Sunday, September 9, 2012

Book Review: Goliath; and, Don't forget your Manual of Aeronautics, "Mister" Sharp!

As you may recall, I loved the first two books of Scott Westerfeld's "Leviathan" trilogy, and the third book wraps up the trilogy admirably. Goliath, like Leviathan and Behemoth before it, is illustrated throughout by Keith Thompson. His gorgeous black-and-white images throughout the book give it a great sense of lively adventure, and his beautiful, full-color illustration for the inside covers (above) is just as vibrant and evocative as the ones he did for the first two novels. As you might expect from the third novel of a trilogy, the stakes have never been higher for Alek and Deryn, as they race on board the Leviathan on a mission that may be the last chance for peace before the war gets out of control.

I can't go into too much detail about the plot, but yes, that is Nikola Tesla in the illustration above. At first, I groaned at the inclusion of Mr. Tesla, because he has become so ubiquitous in SF stories set in the early twentieth century. By the end of the novel, though, I had to admit that the story clearly would not have worked without him.

Since I can't talk too much about the plot, I'll go on a bit of a tangent and mention something that really irked me about the covers. Keep in mind that the interior illustrations were done by Keith Thompson, so they clearly already had one extremely talented artist working on the series.

When Leviathan first came out in hardcover, this was the cover it got:
 For the record, that's the version of the book that we have. Not bad. I mean, it's got gears in it, because my marketing people tell me that the whole "steampunk" thing is really big with the kids this year. Apparently the UK people got the memo that they had Keith freakin' Thompson working on the series, though, because they got him to do the cover for the UK version:

And then we see the cover they gave the US paperback version.
And more goggles! (I only wish Alek were wearing goggles in the last one, so I could have said "Twice the goggles!")

In other news, once the series was wrapped up, Scott Westerfeld and Keith Thompson put together an illustrated guide to the series: The Manual of Aeronautics. The whole book is packed with full-color illustrations by Keith Thompson, with descriptions by Scott Westerfeld. And once again, Keith Thompson does the cover:
There are illustrations for every major machine we come across in the novels. To be honest, I had hoped to see more of the bigger Clanker walkers, since we hear that the Stormwalker is the smallest two-legged war walker in the Austrian army, but we never get to see any bigger ones. Nor do the multi-legged German walkers from the first novel make an appearance. It would have been good to see the land dreadnought and the frigate that we see in the hunt for Alek.

My other disappointment was the size of the book. The Manual is not only quite slim, it's also barely larger than the hardcover novels in the series. It would have been nice to get an oversized, art book-style guide to truly show of Thompson's amazing illustrations

What there is in the book is excellent, of course. There seems to be special attention paid to the machines from the second book, with drawings of the various walkers used both by the sultan's forces and the rebels. The cover depicts the sultan's airyacht, which does not get a page in the book, but does get a description in the cover art credit on the book's copyright page. My favorite parts were illustrations of the Leviathan, including a cutaway of its gondola and a cutaway of the airbeast itself, and illustrations of the various beasties on the ship. I especially love the illustration of the flechette bats, which look awesome. My other favorite part was the cutaway of the Stormwalker, which, when I think about it, was probably the reason I wanted to get this book. I did notice, though, that two of the Stormwalker notes are switched: the "Machine Guns" and "Gunner's Cabin" notes are pointing at the wrong parts of the walker.

Some parts of the book are quite spoilery for the series, by the way, so you should only plan on reading it once you have finished the trilogy. The inside cover very clearly shows a major event that happens after the events of Goliath, and the portraits of the characters in the book tell us what they do after the series. I was actually glad to see this, since Goliath is a little vague about what happens after the series. It makes a very fitting curtain call for the characters.

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