Goliath by Scott Westerfeld
First things first, before I devolve into gushing over Deryn Sharp (SHE’S JUST SO DASHING, GUYS), who are these cats on the cover? I know, I know, they changed the cover style when Behemoth was released last year, but still. Given how unique Keith Thompson’s illustrations are, it’s really jarring to see two normal kids on the cover. (And Deryn doesn’t look a fig like the pointy Malfoy she totally is, but that’s neither here nor there and probably just me.) Especially since one of the accents is from the illustrations themselves. Ah, well. If the cover moves more copies, than I’m happy, because this is a fantastic series.
Goliath finds Alek and Deryn Sharp on board the Leviathan as the ship picks up the brilliant and seriously unhinged Nikola Tesla while on a mission to Tokyo. As Alek finds himself drawn to Tesla’s proclamations of making peace with the titular Goliath, Deryn’s greatest secrets—her hidden gender and her love for Alek—are revealed. The end of the war, the status of the Austro-Hungarian throne, and true love all hang in the balance. No pressure.
Let’s get the gushing out of the way first—I love Deryn and I love Deryn’s relationship with Alek. Alek is, of course, a nice guy, but the book acknowledges that Deryn is the dreamy one of the two. He actually takes a newspaper clipping about her—well, at that moment, “him”—and keeps it. He also later comments on her swagger. And Lilit sashays back into town to pass on pertinent information, hit on Deryn, tell her to get together with Alek, and leave. (Preach!) In any case, Deryn is awesome, et cetera, et cetera. But the reason I love their relationship is that they are absolutely equals. It’s never even a question. In a sea of young adult fiction that seems to put the very bizarre power dynamics of a relationship like the Cullens up on a pedestal, Deryn and Alek are a gentle but firm rejection of that. They give things up for each other, but never anything fundamental to their character. Deryn, for instance, considers herself a soldier of the British Empire through and through, and would never desert, even for Alek. On Alek’s part, part of his journey in this novel is realizing how much he needs Deryn. Towards the end, Alek thanks Deryn for saving his life (again), but Deryn corrects him—““We save each other,” Deryn whispered. “That’s how it works” (533). Their relationship is the heart and soul of the trilogy for a good reason.
But conversely, this focus can make the series feel a bit disjointed. Don’t get me wrong—I’ll happily read about the episodic adventures of Deryn Sharp any day of the week. But thinking about the series as a whole, I was reminded of Fyrefly’s complaint about Goliath. She felt that the novel felt “somewhat episodic and disjointed”. While I didn’t get that feeling as much as she did, I think it’s a very valid point to make. The Leviathan hops from Siberia to Tokyo to America to Mexico to New York in quite timely fashion. While we needed the first two books for the evolution of Deryn and Alek’s relationship and the circumstances that throw them together, the events in this novel feel a little disconnected from those of Leviathan and Behemoth. I understand the tack Westerfeld is taking here; after all, something as messy as war is not exactly logical, especially when we’re watching it through the eyes of two teenagers who don’t have much control in the situation, even if they do end up making some significant contributions. But the overall effect is episodic in the best way, especially since we get so invested in Deryn and Alek. It’s more character-focused than plot-focused, know what I mean? And that’s a good thing.
The writing remains easy to whip through—I’d describe it as a touch more middle-grade than young adult, although it’s marketed as young adult. (Again, whatever gets copies out. Kids should be reading this.) I was able to comfortably get through two hundred pages in the space of an hour and a half. Keith Thompson’s illustrations are fantastic, and they have more of a role in this book than in the first two. I’ll be honest; I’ve always relied on Thompson to understand the battles, and he absolutely delivers here. The climactic battle gets a full spread, which I was delighted by. Thompson’s work is truly unique and remarkably well-suited to this trilogy—I think that’s why I’m so disappointed in the cover art, actually. And, of course, Goliath ends on an illustration that ties everything together beautifully. Dreamy.
Bottom line: Goliath is a wildly satisfying end to an episodic (in the best way) trilogy that’s more about the relationship between Deryn Sharp and Alek than the war. Good reading.
I rented this book from the public library.
- Westerfeld, Scott. Goliath. New York: Simon Pulse, 2011. Print.