Here's the very first review in Bookseller & Publisher - which is the magazine for bookshops and people in the book trade.
Bookseller & Publisher (April to July issue)
Worldshaker (Richard Harland, A & U, $17.99, pb, ISBN 9781741757095, May) ****
(four stars - as good as it gets!)
Richard Harland's new YA novel is an enjoyable romp set entirely aboard the Worldshaker juggernaut--a city-sized vehicles that trundles around the world on giant rollers. The society that inhabits this vessel is a strictly hierarchical one with an elite aristocracy who live in luxury on the upper decks while a subclass of oppressed workers (known as Filthies) is confined to the lowest levels alongside huge, dangerous steam engines. The hero, Colbert Porpentine, initially accepts his lot in life as the nominated successor to the Supreme Commander. A chance encounter with an escaped Filthy, however, opens his eyes to the evil reality of the world he inhabits causing him to reassess all that he had been told and believed in up till then. Richard Harland has an eye for the grotesque and peoples his novel with some highly eccentric characters (with equally odd names). This, along with the pseudo-Victorian setting, makes for an atmospheric tale told with humour and a genuine emotional depth. Col's gradual awakening provides the book with plenty of narrative momentum and the resourceful Riff makes a feisty heroine. The author's easy-to-read writing style makes this an ideal recommendation for the target 12-16-year-old age group.
Reviewed by James Francis, bookseller at Reader's Feast in Melbourne
Northern Daily Leader (Aus)
By Richard Harland
A BRILLIANT fantasy that will hook
you from the very first page, set
aboard a huge ship in which the elites
live on the top decks while the Filthies
toil below. Col's safe, civilized world
on the upper decks of the
Worldshaker, a huge ship that has
been sailing since 1845, is changed
forever when a Filthy from below
finds her way into his cabin. Richard
Harland has created an acutely
observed and utterly compelling
Gothic world of warped Victoriana to
explore 16-year-old Col's journey
from cosseted youth to courageous
ALLEN & UNWIN,
Imagine a parallel world in which
the 19th-century Victorian era
never finished. Except that it is on
a giant steam-powered ship called
the Worldshaker travelling across
the seas and land. Sixteen-year-
old Colbert Porpentine is destined
to become the next Supreme
Commander, answering only to
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
But his encounter with an urchin
(a Filthy) throws his world into
confusion. This terrific novel is
part of the fantasy sub-genre
called "steam punk". It's pitched at
13-to-16-year-olds but, even as an
adult, it's hard to put down. N.L.
* Verdict: gripping
Canberra Times (Aus)
WORLDSHAKER. By Richard Harland. Allen &
Unwin. 384pp. $17.99.
Reviewer: MARISA PINTADO.
Richard Harland's Worldshaker is an epic
steampunk adventure set aboard a city-sized
ship that travels across land and sea in a
modern-day Victorian era. As the eldest son
of the most important aristocratic family on the
Worldshakerjuggernaut, 16-year-old Colbert
Porpentine is pleased when he is nominated by his
imposing grandfather to succeed him as Supreme
Unfortunately, this nomination comes right after
Col encounters Riff, a rebellious and quick-witted
Filthy girl on the run. Like the rest of the Victorian-
era-style tipper and middle classes, Col has spent his
life believing that Filthies are a sub-species of human,
incapable of speech, that "multiply" like rodents in
the darkness of the juggernaut's Below. Filthies are the
strictly hierarchical Worldshaker's slave class, forced
to live and work among the juggernaut's steam
Col is horrified by Riff at first, scared of becoming
Filthy by association, but he soon uncovers a number
of disturbing truths about his exceedingly moral and
sheltered life on the Upper Decks. Over the course of
this dystopian novel, Col unwittingly prepares for a
revolution of sorts, just as his own family senses his
weakness for the plight of the lower classes and
prepares to position him for their own gains. It
becomes plain to Col that everyone from his
starchy", sensible sister Gillabeth to his strawberry-
scented grandmother Ebnolia is ruthlessly self-serving
in their own way.
Harland has great fun with ludicrously proper
Victorian sensibilities, and populates his cast to this
end. When Col begins school with his pompous and
painfully limited Mr Gibber, his chemistry lesson
consists of learning "the difference between the purity
of elements and the dirtiness of compounds"; in
maths, his class appreciates the "fimmiess and
strength" of the right angle, and derides the "sloppy,
slack, degenerate" obtuse angle.
While the author acknowledges the social and
educational confines within which Victorian women
were placed, he also sends up those women who
played to these limited expectations. Col's frilly
admirer Sephaltina, for example, is Wildean in her
formality. During an awkward chaperoned meeting,
she asks him which part of her is the prettiest. "What
about my ears?" she simpers, her hair brushed
forward. "I can't see them," a bewildered Col
responds. "No, because we're not married yet," says
Sephaltina coyly. "Shall I do a smile for you?"
This atmospheric novel is a fabulous start for
anyone interested in test-driving the steampunk genre;
the clanking and humming of the steel juggernaut as
it sails imperiously around the globe is matched
beautifully with Harland's sometimes hysterical,
sometimes burdensome evocation of Victorian times.
Don't let the fantasy tag put you off; this novel jets
along at a pace that belies its steam-powered gears.
A brilliant steam punk fantasy that will hook you form the very first page…
Set in an age of juggernauts, when vast mechanical monsters roll across the continents, competing for trade and power, Worldshaker is hugely enjoyable melodrama set in an alternative reality.
In this thrilling fable about tyranny and revolution, 16 year old Colbert is a naive boy who has led a sheltered existence, never questioning the society he lives in. As the nominated successor to his grandfather, Sir Mormus Porpentine, Supreme Commander of the juggernaut, Worldshaker, he can expect to enjoy power and influence and respect for the rest of his life. Then Riff, a Filthy girl from Below, explodes into his cosy world, beginning a chain reaction that causes Colbert to question everything, including loyalty to members of his own family, and ultimately to join in a rebellion
against the cruelty and oppression of an imperial-style system.
Peppered with tantalizing hints of a forbidden romance, and depicting a world like ours but strangely altered, Worldshaker is reminiscent of Philip Pullman's The Northern Lights.
A darkly atmospheric and engrossing coming of age story for readers aged 13+.
Here's another review from Aurealis Express (the on-line Aurealis for the Australian speculative fiction community)
Aurealis Express, 16.4.09
Worldshaker by Richard Harland
Allen and Unwin
Review by Crisetta MacLeod
This is a steampunk story told by a master of his craft, and supreme master of his genre. The Worldshaker is a juggernaut, a world in itself. It and the juggernauts of other nations were created after the Industrial Revolution, which has turned out very differently (France conquered England!) Worldshaker trundles greedily around the world seeking coal to keep itself fed and mobile.
The upper decks enjoy a life of decadence, while degraded “Filthies” slave in darkness in the bowels. Even worse, the upper class dredges up a Filthy at will, to be converted into a Menial, a servant for their lavish lifestyle.
The protagonists are Col, heir to the controlling family, and Riff, a fourteen-year-old girl who’s plotting a Filthy Revolution. At Col’s school, social class is more important than intelligence, and bullying is trenchantly described. But Col is also learning to fight, trained by Riff. Col’s struggle is between accepting his heritage of power and wealth, or rejecting it as he realises it is based on shocking human rights violations. You want horror? Read about how a Filthy is changed into a Menial! And Col’s sweet old strawberry-scented granny …
Kinokuniya Newsletter Review
by Richard Harland
Col lives on the Upper Decks of the juggernaut Worldshaker, a mobile city as big as a mountain. He has been chosen as next Supreme Commander - but then a girl Filthy escaped from Below appears in his cabin. 'Don't let 'em take me!' she begs. Will he hand her over, or will he break all the rules? Col's safe, elite world is about to fall apart.
A brilliant fantasy that will hook you from the very first page, set aboard a huge ship-city in which the elites live on the top decks while the Filthies toil below. Strong writing, a vivid alternative world and characters you'll never forget.
GLEEBOOKS – CHILDREN’S BOOKSHOP
Worldshaker by Richard Harland
Gripping from page one, Worldshaker is a terrific fantasy set aboard a massive city-ship in which wealth is only for the privileged elite and poverty equals slavery. Having been groomed for greatness all his life, teenager Col, due to become the next Supreme Commander, is shocked to find in his cabin a Filthy, one of the bottom deck slaves. More astounding is that she can speak, is intelligent, and exhibits the same emotions as Col, all of which are counter to what he’s been taught. Covertly, and against all his instincts, Col is drawn into investigating the ignored world of the Filthies, and he discovers the reality of life without the safety of money and influence. Shades of steampunk pervade this multi-layered allegory of contemporary life, and I’d be surprised if anyone could read it without starting to explore and question their own assumptions and actions. There’s a strong visual element to Worldshaker which would translate superbly to film. Powerful, compelling, and highly recommended. Lynndy Bennett ($18, PB)
BOOKTOPIA REVIEW (Australian online bookshop)
A brilliant fantasy that will hook you from the very first page, set aboard a huge ship in which the elites live on the top decks while the Filthies toil below. Col's safe, civilized world on the upper decks of the Worldshaker, a huge ship that has been sailing since 1845, is changed forever when a Filthy from below finds her way into his cabin. Richard Harland has created an acutely observed and utterly compelling Gothic world of warped Victoriana to explore 16-year-old Col's journey from cosseted youth to courageous maturity.
Author of the internationally successful, Nebula-nominated trilogy, Monster Blood Tattoo (aka Tale of the Foundling), D.M. Cornish wrote a blurb for Worldshaker, of which a small part appears on the book's back cover. Here's the full text:
"The idea of alternative histories for the world is deeply fascinating and in Worldshaker Mr Harland has provided a marvellously otherly vision of the 21st Century with wonderfully bizarrely named people and a claustrophobic setting of rivets, iron and steam, rustling silks and stiff collars and even stiffer manners; dark, twisting, bustling, brilliant – steam-punk, if I dare use the term, at its purest, its truest… And amidst it all, a strong indictment of the imperialistic ravages of the Western world. What a delight to read the words of a soul who shares the same grim tastes and love of playful language. Very very glum when it came to an end – returning to the book I was in the midst of reading when I took up World-shaker,I find it very thin and pallid in comparison.
I’m off to plunder Mr Harland’s back catalogue."