by Cherie Priest
Cover Artist: Myke Amend
Review by Benjamin Wald
Subterranean Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781596063082
Date: 31 May 2010 List Price $25.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Clementine, by Cherie Priest, returns to the steampunk alternate history civil war setting as 2009s Boneshaker, which is nominated for the Hugo. This follow-up chases down a loose plot thread from the novel, and manages to pack in all the steampunk goodness you could ask for. In its 200 action packed pages it manages to cram in airships, pirates, Gatling guns, and an improbable super weapon. Its fast moving and fun, with a fast paced plot and endearing characters, although it doesn't do anything very new or groundbreaking.
In the alternate history Cherie Priest has developed, the civil war in America has dragged on for years, grinding both the confederacy and the union down in a lengthy war of attrition. Maria Isabella Boyd is an ex-confederate spy, who has become too high profile for undercover work, and so is forced to join the Pinkerton detective agency. Her first job is to protect the airship Clementine as it transports a secretive cargo to Louisville. The reason it needs protecting is that the notorious airship pirate Captain Croggon Beauregaurd Hainey, an escaped slave, felon, and bank robber, is in hot pursuit, for the Clementine is actually his prize pirate vessel, renamed and stolen for unknown reasons. Boyd and Hainey are set on a collision course, which ends up a secret plot that may end the war once and for all.
The novel is a very quick read, with witty dialogue and plenty of fire fights and airship chases. Priest has a very readable prose style, if a little pedestrian at times, with enough old-fashioned turns of phrase to make the novel feel authentically civil war era, but not so many as to distract or slow down the story. The characters are engaging and well written.
Once the two main characters, Hainey and Boyd, are thrown together about halfway through the novel there are some interesting interaction between the ex-slave and the southern belle. I felt this was something of a missed opportunity. Boyd is committed to the Confederate cause and spends half the book in the company of an ex-slave, and yet the issue of Boyd's attitude to race never comes up. Indeed, the entire problem of slavery in the south is sidestepped in this book. Perhaps Priest wanted to sidestep these issues in the action story she was telling, but I had some trouble taking Boyd's allegiance in stride.
At its heart, Clementine is an action story, and it's a good one. I didn't want to put it down, and ended each chapter wanting to see what happened next. The steampunk toys and gadgets just add to the fun.
It isn't a book that addresses any weighty issues, or that gave me any deep thoughts to ponder after I finished reading. I probably won't think of it a week from now. But it's an engaging, quick read for when you want something fun, fast, and easy.