Worldshaker/Liberator, Richard Harland
Allen and Unwin, 2009/2011
Available from The Book Depository at a great price!
I first read Worldshaker last year after Supanova but such is the nightmare that is a thesis that I didn’t get around to Liberator till last month. Finally, I can write a review of both exciting books!
What is it that I find so appealing about steampunk? I am certainly not a fan of Jane Austen (gasps of shock) and other 19th century greats. Unless they are Dickens. The thing that usually gets to me aside from their insistence on meandering to the point of the story, is the glossing over of real social struggles. That’s where steampunk and historical fiction comes into things. People like Richard Harland remember that life wasn’t all about fans and balls and subtle romance. It was also a time of gender inequality, boredom, stifling social (im)mobility and slavery.
Worldshaker begins the story of Colbert Porpentine; a boy who lives on the upper deck of the juggernaut, Worldshaker. He has been chosen as the next Supreme Commander of the ship but not before a girl Filthy named Riff from Below turns up in his cabin and suddenly his world is turned upside down. As the story goes on Col begins to question the careful social mores he had always taken to be gospel truth. The political fabric of Worldshaker is torn apart by machinations and revolution but just whose side will Col choose?
Its sequel, Liberator, sees Col and Riff continue to work together on their jugganaut with the Revolutionaries but this time it’s the other side of politics that takes a nasty turn after a run of sabeteur attacks. Soon Col is at the recieving end of Filthy rage as the extremists on the jugggernaut take control. At the same time, Imperialist juggernauts mass against the newly named Liberator, prepared for war.
These two YA books are fast paced and fun (Harland sure knows how to leave each chapter on a runaway caboose) but with a hard edge. I always love a good dose of political realism in my genre fiction and Harland doesn’t disappoint. Changing the status quo is never as simple as it seems and there are always extremists on both sides willing to throw spanners into the works. In these stories, the complexity of revolution, of power, of sexuality and gender are explored meaningfully and all in a great package of steam powered excitement.
The one criticism I have is that I sometimes got exhausted by just how much was going on- events got emotionally draining and I’d feel a bit overwhelmed. Antrobus was also never explained (another book perchance?) But aside from that there’s not much to criticise. Harland has a wonderful and often humerous authorial voice which I found refreshing and I did really love his characters and themes.
Worldshaker/Liberator: 4/5 inky stars