Monday, July 18, 2011
Worldshaker by Richard Harland
Hand-selected by his grandfather, chief advisor to Queen Victoria and supreme commander of the juggernaut Worldshaker, 16-year-old Col Porpentine has a glittering future mapped out for him as his grandfather's successor. But when an escaped Filthy, a 14-year-old girl named Riff, seeks refuge in his cabin, that future is shattered. Col discovers that his privileged life on the Upper Decks is only possible because of the labor performed by the Filthies of the Lower Decks, who work in appalling conditions to keep the large-as-a-city Worldshaker constantly on the move. Through Riff, Col discovers that the Filthies are not the subhuman bestial creatures he was led to believe they were. In fact, they are the descendants of Great Britain's lower classes who attempted revolution during the Napoleonic Wars, were overthrown, became “factory slaves” during mass industrialization, and ended up incarcerated on the juggernaut. Casting aside years of social conditioning and training, Col joins with Riff and the below-deck revolutionaries to change the course of his entire world.
Genre: fantasy; steampunk
This was actually a really good introduction to steampunk for younger readers. I struggled to tell what age group this was actually aimed at for a long time. The plot and characters were good, but it often felt as though Harland was consciously trying to simplify his wording for people to understand, then he would forget for a while, then he would try to simplify things again. For all that, the book was very good and because of the short chapters, a fast read. Col is a sympathetic character even though he's caught in as much prejudice as everyone around him. The difference is that he recognizes it eventually and tries to fix things. The Filthies are not innocent lambs either. They kill surrendered prisoners until someone stops them and they would have killed Col, yet it is clear they have legitimate grievances. Harland's emphasis on the vapidness of the upper deck is rather heavy handed sometimes. The most annoying parts of the book are when the women are protrayed as being completely helpless and stupid on the upper deck. It just wasn't believable.
The book does have a lot of social questions that should make readers think though. The class struggle and prejudice issues being big ones. The second book of this series comes out in the near future and I'm interested to see where it goes. This was a far better steampunk effort than I've recently seen and while it might be comparable to Leviathan, I think this one is better.