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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

“Ganymede” by Cherie Priest (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Official Cherie Priest Website
Official The Clockwork Century Website
Order “GanymedeHERE
Read FBC’s Review of “Boneshaker
Read FBC’s Review of “Clementine
Read FBC’s Review of “Dreadnought

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Cherie Priest’s bibliography includes the Blooker-Award winning Four and Twenty Blackbirds, Fathom, Wings to the Kingdom, Not Flesh Nor Feathers, the Cheshire Red Reports urban fantasy series, and the Clockwork Century novels which includes the Nebula and Hugo Award-nominated Boneshaker. She is also the author of the novellas Dreadful Skin, Those Who Went Remain There Still and Clementine published by Subterranean Press, as well as numerous short stories and nonfiction articles that have appeared in Weird Tales, Publishers Weekly, and the Stoker-nominated anthology Aegri Somnia from Apex Book Company.

PLOT SUMMARY: Air pirate Andan Cly has a chance to go straight. Well, straighter. But first, he’s going to have to successfully complete a couple of jobs. One is a supply run for the Seattle Underground, paid for by YaozuMinnericht’s former right-hand man.

The other is a piloting job in New Orleans, for a beautiful mixed-race prostitute named Josephine Early. A woman Cly once loved. But that was a decade ago and the pirate’s heart now belongs to another. So he agrees to the request, not for Josephine, but because it’s a chance to complete two lucrative jobs at once. An offer he can’t refuse.

Unfortunately, Cly has no idea what he’s in for. Hidden at the bottom of Lake Pontchartrain lurks an astonishing war machine, a submersible called the Ganymede. This Rebel prototype could end the war, if only anyone had the faintest idea of how to operate it. If only they could sneak it past the Texians and Confederate forces searching for the machine and into the waiting arms of the Union. And if only it hadn’t killed most of the men who’d ever set foot inside it...

CLASSIFICATION: The Clockwork Century series is set in an alternate history America—circa 1880—flavored with elements of steampunk, horror, intrigue, and Western pulp...

FORMAT/INFO: Ganymede is 352 pages long divided over seventeen numbered chapters. Also includes a Map and an Author’s Note discussing the actual history used in the book. Narration is in the third-person, alternating between the prostitute Josephine Early and the air pirate captain Andan Cly. Ganymede is self-contained, but is connected to the previous volumes (Boneshaker, Dreadnought) in the Clockwork Century series. A couple of matters are left unresolved in Ganymede, but hopefully they will be explored in the next Clockwork Century novel, Inexplicable. September 27, 2011 marks the North American Trade Paperback publication of Ganymede via Tor. The cover art is once again provided by Jon Foster.

ANALYSIS: Compared to Boneshaker and the novella Clementine, Dreadnought was a disappointment, failing to deliver the same level of fun, thrills and entertainment found in its predecessors. Fortunately, Cherie Priest returns to form in her latest Clockwork Century novel, Ganymede. For the most part at least.

One of the biggest issues I had with Dreadnought was how all of the exciting parts were sandwiched in between seemingly endless pages of boredom. Ganymede still suffers from a few boring lulls, but overall the book is a more entertaining affair thanks to faster pacing, a smaller page count, tighter plotting and a narrative that once again switches between two different POVs. It also helps that the tone of Ganymede is not as dark or serious as it was in Dreadnought, while the author has reined in her exploration of such themes as racism, gender roles and war, even though they are still present.

As far as the novel’s characters, Josephine Early is another strong and interesting female protagonist in the vein of Briar Wilkes and Mercy Lynch. However, apart from her profession and the color of her skin, there is very little to differentiate Josephine from Briar and Mercy. Besides sharing the same traits and a similar narrative voice, Josephine’s relationship with her younger brother is strongly reminiscent of Briar’s relationship with her son Zeke and the relationship that Mercy establishes with her father. That’s why it’s nice there is a second POV in the book. Especially when that second POV is Captain Andan Cly. Cly is a personal favorite of the Clockwork Century’s supporting cast, so it was very rewarding to see the air pirate in a starring role. Plus, he provides a nice counterpoint to the familiarity of Josephine’s narrative.

Plot-wise, Ganymede is pretty straightforward. There are subplots involving “zombis/Dead Who Walk” and the pirate bay of Barataria, some romance, and even a little bit of voodoo, but mostly Ganymede is exactly as described in the synopsis. Because the story is so straightforward there are hardly any surprises along the way, but it’s a fun ride nonetheless. It’s also important to note that even though Ganymede is self-contained like its predecessors, the novel works better as a complement/sequel to Dreadnought than a standalone tale since it develops matters introduced in the previous book, while setting the stage for further developments in the next Clockwork Century adventure.

Of the writing in Ganymede, Cherie Priest delivers another impressive performance, led once again by highly accessible prose. Other highlights include the vibrant depiction of a Texas-occupied New Orleans with an escalating rotter problem, and the interesting history & historical figures—Horace Lawson Hunley, Madame Marie Laveau, Barataria Bay—woven into the novel. I also loved the way references are made to the other releases in the Clockwork Century series. Sometimes it’s simply the mention of a name—Croggon Hainey, Dr. Minnericht, Mr. Pinkerton’s Secret Service, Captain MacGruder—but in most cases, familiar faces and plot developments make an actual appearance in Ganymede. These include the bartender Lucy O’Gunning, Miss Angeline, Jeremiah Swakhammer and his daughter Mercy Lynch, Briar Wilkes and her son Zeke, Ranger Horatio Korman, and so on.

CONCLUSION: From an entertainment standpoint, Ganymede certainly has more to offer than Dreadnought, but at the same time, the novel falls a couple notches short of the thrilling heights attained by Boneshaker and the novella Clementine. For the most part though, Ganymede is another rewarding entry in the Clockwork Century series. A series I very much look forward to continuing in next year’s Inexplicable...


Bets Davies said...

Love the world here. The elements cobbled together into one cohesive whole. I have to admit, I wish it would be wholely fantasy. I get a little stuck on the insistence of adding historical info, especially people. For some reason I have an odd dislike of using real people. Pulls me out of the story.

I wish Early hadn't been the ethnically diverse whore. All that makes her stand out from the other women is that she's "mixed" and she's a whore. Having those two things paired as the only things that stand out in a woman--that's history I would rather not revisit.

Robert said...

Thanks for the comment Bets! I'm not a big fan of historical fiction, but I like what Cherie is doing with her Clockwork Century series. There's plenty of fantastical elements to keep me entertained, and the right amount of 'real history' to make me wonder "what if?". That said, I would love to see Cherie create her own secondary world. I think it would be pretty cool :)

As for Early, I agree the author could have done more to make her stand out from the other Clockwork women than her ethnic background and occupation.


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