What did I get at the library this week?
First, a sff Tor Novella called The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, by Kij Johnson. I’d seen her name here and there on book twitter, so when I spied this novella on my public library’s New shelves, I grabbed it. The description says it’s Lovecraftian, which I’m not really into, but I read a Lovecraftian novella by Cassandra Khaw last month and really enjoyed it, so figured I’d give another reinterpretation a shot.
Second, I was surprised and pleased to see An Extraordinary Union, by Alyssa Cole on my library’s New shelves. It’s a novel of the U.S. Civil War, with a black woman protagonist, written by a black woman! I’ve heard great things about this one in non-sff book circles, and I’m looking forward to seeing what it’s all about.
I also checked out Connie Willis’ All Clear, companion novel to Blackout, in my quest to read everything she’s ever written.
American Civil War has raged for over ten years, with both sides inventing
newer ways of killing. In better
times, these grim technologies might have been the harbinger of a nation’s
golden age, but for Mercy Lynch, they are just more efficient mechanisms for
sending Confederate soldiers to the Richmond Hospital where she’s been working
as a Red Cross nurse. Amidst the din of injured soldiers, Mercy
receives some news she can’t ignore, which sets her on an impossible path to
the other side of the continent.
connected to Boneshaker, the first
installment of Priest’s Clockwork Century series, Dreadnought fills in the mystery of the American East only
obliquely mentioned previously, but no knowledge of Boneshaker is required to enjoy this steampunk adventure that
rumbles along just as quickly as the infernal engine it describes. To get to Tacoma, in the Washington
territory, Mercy travels aboard airships, riverboats, horseback, and finally a
train that holds more secrets than, it seems, all the spymasters of the Union
uses well-known character types to perfection in realizing the
alternate-yet-all-too-familiar world of her 19th century
America. Mercy as the plucky
heroine who knows better than to cuss but is ready with a cutting remark
anyway, who doesn’t let modesty keep her from poking her nose into any mystery,
is the perfect point of view for this story. Plucky, in this case, isn’t an insult because her actions
and responses to situations and people are nuanced and consistent. When she begins her journey, Mercy
seems dubious about her identity as a nurse, but she fully steps into that
identity and takes on a position of authority and strength that doesn’t change
her as a character, but instead more fully illustrates her personality.
looking for a steampunk novel with worldbuilding to fall straight into should
check out Dreadnought and its
companion novels. Priest has
written a novel with strong themes of both loyalty and rule-breaking that will
appeal to many people, especially set against the backdrop of an American Civil
War alternate history. Readers
looking for characters who are more than meets the eye need look no further
years ago, an inventor’s project went horribly wrong, turning the frontier city
of Seattle, Washington Territory into a choking wasteland of undead. Thousands died, and thousands more
found themselves the citizens of a new Seattle, the outskirts of a city that
was walled up to keep the poisonous Blight gas out.
Everything has pretty much settled down to an idea of normal. Until the past comes creeping into Briar
Wilkes’ life, and she finds herself reliving those terrible momets in order to save the life
of her son, who has gone back into the walled-up city in search of some clue
about what really happened that day sixteen years ago.
Boneshaker is a rollicking adventure,
with a memorable cast of characters.
The people whom Briar and her son Zeke meet inside the walls of Seattle
all have memorable voices and idiosyncrasies, making this novel not just
another novel with 200 pages of “things happened” and then the big reveal, but
an actual journey for both mother and son, and an exploration of the variety of
human nature. The society that
Priest has created beneath the poison gas leaves plenty of room for the reader
to imagine other stories happening right alongside Briar’s, and an entire
unknown history inside the walls that no one living outside ever could have
Boneshaker contains a strong mother and
son relationship that is just as much a part of the story as Zeke’s journey to
learn about his past; it isn’t just a way to get both characters inside the
walls and then forgotten about when the adventure starts. Boneshaker
is a well-plotted story that will keep readers hooked until the end, and
then wanting more. Though Priest
uses well-known character types to complete her cast, she rounds them out in
ways that make them matter, both to this story and as people in their own
stories. Throw in airships, fantastic inventions, and a badass one-armed woman, and this is a definitely not a forgettable novel.
Boneshaker is recommended for readers
who enjoy steampunk or American West alt-history. Those who like adventure science fiction will enjoy the
fantastic technology along with the plot that almost never stops. Readers who enjoy period science
fiction or fantasy will find much to love in Priest’s well-researched nod to
the Gold Rush and American frontier periods. This is part of a loosely connected series that continues in
the American Civil War era.