Goliath is the concluding volume in Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy, a young adult series that follows an alternate World War I with steampunk elements.
In Goliath, Alek and Deryn have left the Ottoman Empire aboard the Leviathan in order to pick up a mysterious new passenger deep in the heart of Siberia. At the behest of this passenger, they proceed to travel across the world on a journey to New York, where the possibility of a deadly new weapon called Goliath awaits—a weapon that could potentially bring an end to the war…but at the price of millions of innocent lives.
Around the world
While Leviathan and Behemoth took place in relatively small areas (a glacier in the Alps and Istanbul, respectively), Goliath broadens the scope of the series considerably. The Leviathan travels the world in this installment, taking Alek and Deryn to Russia, Japan, Mexico, and America. They meet an assortment of fascinating characters along the way, many of whom, such as William Randolph Hearst and “Pancho” Villa, actually existed in the early 20th century. These characters are all interesting and provide neat anchors to the real world, but it sometimes feels as though Westerfeld creates excessive tangents simply for the sake of meeting these real-life characters. Alek and Deryn take a backseat to actual historical figures far more than is necessary in Goliath, and the story grinds to a halt every time they do.
Just going through the motions
Goliath doesn’t offer much in the way of surprises. The story’s predictability goes from being annoying to a major flaw, and this proves to be a serious detriment considering that Goliath is the longest entry in the Leviathan trilogy. Everything that was established in the first two books comes to fruition in Goliath, but nothing happens in even a remotely surprising way. More than anything, it feels as if Westerfeld is simply going through the motions rather than trying to create an actual plot.
Predictably, Deryn’s secret begins to leak out, complicating her relationship with Alek, and Alek himself becomes more and more obsessed with the idea that he is destined to put an end to the war. The perspicuous lorises bring humor to the book but don’t really serve the story, and Dr. Barlow continues to remain more of a plot device than a character. And of course, the inevitable romance between Alek and Deryn finally surfaces, only to feel extraordinarily forced. There isn’t a shred of romantic chemistry between these two characters, and the romantic subplot between them seems to exist more out of obligation than out of any genuine attraction.
A story that lacks intensity
Simply put, Goliath lacks conflict. The majority of the book consists of the Leviathan traveling across the world, encountering new cultures and meeting new people. In many ways, this feels like a reflection of the story itself: it lacks the focus of the first two installments and instead meanders aimlessly, touching on numerous potential conflicts and storylines but abandoning them just as quickly. Furthermore, the war—which is, essentially, the driving force of the series—always feels distant and irrelevant. While in the previous novels the characters were constantly fighting for their lives, throughout most of Goliath their biggest worries consist of petty personal problems. The characters rarely feel like they’re in any real danger, and this results in a dull story that stretches over 500-plus pages. Frankly, Goliath was boring.
The lack of conflict shows through in Keith Thompson’s illustrations as well: while they remain as beautiful as ever, the exciting battles and life-threatening moments that he captured in the first two books give way mostly to drawings of settings and characters standing around talking. I breezed through Leviathan and Behemoth because the stories were intense and exciting, but I honestly struggled through Goliath; I probably would have given up on it if I hadn’t already invested the time to read the first two installments. Even the book’s climax was, frankly, anticlimactic; to make matters worse, it strays dangerously close to deus ex machina territory. After everything that Alek and Deryn go through in the Leviathan series, the resolution of the story and their characters feels cheap and unsatisfying.
Why should you read this book?
If you’ve read Leviathan and Behemoth, you’re probably going to want to finish the series. There’s no harm in doing so if you’ve got the time, but be warned that Goliath may be a disappointment after the first two entries in the series. It lacks the intensity and excitement of the previous installments, and the novelty of the Clanker machines and the Darwinist “beasties” that originally gave Westerfeld’s take on World War I a unique twist has worn off by this point in the series. Ultimately, Goliath fails to live up to its predecessors and proves to be disappointing conclusion to a promising series.