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Sunday, July 25, 2010

"Clementine" by Cherie Priest (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Official Cherie Priest Website
Order Clementine HERE
Read FBC Review of Boneshaker

One of the most entertaining novels I read in 2009 was Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker. Full of exciting cross-genre adventure (zombies, steampunk, post-apocalyptic retro-futurism), memorable characters and a cool twist on American history, Boneshaker was a blast to read and I couldn’t wait to see what else Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century had to offer. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long thanks to Subterranean Press and their publication of Clementine.

Clementine is a 208-page novella that expands on characters and events briefly introduced in Boneshaker, specifically runaway slave Captain Croggon Beauregard Hainey and the theft of his airship, the Free Crow. In Clementine, Hainey and his two-man crew (Lamar & Simeon) are in hot pursuit of the stolen airship—renamed the Clementine by the thief Felton Brink—as it travels across the Midwest and towards Kentucky.

The novella also revolves around real life historical figure, Maria Isabella Boyd (Belle Boyd), an ex-Confederate spy newly employed by the Pinkerton National Detective Agency which has tasked her with ensuring the safe arrival of the Clementine and its precious cargo in Louisville, KY.

There’s a bit more going on with the plot like the construction of a powerful new weapon that could finally end the Civil War and some spy intrigue, but for the most part Cherie Priest keeps things simple and to the point. Personally, that’s what I like about novellas. They are usually more concise than novels, without any extraneous fat. In Clementine’s case, the smaller word count resulted in faster pacing and fewer lulls than what was found in Boneshaker, while delivering a nearly nonstop barrage of crowd-pleasing entertainment that rivals anything currently produced by Hollywood.

Of course, there are downsides to a smaller word count. The most glaring problem with Clementine is the shallow characterization of the novella’s supporting characters, in particular Ossian Steen, Doctor Smeeks and a young boy who all play important roles in the book’s conclusion. There were also a couple of unresolved plot threads regarding the mysterious Phinton Kulp and an old acquaintance of Maria’s, as well as themes on racism and loyalty that lacked the punch they could have had if given more room to grow. Apart from these minor issues, Cherie Priest delivers another impressive performance highlighted by her accessible writing style, skillful execution, and invigorating dialogue, especially the verbal exchanges involving Belle Boyd:

“... and since you’ve already so eloquently confessed to your wartime activities, I might assume that once or twice, you’ve been known to hurt a man or two.”

“Once or twice, plus half a dozen more. And if you don’t vacate these premises, perhaps that tally will rise.”

“There are people in this world who steadfastly refuse to understand anything unless it’s couched in terms of violence. In my experience, it is most expedient to simply accomodate them.”

“Expedient?”

“You may as well communicate in the language they best understand.”

Regarding Boneshaker, while there are connections between the two books with several references (Dr. Minnericht, the Blight, Andan Cly, etc.) made to the novel in Clementine, the novella reads independently of the opening volume in the Clockwork Century.

In fact, the two books are different beasts altogether. Where Boneshaker reminded me of a cross between The Wild Wild West, Fallout and a George Romero zombie movie, Clementine combines Western pulp, steampunk, swashbuckling adventure and a dash of espionage for an experience more akin to The Wild Wild West meets Indiana Jones meets Pirates of the Sky Caribbean. In short, readers don’t need to be familiar with Boneshaker in order to enjoy Clementine, but I would still recommend it :D>

As for the novella overall, as much fun as I had with Boneshaker, I enjoyed reading Clementine even more, and my expectations are sky high for Cherie Priest’s Dreadnought, the third volume in the Clockwork Century, which is scheduled for publication on September 28, 2010 via Tor..

5 comments:

Peter said...

Nice review, Rob.

Long time no see, bro. (reanimated here! say hi to the fam!)

Derrick said...

I hated "boneshaker", so this was an automatic no-go for me, without even having to read your [excellent I'm sure] review :-)

Calibandar said...

Nice to see another review from you Robert. I feel I should point out though that at 208 pages, this is really a novel, if a short one at that. This no longer qualifies for a novella, unless it has the spacing of a children's books.

Rabid Fox said...

I haven't even gotten around to reading Boneshaker yet and now it looks like I'll have to put this on my wishlist too.

Though, the comparisons to Wild, Wild West, Indiana Jones, and Pirates of the Caribbean--three movies I either hated or felt tepid towards--don't exactly instill a need to rush out. :)

Robert said...

Thanks Peter! It's definitely been a while, and the family is doing well :) Kayla is growing up fast, and she's old enough now that I'm trying to ease back into reviewing. In fact, I just finished reading Dreadnought not too long ago, and I'm currently working on Antiphon. After that, my goal is to read Passion Play, Out of the Dark, the new Glen Cook novel, and possibly The Half-Made World and The Way of Kings if I have the time...

Derrick, if you hated Boneshaker, then Clementine is probably not for you ;)

Hi Calibander :D Thanks for the clarification about Clementine. To be honest, I'm pretty sure that both the author and Sub Press have described the book as a novella, so that's how I described it in my review. Also, I think I read somewhere that a novella is the same thing as a short novel?

Rabid Fox, it would definitely be worth your while to get a copy of Clementine if you can, but read Boneshaker first!

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