Monday, January 10, 2011

Into the breach, steampunk style

Cherie Priest continues to explore her Clockwork Century world with Dreadnought, which focuses on the cross-country journey of Civil War nurse Mercy Lynch. Mercy is traveling to see her long lost father but finds herself in the middle of the War, which includes a zombie-filled mystery to boot (no kidding) before she reaches him in Seattle. If that all sounds a bit outlandish, then really you need to read Priest’s earlier books, Boneshaker and Clementine, so you can set yourself firmly in an America that never was, filled with the sort of airships we wish had been invented, trains that pack a powerful wallop, as well as Pinkerton detectives, Texas Rangers and, of course, zombies -- but not the zombies you are used to, because these are zombies created by a gas released from a machine that tunneled underground in Boneshaker and turned the Pacific Northwest on its ear.

Mercy Lynch is a nurse in a war without end, and upon receiving devastating news, finds herself unwilling to deal with death any longer. Her decision to seek out her father takes her on a steampunk version of Planes, Trains and Automobiles, but with an airship, a boat, and a steam-driven train that is being pursed by the deadliest train the war has to offer. There are also a lot of questions ranging from “what dread disease is killing veterans” to “what happened to the missing Mexican soldiers” to “what is hidden under heavy guard on this blasted train.” None of these questions have good answers, though, and as much as Mercy would like to ignore them, she is not the “sit back and do nothing type,” and thus finds herself in the middle of the action with guns blazing and a determined glint in her eye. Mercy will get to Seattle come hell or high water, and Priest very nicely keeps her and her fellow passengers battling along the entire trip.

There is everything to like about Dreadnought from Mercy herself to Priest’s fresh yet familiar perspective on the war. The battle violence reads as right out of the history books, while the fictional techno flourishes keep things fun. This is an author at the top of her game and consistent in her dedication to making steampunk as much a part of the American landscape as its traditional Victorian London roots. Appealing on every level, the Clockwork Century titles are tailormade for teen readers and heartily recommended for light reading fans.

Crossposted from Bookslut.

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