Cherie Priest has been called the “High Priestess of Steampunk” for good reason. Her Clockwork Century world is a well-constructed alternate history version of 19th century North America. I reviewed Boneshaker recently, and was eager to read the next installment. With Clementine, the only disappointment I felt was when it ended.
Clementine tells the tale of Captain Croggon Beauregard Hainey. A former slave and current air pirate, his airship—the Free Crow—has been stolen by the flame-headed pirate, Felton Brink. Hainey doesn’t like this one iota, so along with his first mate and engineer, he commandeers a new airship to chase down the thieves and retrieve what is rightfully his (well, his now—he did steal the Free Crow himself).
The second player in this exciting yarn is one Miss Maria Isabella Boyd (Belle for short), a sweet, southern lady with a body that can make a man quiver and a reputation that can make a man shake. In actuality, the character of Belle is based on a real life confederate spy turned actress (which is pretty awesome). Working for the Pinkerton agency, Belle’s mission is not so simple; she must make sure the Free Crow reaches its destination by any means necessary.
Obviously, this means stopping Captain Hainey from stealing back the Free Crow. I don’t reckon he’ll take too kindly to her interference. Eventually their paths cross, and what happens next… well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out.
Meet the players
As with Boneshaker, the characters in Clementine aren’t dripping with depth. They are, however, interesting and original—and so much fun. Hainey and his crew are some of the most likeable pirates this side of the Mississippi; Hainey in particular is one tough hombre. I wouldn’t cross him, but he is fair (as far as thieves go), and not one for taking a man’s life—unless he deserves it. His two-man crew, comprised of Lamar and Simeon, is loyal and dependable.
Belle steals the show with her sweet and sour attitude. She is tough, intelligent, and downright persistent. Her personality sparkles with life, making her a believable heroine of the times.
Priest’s characters, both major and minor, leave a lasting impression. Allan Pinkerton, the Scottish leader of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, is in just one chapter, yet I can’t forget the amusing interactions he had with Belle. And the debonair Pinkerton agent, Algernon Rice, was fun to read; his personal flying machine, the Flying Fish, was an interesting new addition to the technology of the Clockwork Century.
Clementine has more twists than a tornado. As the novella picks up speed, pieces fall into place that I didn’t even realize were in motion. The story flows along a fairly comfortable course until Belle and the crew meet up. As they interact, new discoveries are made and new mysteries revealed. Priest’s revelations are introduced with a deft hand—fast enough to keep up the pace, and at just the right times to keep the reader guessing. Like Boneshaker, Clementine continues to showcase this effective method.
I really wanted to use the phrase rip-roaring and Clementine hits the mark. Each chapter introduces a new element, be it an entertaining new character or a thrilling action sequence. She knows how to build a story, inserting intense action, cool characters, and plausible plot twists. Priest has a flair for rousing and creative storytelling. She knows how to entertain.
Why should you read this book?
Clementine is a novella, clocking in at just over 200 pages; it’s the shortest book in the Clockwork Century. Still, this novella packs all the punches. It’s a riveting adventure, adding depth to this well-developed steampunk universe while introducing some enjoyable new characters along the way. There are also name drops of people and places from the previous installment, enhancing the continuity of the books. I’m excited to read Dreadnought next and continue to explore this alternate world. You should “git” yourself a copy; else you may find yourself facing the dark eye of a Frontier Six-Shooter. (And we wouldn’t want that, now—would we?)