Thursday, April 26, 2012

Chasing airships across the Wild West

Airships, espionage and atrophied Civil War politics all come to a head in Cherie Priest's second Clockwork Century book Clementine.

Note:  While the Clockwork Century books are of the same universe, with some of the characters recurring, reading them in order isn't necessary.  There are probably a few spoilers ahead though, so be warned.  Otherwise, read on!

Croggon Hainey wears a lot of hats.  Wanted by the Confederacy as a runaway slave, he's wanted by the Union as well as a pirate and bank robber.  There aren't many people beyond his crew of the Free Crow that he can trust.  So when his bird is stolen and renamed 'Clementine,' he is understandably peeved.

Maria Isabella Boyd has worn her share of hats as well.  Although she's worked primarily as a Confederate spy, she's also been married twice and been on stage a bit as well.  After having finally been forsaken by the Confederacy, she ends up swallowing her pride and joining Pinkerton's Detective Agency out of Chicago.  Her first mission is making sure that the Clementine safely completes its delivery mission to an asylum.  How she would like to deal with Hainey and his crew is left up to her discretion. 

Both Boneshaker and 'Tanglefoot' were rather slow stories.  Both took care to build up the world in which they took place, as well as the characters that inhabit them.  By the end of 'Tanglefoot,' the reader really feels for Smeeks, Edwin and even Madeline.  In Boneshaker, the reader becomes immersed in the walled-off world of Seattle, the seemingly incompatible groups within, and the horrors of living beneath a cloud of poison gas.

Even though Clementine is longer than 'Tanglefoot,' it zips along at breakneck speed.  Few words are wasted in trivialities such as world building.  Rather, the reader assumes that the situation in the Civil War and the rest of the world still stands, with the Wild West meets Steampunk environment.  With that in mind, little other world building is really necessary.

Clementine is a great, fast-moving counterpoint to the more pensive books in the series, and the recent rerelease by Subterranean Press makes it much more accessible to the average reader.

Highs:  Maria is the typical Mae West character, but that doesn't make her any less fun to read about

Lows:  Though the main two characters are developed, the rest of them are barely one-dimensional stock mercenaries and the like

Verdict:  Don't expect the grandiose world building or ponderous pace of the first two, but besides that it's a fun book

Further Reading:  Dreadnought, Soulless

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