Thursday, February 17, 2011
Worldshaker by Richard Harland is a steampunk YA novel. There must be something about Australian authors and YA steampunk, one of the others I know is Michael Pryor's marvelous The Laws of Magic series.
Worldshaker is set in an alternate world where a fifty year war between the large European imperial powers of the 18th and 19th century has devastated the landscape to make it unliveable. The imperial powers have abandoned their colonies and taken to giant ships that travel over land and sea, known as juggernauts.
The book is set on the Worldshaker, Britain's great juggernaut. There are 3 distinct classes of people aboard Worldshaker; the Upper Deck, representing the upper class, the Menials who are the servants and working class and then below decks are the Filthies, they would have been factory fodder in the old world. There are also sub classes amongst the Upper Deck. The whole thing is overseen by the ship's Supreme Comander who is under the rubber stamp authority of Queen Victoria III and her consort Prince Albert.
The two central characters are Colbert Porpentine, the grandson of the Supreme Comannder; Sir Mormus Porpentine, and Sir Mormus' chosen successor. The other main character is Riff, a fiery young Filthy, who is part of the Revolutionary Council, and determined to overthrow the current ruling class.
Col and Riff meet and she forces Col to investigate his life and history of the world. He finds out that the Filthies are not a separate species of subhuman as everyone has been told. The Menials are people who have been lobotomised to make them more obedient and his family are as guilty if not more so of abusing their servants. Circumstances force Col into action and he and Riff are at the forefront of the new order, it turns out that they are the only ones who can prevent Sir Mormus from blowing up the ship in order to preserve his own legend.
For a YA story it's not too bad, interesting idea and settings. There are echoes of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World in the Menials and the Filthies put me in mind of those below the cities in David Williamson's Chung Kuo. In fact the themes of class were present in both of those novels and in Chung Kuo civilisation had been forced into giant domed cities.
The book was a little uneven in terms of pacing and characterisation. I became convinced that Col and Riff were about 12 or 13 only to be told that Col was in fact 16 and Riff was 15, they both often seemed, especially Col, so much younger, he was also a very passive protagonist for most of the narrative, springing into action in the last section, the sub story with his sister; Gillabeth, was also never satisfactorily resolved. The last section was all action, which was rather at odds with all the setup that had taken place throughout the majority of the story. For the YA set it was an involving and interesting story with sympathetic protagonists and a rather novel idea and setting. I did enjoy it, although I accept that I'm not the intended audience. The fact that it's standalone is another point in it's favour.