Saturday, October 16, 2010

Girl on Book Action: Dreadnought by Cherie Priest

Dreadnought by Cherie Priest
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2578-5


Mercy Lynch is working at a war hospital in Richmond, Virginia, when she learns that her husband has died in a POW camp and her estranged father is gravely injured and wishes to see her.  With no good reason to stay in Virginia, Mercy sets out to see her father in Seattle.

But crossing the country is no small task; it’s a harrowing adventure through war-torn border states by dirigible, rail and the Mississippi River.   What ought to be a quiet trip turns deadly when the train is beset by bushwackers, then vigorously attacked by a band of Rebel soldiers.  The train is moving away from battle lines into the vast, unincorporated west, so Mercy can’t imagine why it’s meeting such resistance.  Perhaps it has something to do with the mysterious cargo in the second and last train cars?

Mercy is just a frustrated nurse who wants to see her father before he dies.  But she’ll have to survive both the Union intrigue and Confederate opposition if she wants to make it.


Many moons ago, I reviewed a book called Boneshaker and ever since I've been waiting for the follow-up novel to reach my hungrily awaiting shelves.  Lo and behold, here it is and along with it, comes my review.

Now, I'll start with my gripes and then tell you about how lovely I think the overall novel is, so sit tight.

First, I’m not a fan of that back-cover blurb, and I feel that it reveals too  much of the plot.  Therefore, I've edited it before posting it here and removed the spoilers.  I actually didn’t read it until after I’d finished the novel so I wouldn’t have as many expectations going in as I would otherwise.  This complaint really has little to do with content and more to do with packaging, so make of that what you will.  I’m a picky creature.

Second, well, that’s harder to explain.  As the blurb tells you, Mercy is widowed.  If you recall, Briar Wilkes in Boneshaker is also widowed, which left me wishing for a little more variety in characters.  Part of me understands that in writing about a prolonged Civil War and a world where there are zombies widowhood is going to be rampant, but another part wishes for a strong female lead that wasn’t a lone female because her husband has died.  Maybe my desire for this kind of leading lady is too modern for this historical setting.  Another issue I have with Mercy’s widowhood is that she spends all of an afternoon mourning her husband.  Her lack of emotional melt-down is explained by her not having seen him in some time. They had only been married a brief 8 months before he went to war. Still, this explanation didn't sit well with me.  Once she was on her way and in Union territory, her dead husband just became a tool to use so she would be accepted as part of the Union, rather than being from the Confederate states. 

Lastly, in the complaints department, is something that you might read as a spoiler, so if you care about this sort of thing you may want to stop reading…now.  So, we spend a good 390 pages on this journey to see Mercy’s ailing father and the book is only 400 pages long.  Can you see where I’m going with this?  If you were thinking that my complaint is along the lines of there not being a lot of emotional pay-off at the end, you might be right.  She meets her father and then the book ends; we don’t even get to see their first conversation.  I suppose there is something to be said about the importance of the journey over the destination, but I wanted more here – like maybe an explanation of why he abandoned his family when Mercy was a little girl.  (Okay, so there is a chance that some of this was explained in Boneshaker where we met Mercy’s dad Jeremiah, but if we did, I very much don’t remember it, so a refresher might have been nice).  Anyway, I wanted some more closure.

And I’m now done with spoilers, so you can continue reading.

On to the good things!

Remember how Boneshaker was printed with brown ink?  Well, Dreadnought is as well, which means I loved the look of the book.  We all know that I’m a sucker for this type of thing.

As much as I took issue with some of Mercy’s doings, for the most part I found her to be engaging and well-portrayed.  I cared about her well-being, even if I felt she could have used a touch more emotional depth.  The other characters were memorable as well, especially the stoic Horatio Korman and the at times infuriatingly irritating Miss Clay.  Actually, even the side-cast and people we only met briefly along the way seemed like real people.  It made the world seem alive rather than being a place that exists only on paper and in the imagination.  Also – there was no romance.  I know that perhaps the lack of a romance in a story shouldn’t be a high-point, but with all of the romance-driven plots these days, reading something that has no hint of a love-relationship is a breath of fresh air.

The pace was really good, too, quite quick and I had a hard time putting the book down.  In fact, I lost track of time on a couple of occasions while reading, because I’d finish a chapter and just have to read the next to find out what was happening, which to me is a true sign of an immersive universe.

Lastly, the machines were neat and I do sort of wish we'd seen a little more of the Walkers that are mentioned early on, but the ride on the Dreadnought and its steam-powered goodness was nifty.

I know that it seems that my complaints are much longer than my praise, but truly, this novel was delightful.  It’s a very solid follow-up to Boneshaker, and I think actually a better book, because it felt more mature.  No second act jitters to be found here (although I suppose Clementine might be considered the second act).  I can say with certainty that I will be purchasing Clementine when it’s out in paperback next year, and I’ll be picking up the next Clockwork Century novel whenever it’s out.

Aside:  If I've piqued your interest in Cherie Priest's work, I've also reviewed her novel Fathom.

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