Book Review: Worldshaker

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Book: Worldshaker
Series: Worldshaker, Book 1
Author: Richard Harland
Genres: YA, steampunk, sci-fi, adventure

Synopsis (from Amazon book page):

“Col Porpentine understands how society works: The elite families enjoy a comfortable life on the Upper Decks of the great juggernaut Worldshaker, and the Filthies toil Below Decks. Col’s grandfather, the Supreme Commander of Worldshaker, is grooming Col as his successor.
Used to keep Worldshaker moving, Filthies are like animals, unable to understand language or think for themselves. Or so Col believes before he meets Riff, a Filthy girl on the run who is clever and quick. If Riff is telling the truth, then everything Col has been told is a lie. And Col has the power to do something about it—even if it means risking his whole future.”

Notes of Interest:

The last book review I did was on the steampunk novel Boneshaker. It is therefore necessary to mention these books have nothing to do with each other and were written by two different authors.
I chose to read this book because I was looking for something steampunk to read. I didn’t realize it was YA because it was a borrowed book, rather than a purchased book. But as soon as I started reading that became apparent through both the character depictions and the writing style. (Not a bad thing for me; I enjoy YA.) The main characters are teens, and the plot is very straightforward; its message concerning class revolution and the incompetence of biased education systems is very overt.

What could have made it better for me:

If it wasn’t a YA book, I would say it’s under-developed. This is the kind of story that could have all kinds of subtle layers, especially if parts of it had been told from the pov of the characters living on the lower decks or through the eyes of the upper crust villains to flesh them out more.

What I liked about it:

It satisfied my desire for a steampunk story. I enjoyed the corny humor offered in the classroom and the tongue-in-cheek commentary on how the education system plays up to privilege. I like that the leading female was a leader, but the focus of the book wasn’t on her. (Considering the second book is called Liberator, I assume her story becomes the focus of the second book in the series.)
Personally, my favourite parts were the various ways that the virtues of the upper class were pressed upon the youth. I think I internalized this because of my own experiences growing up in religious schools, but the schoolmaster admonishing his students with, “We must live pure lives and think pure thoughts,” hit a little too close to home. It was over the top in how it had the schoolmaster’s means of dealing with “impure” thoughts by beating the students with canes and how he carried this division between “good” and “bad” to extremes … such as instructing the students that a “right” angle is a good angle, but an “obtuse” angle is a bad angle. Yet there is so much in reality I could reflect on regarding an upbringing where using the “rod” to correct impure thinking is acceptable, and everything (literally everything that influences culture) must be categorized as “good” or “evil”.
That same philosophical darkness resulting from “thought policing” or indoctrination is shown in how and why the filthies are turned into menials. Upon preparing to surgically alter Riff’s mind, Ebnolia says, “These are your limiters, to limit your mind. … You have so many more thoughts than you really need. When you’ve been limited, you’ll still have lots of nice small thoughts, but no big nasty ones.” Of course, this kind of authoritarian environment brings up ethical questions regarding free will, human rights, and abuse of power, which I enjoy reading about regardless of how subtle or overt the plot exploring the concepts.
I also enjoyed the author’s take on an alternate history based in the Napoleonic Wars and Industrial Revolution.

Recommendation:

This was an entertaining, easy read. It’s a good introduction to plots regarding class warfare and revolution. It had an exaggerated humour about it that could be a hit or miss depending on the reader’s sense of humour. Part of me wishes the characters or plot had been more complex, but its method of characterization was effective for straightforward storytelling purposes. For YA genre, that is an acceptable allowance.