Best Fantasy Series: The Clockwork Century Universe by Cherie Priest
The fantasy series has a new sub-genre called steampunk and if you want to explore it there are plenty of great authors who have delved into the concept of a Victorian world that took a right turn and developed steam engines as its major form of energy and transportation. There is a romantic streak in almost any of the steampunk fantasy series as they look at a “might have been” concept of technology and fantasy colliding in a past that never was. It is a fun universe to play in. However, looking at most of the fantasy series that has come out from authors such as Tim Powers, James Blaylock and K.W. Jeter, who coined the term that kicked off the modern steampunk movement, they have been set in England. This isn’t surprising since much of its inspiration is from such writers as Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.
Cherie Priest is not a writer to stay within common conventions however, so when she looked at a writing genre that she had grown to love she wondered what it would be like to take the concept to the New World and set a fantasy series in America. Not content with just putting it in an American setting, her first book in this bold new fantasy series takes us to the Pacific Northwest to discover the steampunk world of Seattle. The series travels across the country, with the second book taking place in Chicago and Kentucky by way of dirigible and adventure and the third and fourth in the offbeat fantasy series set in Louisiana and Seattle with a familiar cast and some new heroes to cheer on.
The first book in this amazing fantasy series won numerous awards and I have more to say about that, along with a brief interview with Cherie which you can read here. If you get caught up in the whole Cherie Priest world of steampunk thing, you can also stay on top of what she is up to and see more of her cool steampunk stuff at the Clockwork Century site she runs for this fantasy series. I highly recommend both it and her books for fun and adventure at its best.
Book One – Boneshaker
Deadly gas from an accident has turned the once thriving gold-rush town of Seattle into a nightmare filled with the brainless dead once-humans called rotters and plenty of abandoned buildings. Into this world we are thrust with a quick kick to the butt when we meet our two heroes: Briar and her son Ezikial or Zeke. The fantasy series inaugural story is a full tilt adventure told from two points of view: Zeke’s as he enters the dangerous underground community of survivors and criminals to clear his father’s name and Briar who as his mother follows Zeke to save him from certain death even as she knows that to enter the city could spell her own doom.
The pace never slows down but I was never at a loss to follow the twistings and turnings of the two as they found accomplices to the heart of their quests. Zeke’s unending optimism marks his narrative from his mother’s, and we begin to suspect that Briar is hiding a dark secret from him. We see the depth of their love for each other, the unexpected kindness of criminals who live in the labyrinth below and come to respect the toughness Briar has had to acquire just to survive. She is a tenacious woman, willing to do whatever it takes to save her son. It is this trait that makes her stand out amongst the bevy of strong women that has become the forte of fantasy lately. This is an amazing introduction to a special fantasy series world so well conceived that at times it was hard to look up from my book and not expect to see the crumbling towers of Seattle outside my window.
Book Two – Clementine
I was surprised that this second book in the fantasy series takes us completely out of Seattle with a new main character but plenty of references and connections to Boneshaker. The great thing about it is you don’t have to read the first book to enjoy this second in the series. This time around we are introduced to a pair of great creations from Cherie who begin as antagonists but soon find they must find a way to work together if they are to meet their goals.
Maria is a spunky southern gal who has been a spy, an actress and plenty more she won’t talk about. But she has fallen on hard times, so she is in Chicago to work for the Pinkerton Agency. I am a bit of a buff about this time era, so even though this is steampunk and alternative, I was pleased to see this wonderfully interesting organization included in this world. Maria needs to find a certain Captain Heaney and bring him to justice, and Heaney needs to keep his skin in one piece while he struggles to regain his prized airship.
Heaney is a piece of work, and a fun one at that. He pretty much meets his match with Maria, but it is the breakneck adventures and just plain in your face risk-taking on both their parts that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Plus you can’t help but like the guy from the first time he shows up on the page – he is a rascal but a charming one.
Clementine has been a tough book to get your hands on in the past, as it went through its first print run rather quickly after the success of Boneshaker but I have been told that you can now get it in paperback as well as in ebook, so don’t be put off by the high prices on the hardback books from collectors. There are plenty of alternatives out there if you are not a collector of the early editions, though they are so beautiful you might just want to pay the price anyways.
Book Three –Ganymede
Andan Clay may have thought he was ready to hang up his pirate hat and go straight, but one last run to get supplies for the city of Seattle’s underground may be his big ticket to a life he wants in one place with one woman. Too bad that life never quite cooperates as he gets a telegram from Josephine, a old lover and beautiful prostitute who is now a madam, that takes him back to New Orleans for one last trip to help an “old friend” with a mystery pilot job.
Soon he finds himself smack in the middle of a running battle between The Republic of Texas, the citizens of The Big Easy and the plan to move an amazing machine that could finally end a Civil War that has dragged on for over twenty years. The only problem is every other crew that tried to pilot this ship has died, drowned. For the Ganymede is not an airship, but one that “flies underwater” and he must figure out how to make sure he can pilot it without dooming his crew.
Just to make things a bit more interesting, there has been some strange voodoo going on in New Orleans as well. For the last few years people have been disappearing and tales of strange beings in the night, called “zombi” by the local voodoo queen, have turned out to be truer than anyone wants to believe. There may be a connection to the rotters in Seattle, but Andan isn’t sure he understands why. But he will need to find out if he is to successfully move through the city and find a way to pilot the Ganymede out of Lake Pontchartrain to the waiting Union Navy.
Book Four – Dreadnaught
This one begins in Confederate territory where Mercy Lynch is struggling as a nurse in a war hospital in Richmond Virginia. The Civil War has taken its toll on everyone, and so it is no surprise when she receives word from Clara Barton that Mercy’s husband has died in a POW camp and her father back on the west coast is dying. They have not spoken in years, but she feels she must somehow get through enemy lines and out to see him before he dies.
Reaching the Mississippi is a series of hair-raising episodes. However, it is not until she boards the train that will take her across the Rockies- a giant monster of a steam locomotive called the Dreadnaught -that her real dangers begin. She soon discovers that there is a mystery cargo in the last two cars that everyone seems to want. The claim is that they are bodies of fallen soldiers, being sent home west to be buried. But that doesn’t explain everyone’s interest in this train; things just are not what they seem. Confederates scheme to attack and loot the train and criminal bushwackers attempt to highjack it. What can possibly be in those last two cars that are so important?
Once again Cherie Priest takes us on an adventure with a woman on a mission and a mystery that cries out to be solved. It feels as if everyone is in on the game with this one as all sides scheme to get at the elusive treasure and all Mercy wants to do is get to see her father one last time. Cherie’s persistent theme of family loyalty that began in the first book comes back to color so much of the emotion in this tale. It brings a different dimension to what in anyone else’s hands would simply be another fantasy series tale of high adventure.
Coming this Fall: The Inexplicables
The fantasy series adventure continues in the world of steampunk with this latest novel. Cherie says it will continue the story introduced in Ganymede, so I am assuming this means our hero Andan Clay and the unstoppable Josephine will be back for more. But don’t take my word for it, go up on Amazon and reserve your copy now! You know you want to…