Jun 21, 2011

[Books] Clementine

ClementineThe steampunk genre is certainly growing on me. Or maybe the alternative history genre is. Or maybe using the elements of both genres are in a story is totally working for me - hard to say at this point.

Cherie Priest has become one of the advocates of the steampunk genre in many ways. Beyond her won articles about how to write within the genre, her continuing works as part of her Clockwork Century books continues to demonstrate what can be done with the genre outside of just revisiting Victorian English. Bringing the story focus over to the still-solidifying Civil War era United States has presented an interesting point of focus.

And on top of that, she's gone the slightly risky route of having us focus on a fairly different set of protagonists in this story. The last time around we had the strong widow Briar Wilkes facing off the Rotter-filled Seattle. Now we have two different story lines to follow along with their respective characters and see how they end up working their story lines together in the end. While risky, it worked, at least for me. And I did generally enjoy the book.

Clementine is the second book in Cherie Priest's Clockwork Century series and it continues this focus on the steampunk world of an alternative United States. The Civil War rages on and this time we leave Seattle for a cross-country journey filled with airships, spies and lots and lots of danger.

On one thread, we follow Captain Croggon Hainey - the escaped slave and airship captain from Boneshaker, the first novel. Given his (stolen) airship, the Free Crow, had been stolen from him in turn, he and his crew have set out to catch up with the ship, now called the Clementine and to steal it back. And Hainey will give anything to get his ship back and woe betide whomever is foolish enough to stand in his way.

And the other thread involves ex-Confederate spy Belle Boyd. Now working for the Pinkertons, she is assigned to stop Hainey and his crew and to ensure that the Clementine reaches its destination together with its precious cargo. But there's more to all this than what is known as this point and all involved parties have a lot to learn before they can fully unravel the mystery of the Clementine and her cargo.

The book is a lot shorter than the previous one - barely 200 pages in length and positioned rather aggressively on the Kindle Store for about $4.99. Its meant to stand on its own feet thus there are no penalties for not having read Boneshaker before reading this title. The shorter length does not mean the story feels incomplete. It just feels...efficient, and if ever further elaboration and even some embellishment wouldn't have hurt the book.

The main characters of the book remain as rich and compelling as with her previous book. Hainey and his crew deal with all the issues of the period including their status as sky pirates and the more obvious fact that they're African American. With the Clementine making its way East, and thus closer to the states in conflict in the Civil War, it means them risking encountering those who don't look too highly in terms of people of their race. And Belle Boyd is more than just a girl who uses her feminine whiles to get what she wants. She's a tough as nails agent who knows how to handle herself quite well. She's a rather complex character and it's clear that a lot of us who have read the book wouldn't feel bad should she return in a later book in this series.

Steampunks - models Liza James and Jared Axelr...Image via WikipediaPriest continues to do a stellar job of painting a picture of what her view of the alternative period is like. Thus we get airships built for civilian use versus more heavily-armored military variants, giant guns that requires a strong man to efficiently wield them and other little touches of creative modern concepts somehow managed with 19th century technology.

My main complaint would probably be the length and how the novel felt a bit thin in terms of literary meat here and there. Some parts of the adventure seemed a lot shorter than they could have been, and thus it felt a little under-developed in that regard. Plus the shift of characters was a bit tricky to ride along with, especially since I read Boneshaker and Clementine in sequence. I could have used a bit more of a connection here, but then maybe I'm just being overly picky here.

Clementine is a good book with a fun adventure at its heart. It further fleshes out Priest's little world although it ends up leaving aside the zombie elements from the previous book for an adventure up in the air. It gets 3.5 mishaps Hainey and his crew get into while pursuing the Clementine out of a possible 5.

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