictional story (look at Titanic for a popular example), and here we get a fictional setting, as well. In the afterword of Goliath, the author notes the liberties he took with the real history, but also notes where the real history diverted, and indirectly encourages the readers to look into it themselves.
I was pleased with how the series wound up. It wasn’t perfect, and I think it would have been hard for the author not to take it to its logical conclusion, but even though one plot ended the way I expected it would, there were enough unexpected events throughout the rest of the story to keep me interested in the plot and keep asking questions. Scott Westerfeld is a great writer, so it comes as no surprise to me that he could take those talents and apply them to a historical series. It makes me curious to see what he’s going to do with his next series.