01/06/2010. Contributed by Gareth D Jones
pub: Subterranean Press. 201 page deluxe hardback. Price: $25.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59606-308-2.
check out website: www.subterraneanpress.com
'Clementine' follows on almost immediately from Cherie Priest's other steampunk novel 'Boneshaker', though it's not a sequel. We follow the travails of Captain Crogg Hainey, a minor character in 'Boneshaker' who is attempting to recover his airship that was stolen in that novel. He's a pretty unlikeable, violent man with a dubious past, but gentlemanly and somehow endearing. What could be quite a linear plot based on his pursuit is made far more convoluted and interesting by the addition of a number of other elements. The setting is the protracted American Civil War, seemingly the reason that so many steam-powered innovations have come into being. Hainey's status as an escaped slave in this era of American history make his dealings more complicated and the involvement of both armies and spies for both sides of the war, as well as the Pinkerton agency, add to the intrigue.
Following on Hainey's tail is Belle Boyd, former confederate spy and new Pinkerton agent. Miss Boyd has an amazing depth of character, with enough references to past acts that you're given the impression that you may have overlooked an entire series of novels somewhere. What I liked about the way she is written is that even though she is a feisty, independent woman, she still fits in with the society of the time. So often in historical movies, the lead females are portrayed in unrealistically modern terms, but Miss Boyd is a genuine Southern Belle, though armed and dangerous.
The rapid trip through America, visiting towns and cities along the way, gives a far greater view of Cherie Priest's 'Clockwork Century' setting. In 'Boneshaker', we were limited to the one bizarre setting in walled-up Seattle, but here we travel much farther. The airship network, docks, taverns and associated locations are populated by a wonderful set of minor characters who could have walked in off any western. The technological advances woven into the setting are subtly done, fitting perfectly into the nineteenth century society without a disconcerting culture shock. I shall most definitively be looking out for further adventures from Cherie Priest.
Gareth D. Jones
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