(This review contains spoilers for Worldshaker by Richard Harland)
Liberator is the excellent sequel to Richard Harland’s 2009 steampunk adventure, Worldshaker, and once again the majority of the story takes place on the huge mobile city, now renamed to reflect its liberated status. While you do have to have read Worldshaker to fully appreciate Liberator, I personally found the entertainment value alone of both books more than worth the few hours it took to read them.
The story continues
Liberator picks up a few months after the events of Worldshaker. The Filthies may now have their freedom, but not all is well on the immense juggernaut. A saboteur and murderer is concealed within the population and suspicion falls upon the former upper decks residents, or Swanks. The resulting paranoia, paired with the lingering ill-feeling of the Filthies towards their former oppressors, widens the already substantial division between the two groups and offers the perfect climate for extremists to gain power. Furthermore, the Liberator faces not only war within the ranks of its citizens, but also assault from external sources as Imperialist juggernauts converge upon its position. Riff and Col must overcome their mistrust and unite the factions if anyone is to survive the oncoming storm.
Bigger and bolder
Overall, Liberator encompasses greater character development, greater scope and more intense action than its predecessor. We are offered more insight into the characters of the protagonists, Riff and Col, and watch them grow with the decisions they make throughout the story. Furthermore, Harland’s antagonists, such as Lye, are more developed than those in Worldshaker, with understandable flaws and motives rather than coming across as ‘just plain evil’ or serving solely as devices through which to parody certain historical stereotypes. The supporting cast, such as Col’s parents, teacher and even the ambiguous dog/cat Murgatrude, also benefit from some further attention. The result makes them much more real and endearing, while still remaining quirky and larger than life.
Throughout the course of this novel we finally get a glimpse of what Harland’s world is like beyond the claustrophobic confines of the mobile city. We visit an Imperial colony, located in Botany Bay and powered by convict labour, that exists purely to refuel the roaming juggernauts, and we even get to see some of the other, deadlier, mobile fortresses firsthand. The world outside is alien and threatening to Filthies and Swanks alike, yet can no longer be ignored if they are to continue to survive. All in all, this enhanced worldbuilding adds to the authenticity of the novel, reinforcing the perception of the Liberator as both a world contained within itself and yet still a part of a greater whole.
Life after revolution
Harland also does a good job of showing that life is not all joy and harmony in the aftermath of a revolution (complete with ample thinly veiled allusions to the Russian Revolution). Fanatics from both sides, Imperialist and Revolutionary, are depicted as inclined to bigotry and capable of using ruthless means to achieve their goals. Questions raised by the previous book, such as the inevitable reactions of the other Imperial juggernauts to the Filthy upheaval and the plight of their own analogous lower classes, are likewise explored.
The novel also provides some exhilarating battle scenes, laugh out loud moments (I’m thinking of Col’s mother’s personal revelation) and food for thought, all set in the bizarre and strangely alluring environment of the industrial behemoth.
Why should you read this book?
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed both Liberator and Worldshaker, and while their slightly unconventional style may not be to everyone’s taste, I found it a welcome break from the bleaker outlook and somewhat heavier tone prominent in many contemporary sci-fi and fantasy offerings. While the book is aimed at the young adult audience, I would also recommend it to older readers, such as myself, who are looking for a fun and quirky science fiction/fantasy read that has depth but doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Michelle received a review copy of this book courtesy of Allen and Unwin Australia.