Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Writer's View: Goliath by Scott Westerfeld


From Goodreads: Alek and Deryn are on the last leg of their round-the-world quest to end World War I, reclaim Alek’s throne as prince of Austria, and finally fall in love. The first two objectives are complicated by the fact that their ship, the Leviathan, continues to detour farther away from the heart of the war (and crown). And the love thing would be a lot easier if Alek knew Deryn was a girl. (She has to pose as a boy in order to serve in the British Air Service.) And if they weren’t technically enemies.

The tension thickens as the Leviathan steams toward New York City with a homicidal lunatic on board: secrets suddenly unravel, characters reappear, and nothing is at it seems in this thunderous conclusion to Scott Westerfeld’s brilliant trilogy.

The Writer's View

This is the last installement in Scott Westerfield's Leviathan trilogy. The series is a YA historical fiction/science fiction. They're a fun romp.

The story is set in WWI. Instead of the Entente Powers (United Kingdom, France, US, Japan, Italy, and Russia for a while) vs the Central Powers (Germany, Autro-Hungary, Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria), we have the Darwinists vs the Clankers. Darwinists believe in better living through biology; they genetically engineer "beastie" warships and weapons. Clankers believe in better living through technology; they have great iron walkers and other weapons the rely on metal and engineering.

All in all, Westerfield's revisioning of the past is spectacular. I love the way he weaves science fiction and fantasy with real history.


Even though the characters were fun and loveable, I for some reason didn't connect with them all that well. I'm not sure why. They're well written and loveable, but they weren't the sort of characters that kept me up at night. I find this to be a pattern in all the Westerfeld books I read. It's probably just me, because I think he's a pretty successful author.

Weaving fun tidbits into historical fiction

I always loved history as a kid. What I love about historical fiction is an opportunity to learn neat little tidbits that I might not find in a history book.

For example, did you know that William Randolph Hearst coined the term "cliffhanger"? As a native Californian, when I think of Hearst, I always think of Hearst Castle and Hearst newspapers. I didn't realize he was into film. He produced a series of  short films called the Perils of Pauline. Each segment ended with Pauline in danger. Hearst described these endings as "cliffhangers." I thought this was so cool!

These books are packed with tons of fun facts from history. At the end of each novel, Westerfeld reveals what's true, what's made up, and what's altered. I can't help but admire the amount of research that must have gone into the creation of these books.

At one time, I had hopes of writing a magical realism / historical fiction based on the Ching Dynasty in China. I spent about a year researching. I read dozens of books on Chinese history, architecture, mythology, etc. I even went to China. In the end, I just got so overwhelmed. I felt like I could never pack all the amazing facts into a story, so I shelved the idea. I have a great deal of respect for Westerfeld, who was able to successfully meld speculative fiction and historical fiction.

If you haven't read this series, I definitely recommend it. It's very imaginative and fun.

10 comments:

  1. You know what? I feel exactly the same way about the characters in Westerfeld's books. Which is why I didn't pick up Behemoth after reading Leviathan. They were fun and all but I just didn't feel anything for them. I couldn't relate to Deryn at all for some reason. I felt she was a bit smug. But you're so right in that he's done such a marvelous job incorporating all the historical factors and creating such a wonderful alternate reality. The Darwinist beats are a stroke of genius.

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    1. @ Lan - I can't tell you what a relief it is to hear that! When I was a kid, I think I would have idolized a character like Deryn. And though she was likeable, I just didn't *connect* with her.

      As for the love interest . . . he was too feminine for my taste. I couldn't figure out what Deryn saw in him. Heh.

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  2. Yes, I agree with you and Lan. I can't connect to his characters either. I've only read the first books in the Pretties/Uglies series and am in no rush to get to the rest. I haven't read this series yet. I plan on it, though. I'm OK with not connecting to characters if the story is really good. I prefer a good story and relatable characters, though.

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    1. @ Jenny -- I'm with you, I only read Uglies. Premise was cool, but I didn't fall in love with the MC. Bummer!

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  3. This guy has written like buttloads of books, but I've yet to read any of them! Such a slacker am I. I have a couple of his books that I do plan to read someday soon, so I'll see how I feel about his characters, etc. I'm really interested in his books because they sound like they'd be amazing.

    Maybe you shouldn't give up on your book idea of weaving in Chinese history into magical realism, Camille. Someday, you just might be up for it, even if not at this time. It sounds like a book series I'd like to read!

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    1. @ Cathy -- you would probably laugh if you saw the amount of research materials I have on the Ching! I even bought thesis papers from a thesis website! LOL. Maybe someday . . . guess I just have to read more historical fiction and try to learn more! WHen I went to the Forbidden City, I bought so many books I could hardly carry them all . . . my shoulder were sore for days from lugging them!

      Westerfeld is definitely worth checking out. I preferred his Leviathian series over his Ugly series, though both are very popular.

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  4. Ive heard a lot of praise for this series. I'm really glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for an informative, interesting post!

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  5. I actually saw Leviathan at Chapters for 5$ last week and I wasn't sure if it was any good. It sounds very interesting and I did enjoy his Uglies series I may just go pick it up!

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    1. @ Giselle - What a bargain! Definitely worth checking out!

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