Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Book review - Goliath

What can I possibly say about Scott Westerfeld's Goliath that would do the book justice? For starters, there are many people out in the wilds of the interwebs talking about this book at the moment, no doubt many of them far more eloquently than I. Secondly, what could I say that wouldn't contain spoilers for books 1 and 2 in the series, Leviathan and Behemoth?

Briefly, the 'Leviathan' series is a YA trilogy loosely classified within the steampunk genre, although I'd say it's influences are far broader than that. It is set in an alternate reality version of World War I, where the two main factions vying for control of Europe are the Clankers (Germany, Austro-Hungarian Empire, etc.) whose technology is based on machines and diesel engines, and the Darwinists (British Empire, Russia, etc.) whose technology is based on genetically engineered creatures. By machines I mean 'giant walking robot tanks' and by genetically engineered creatures I mean 'flying sky-whale dirigibles'. Um. Wow.

The story follows two protagonists: Deryn Sharp, a scottish girl masquerading as a boy so she can serve aboard the Leviathan (the aforementioned sky-whale); and Aleksandar of Hohenberg, the young son of Franz Ferdinand, the Austrian Duke whose assassination sparked World War I both in our world and in the world of the books. Alek and Deryn meet aboard the Leviathan, and proceed to tumble headlong through the events of World War I, as those events fall farther and farther away from our own history. If you want to learn more about the series, visit this page at Westerfeld's website.

Now that I've finished the trilogy (and gasped all my gasps, and squeed all my squees) the thing I'd like to talk about is a certain aspect of Scott Westerfeld's writing that struck me, particularly in Goliath. I haven't read any of Westerfeld's previous work, so I don't know if this is something he does all the time, or if it is particular to this series.

Throughout the series, the story switches back and forth between Deryn and Alek's viewpoints. Also, these two characters at various times have all sorts of secrets or pieces of information they are keeping from one another. Yet when we are reading a chapter from, say, Deryn's point of view, we the reader can tell when Alek is thinking about something Deryn doesn't know, and we know what he is thinking. Without Deryn finding out what that thing is. Without Westerfeld putting his voice into the story and telling us. Without bashing our heads with the information. If you have read the book or are meaning to read it, look closely at chapter 10 to see what I mean. We know exactly what Alek is thinking, even though Deryn clearly has no clue.

This knowledge is woven in softly, deftly, and we the reader feel like we just know it intuitively. Of course that is not the case; Westerfeld is doing it on purpose. I'd sure like to know how he does it. I would be thrilled if I could somehow add that trick to my writing toolbox.

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