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Dreadnought by Cheri Priest

01/01/2011. Contributed by Gareth D Jones

Buy Dreadnought in the USA - or Buy Dreadnought in the UK

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pub: TOR/Forge. 400 page small enlarged paperback. Price: $14.99 (US), $16.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-2578-5.

check out websites: and http://wicked_wish/

I was rather excited to receive Cherie Priest’s ‘Dreadnought’ after enjoying immensely both ‘Boneshaker’ and ‘Clementine’ in the past year. I wasn’t disappointed. We’re immediately immersed into the culture and atmosphere of civil war USA with Cherie Priest’s unique overtones of steampunk, zombies and wondrous mechanical contraptions. The manners and the speech are mid-nineteenth century America, but the story is out of this world.

The main character is nurse Mercy Lynch, who has a background complicated by the civil war and at the start of the book works in a military hospital for the rebels. As with characters in the previous books, she is a realistic, ordinary person who is thrust into adventure and mishap but still behaves in a believable way. Using her medical skills and the innate authority of her career, she is able to fend for herself in what at the time was no place for a single lady. Cherie Priest again accomplishes this without trying to introduce modern sensibilities into a historical setting. Recently freed slaves and the common mistrust of strangers are also dealt with in a realistic way without becoming neither politically correct, insulting or patronising.

One thing that I found baffling was Mercy’s three thousand mile trip across America by steam train, which for some reason takes weeks to complete. Exact time frames aren’t given, but at least three weeks are involved and possibly more than that could be gleaned from the text. But steam trains aren’t that slow. Even at 30 mph, which is pretty slow even for a heavy train, the journey would only take 4 days non-stop and the book only mentions the occasional stop for a couple of hours here and there. Three weeks to complete this journey means that the train averaged 7 mph all the way there. The fact that nothing happens for most of those weeks makes their inclusion all the more mysterious – the significant parts of the story only take up a few hours.

Despite this being an entirely separate story to the previous two ‘Clockwork Century’ novels, there are enough references to tie them together nicely. Unlike the limited geographical scope of ‘Boneshaker’, this time round Cherie Priest expands her vision of the alternate history she has created, bringing in political relationships with neighbouring states and social interactions between those of differing races, classes and allegiances. It’s a well-rounded setting for a thoroughly enjoyable tale.

Gareth D. Jones

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