Scott Westerfeld's Goliath ships today, concluding his fabulous steampunk YA trilogy that began with Leviathan and continued in Behemoth. This alternate history of WWI is set in a world divided into two technological camps. On the Darwinist side, scientists manipulate the "life threads" of animals to create useful synthetic animals ranging from little "message lizards" that can parrot brief phrases up to enormous organic zeppelins that are part whale, part hydrogen-breather. Clankers — the Austro-Germanic camp, mostly — create huge, steam-driven mecha and work-horses that do useful and deadly work. When Archduke Ferdinand is assassinated, his son, Aleks, is smuggled away to neutral Switzerland before his uncle can have him killed to get him out of the chain of succession. There, he ends up joining forces with the Leviathan, a British airship whose crew includes the intrepid Dylan, a plucky girl who has dressed as a boy in order to secure a spot in the ship's crew. Once Aleks and Dylan have joined forces, Westerfeld begins to retell the history of WWI with ingenious variations drawing on his notional Darwinist/Clanker split, a tale of air-battles, naval warfare, diplomacy, skullduggery and sneakery.
Goliath picks up where Behemoth let off, after a spot of bother and a revolution in Constantinople, and takes the Leviathan to Tunguska, Siberia, where Nikola Tesla is secretly investigating the progress of his death ray, which may end the war — or life as we know it. Goliath hurdles on from there in the classic Westerfeld style, a cracking adventure story that revolves around science and engineering in equal measures with love, jealousy and honor. Soon, Aleks and Dylan are embroiled in the machinations of William Randolph Hearst and his feud with Joseph Pulitzer, Pancho Villa and his cinematographic civil war, and an impossible romance.
Westerfeld's best trick is to mix adventure and fact, and he is as adept at working history into his stories as he is biology (see his brilliant Peeps for a more biological tale), and the Leviathan trilogy is full of great, sneaky discourses on engineering, history, science, and war.
Even better, the Leviathan books are ably illustrated in vintage style by Keith Thompson, recalling the illustrated adventures of the Victorian and Edwardian eras — the chimerical, Dr Moreauvian creations of Westerfeld's imagination are particularly suited to this kind of drawing, as, of course, are the cross-hatched mechaniks of the Clankers.