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Cherie Priest
Subterranean Press, 208 pages

Cherie Priest
Cherie Priest was born in Tampa, Florida in 1975 (the same year that gave us Saturday Night Live and the The Rocky Horror Picture Show). In 2001, she graduated from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with an M.A. in Rhetoric/Professional writing, and she also has a B.A. in English from Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, TN.

Cherie Priest Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Boneshaker
SF Site Review: Those Who Went Remain There Still

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Jason Erik Lundberg

Cherie Priest's entry into the world of steampunk has been spectacular and explosive, qualities that match the protagonists of her new short novel Clementine. The book proceeds from the events in its incredible predecessor Boneshaker, following a minor character in that novel, Captain Croggon Beauregard Hainey, an escaped slave on the hunt for those who have stolen his (previously stolen) airship, the Free Crow. On Hainey's trail is Maria Isabella Boyd, aka Belle Boyd, aka the Confederacy's most notorious spy (and real life historical figure), who is now employed by the Pinkerton National Detective Agency to stop Hainey from apprehending the Free Crow (renamed the Clementine by its captors). When Hainey and Boyd meet, both discover that they are operating on incomplete information concerning the theft by the Clementine's crew of a massive jewel and its forthcoming implementation in a doomsday device by a Union officer named Ossian Steen.

With Boneshaker, Priest established her "Clockwork Century" alternate history of a steampunk America (a domain that has mostly been limited until recently to Victorian England), but where that novel was confined to a walled-off Seattle afflicted with mad scientists and zombies, Clementine sets off across the country on an exciting road trip that involves no roads. Set mostly in the skies traveled by dirigibles, Priest offers a compelling examination of a nation still embroiled in the Civil War in 1880, and the fates that await Hainey and his all-black crew should they be returned to the Confederacy. Pointed comments toward feminism and race relations during this tumultuous time ground the story in seriousness, but the adventure is the larger draw here: airship battles, gunfights (particularly with the massively deadly Rattler), and the suspenseful chase to get to the Clementine before it delivers its destructive cargo.

The prose races from start to finish, imbued with kinetic energy that allows for a breathless reading experience, such as this scene when Hainey and crew steal a Union warbird called the Valkyrie:

  Hainey swung himself into the captain's chair and snarled when a hail of bullets struck the windshield -- chipping it here and nicking it there, but barely scratching the foot-thick swath of polished glass. He found the thruster pedal and pumped it with his foot while his hand searched all the logical spots for a starter switch. His fingers fumbled across the console, feeling into the nooks and slots where such switches tended to be located, and finally he found a red lever so he pulled it, and the burners fired at top power, and top volume.

Behind the dirigible, someone who had been standing too close to the engine mounts screamed and probably died as the craft howled violently to life. (117)


This scene also illustrates an ambiguity in the ethics of the book's main characters; both Hainey and Boyd are not above killing people who are obstacles to their goals, or who just happen to be in the way. This being wartime and a period of extended instability, it is understandable that such characters be more trigger-happy than if their lives were not endangered by their circumstances. But it is not always easy to sympathize with a man who is eager to mow down dozens of people preventing his escape with what can only be called a machine gun. Boyd measures slightly better in this regard, using her Colts only when necessary, but she is also strongly tempted to turn over Hainey and his men to the Confederate authorities, knowing full well the torture and lynchings that await them.

However, the moral complexity of the novel elevates it above pure escapism, and adds depth to the chase adventure. The stakes are high for everyone, and this tension is continually tightened all the way to the end. Priest has once again constructed a fascinating and fun-as-hell narrative, a worthy addition to her Clockwork Century. The next eagerly-awaited full-length novel in this series, Dreadnought, releases later in 2010.

Copyright © 2010 Jason Erik Lundberg

Jason Erik Lundberg is a writer of fantastical fiction, and an American expatriate living in Singapore. His work has appeared (or will soon) in over forty venues in five countries. He runs Two Cranes Press with Janet Chui. Visit his web site.

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