Clementine, by Cherie Priest

Cherie Priest had a good thing started with her steampunk story, Boneshaker, set in an alternate Seattle overrun by zombies and populated by the brass, glass and goggles that we’ve come to expect from the Steampunk genre. Taking place in an American Civil War that has run on for twenty years, rather than the four that it actually lasted for, there is a new entry in the series: Clementine, a short novella that takes off from Boneshaker. Priest has continued the story forward, and it proves to be a short tale from the world that she will be continuing onwards with the Clockwork Century. Ultimately, this book is a short one, and is only able to whet reader’s appetites, while not delivering fully on a comparable story such as Boneshaker.

Clementine borrows a couple of characters that were seen briefly in Boneshaker, Croggon Hainey and his crew, who are in pursuit of his stolen airship, the Free Crow. At the same time, Priest introduces a new character, Maria “Belle” Boyd, a former Confederate Spy, who has been hired by the infamous Pinkerton Detective Agency to ensure delivery of the cargo of another airship, with weapons for the Union. The two characters collide when their paths cross, and work together to reach their respective goals: Hainey to retrieve his ship, Boyd finish out her first job with the Pinkertons.

The book, while short, is an entertaining read that tells a compact story set in Priest’s Clockwork Century universe, first seen in Boneshaker, which proved to be an interesting, if somewhat limited view of the outside world, where elements of the ongoing conflict were alluded to, but not seen.

That might have been the better approach, however, because while it’s good to see that Priest is continuing the series, Clementine is constricted by its size – a mere 201 pages, with easily twice that amount of story shoved into it, making it feel like there was much more to tell. Events happen rather quickly, conveniently and at points, the fact that this is set in a Steampunk world is something that’s pushed forward often and the end result feels somewhat forced, where Boneshaker felt like it flowed forward a bit easier in its own world.

The size issue is to be expected, given the length of the novella, but the story simply feels too big in scale to really fit in. Fortunately, the book holds enough to really hold one’s interest throughout as it flies by – this is a quick read, and there is plenty of action and gunplay to keep the events moving along briskly.

One of the points that I found most interesting was the attention to detail that Priest exhibits when it comes to prior historical record and the Civil War, but also social relations. With the Civil War continuing onwards, there is a ripple throughout the country on the impact of the war, which is nicely seen here: race relations, mercenary organizations, military hardware and similar happenings are seen throughout the story, and I have to commend Priest on moving towards the Civil War slowly – I suspect that something like that would be several books in and of itself.

The Civil War is a complicated, well documented war, and in Priest’s universe, that has continued onwards for decades longer than the actual conflict – a convenient plot device to explain the technology and event that happened in this alternate world. This short book reveals just a little bit more to the audience, but just enough to keep people wanting more. The next book, Dreadnought, is due out in a couple of weeks, and looks like it will fit far better with Clementine than it will with Boneshaker.

When putting the two together, I think that Boneshaker is the preferable book to point people towards, simply because it held my interest far better than an alternate Civil War story. There are Zombies (and while I dislike them when they’re poorly written, this wasn’t the case here), strange technology, an abandoned city and so forth, this book didn’t have the same depth, and I’m hoping that that is just due to length.

This is certainly a series that will be popular, and Clementine will be the book that the real fans will go to, to get that added bit of insight into the world while they wait for the next book to come out. It’s certainly tided me over while waiting for the next read. One can only hope that we’ll see additional stories to come out of the Clockwork Century while we wait.

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