Cover by Jon Foster
A NOVEL OF THE CLOCKWORK CENTURY
Publisher: Subterranean Press
First published: 30 July 2010
This edition: 15 December 2011
On the cover:
(From the publisher's website.)
Maria Isabella Boyd’s success as a Confederate spy has made her too famous for further espionage work, and now her employment options are slim. Exiled, widowed, and on the brink of poverty…she reluctantly goes to work for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency in Chicago.
Adding insult to injury, her first big assignment is commissioned by the Union Army. In short, a federally sponsored transport dirigible is being violently pursued across the Rockies and Uncle Sam isn’t pleased. The Clementine is carrying a top secret load of military essentials—essentials which must be delivered to Louisville, Kentucky, without delay.
Intelligence suggests that the unrelenting pursuer is a runaway slave who’s been wanted by authorities on both sides of the Mason-Dixon for fifteen years. In that time, Captain Croggon Beauregard Hainey has felonied his way back and forth across the continent, leaving a trail of broken banks, stolen war machines, and illegally distributed weaponry from sea to shining sea.
And now it’s Maria’s job to go get him.
He’s dangerous quarry and she’s a dangerous woman, but when forces conspire against them both, they take a chance and form an alliance. She joins his crew, and he uses her connections. She follows his orders. He takes her advice.
And somebody, somewhere, is going to rue the day he crossed either one of them.
It's not exactly a secret that I like the A Clockwork Century novels (, see the link to my reviews below,) so I was really excited to finally get my hands on this one. Of course there's a certain danger that you set yourself up for disappointment when you let anticipation build up for any form of art and/or entertainment. Not that I was really worried, Priest has definitely been good to me in that regard previously, and she doesn't disappoint this time either.
We're at a new location for this series, actually several new locations; Chicago, Kansas City, and Louisville among them. This is very much centered around dirigibles, including the Clementine of the book's title. This makes for a structure that gives is very good for the kind of action adventure structured story we are getting here.
As before the alternate history aspect is very solid here. It's clear that this is a world that is real enough that we'll do fine without a set location, or a permanent set of characters. And this time Priest has abandoned a story element that has united the other books in this series. There's still a connection to the other novels through some characters. But Priest's world is perfectly capable of supporting independent stories, and I wouldn't mind seeing this alternate Earth explored further in the future.
The characters here are two very different people (, as stated in the cover copy above). Priest takes their differences and uses it to a great advantages when she showcases their different positions in a world where the US Civil War is still fought. They have some of the same personality traits, but that just highlights how much they come from totally different settings in life even more. Although I must stress that they are certainly much more than just mirror images. They just happen to both be the type of character that can drive this type of action-oriented narrative.
Having two such individuals in such a short story shouldn't at first glance work, but Priest has made it seem like a completely natural way to tell a story. They do not crowd eachother out, but give us different threads of the same story, and we get a much richer tale because of it.
The story is really a good one too, although it must be said that it has a bit of a prologue feel to it. Although to be perfectly honest that could just be me wanting to read a six to eight hundred story following where this one ends.
Writing in such a limited space has left us with a story that is really pared down, there is nothing here that is unnecessary. In that regard this feels like a two hundred page short story. The story itself is not cut down though, it's a full action packed adventure with airship-pirates, spies, and secret weapons. It does in fact have much of the same pacing as an Action Thriller. It's a fast flowing story with action and suspense, but it is still filled with enough details to give us a nice glimpse of the wider world.
All in all this was a very enjoyable book with more depth to it than I had expected. It's Steampunk with more than a bit of the depth many have said is lacking from the genre. It's also Steampunk that is geared towards the Alternate History end of that genre, it's totally lacking in the Victoriana we so often see.
But first and foremost this is a great story with plenty of action. I think it will appeal to anyone who has found Action Thrillers appealing, for those that like Alternate History or Steampunk this is a must. And it is a great "starter book" for those that are curious about the Alternate History end of Steampunk.
For me this just cements Priest as one of the great writers of modern day Steampunk, and as a SFF author it is worth paying attention to.
REVIEWS: A Clockwork Century reviews.
LINKS: Cherie Priest Subterranean Press