1 October 2015

Clementine

A Steampunk adventure by Cherie Priest.

  



Maria Isabella Boyd’s success as a Confederate spy has made her too famous for further espionage work, and now her employment options are slim. Exiled, widowed, and on the brink of poverty…she reluctantly goes to work for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency in Chicago.
 
Adding insult to injury, her first big assignment is commissioned by the Union Army. In short, a federally sponsored transport dirigible is being violently pursued across the Rockies and Uncle Sam isn’t pleased. The Clementine is carrying a top secret load of military essentials—essentials which must be delivered to Louisville, Kentucky, without delay.
 
Intelligence suggests that the unrelenting pursuer is a runaway slave who’s been wanted by authorities on both sides of the Mason-Dixon for fifteen years. In that time, Captain Croggon Beauregard Hainey has felonied his way back and forth across the continent, leaving a trail of broken banks, stolen war machines, and illegally distributed weaponry from sea to shining sea.
 
And now it’s Maria’s job to go get him.
He’s dangerous quarry and she’s a dangerous woman, but when forces conspire against them both, they take a chance and form an alliance. She joins his crew, and he uses her connections. She follows his orders. He takes her advice.
 
And somebody, somewhere, is going to rue the day he crossed either one of them.
 
Clementine is a part a of very popular The Clockwork Century-series by author Cherie Priest. I picked up the book at random at the library, so I had no prior knowledge about the author or her work. I’ve read some Steampunk before, and I knew the story would most likely involve airships, goggles and corsets.
 
In short, Clementine is a fun, fast-paced adventure with two very strong and charismatic leads, and some very well-written action scenes. Priest does a good job building a world that feels gritty and  tormented by the Civil War. It’s a world where you cannot trust anyone and everybody is out for their own gain. It’s also a world with some impressive steam-driven technology, but when you stop to think about it, the technology does little do improve people’s lives. You get the impression that science and technology only exist so that the military can make better and stronger weapons.  
 
The two main characters – Hainey and Boyd – have great chemistry, and I like the interaction between these two.
In the first few chapters, Priest builds up the tension before the heroes' initial confrontation in the book's second act. And when they do meet, that's when the adventure really begins.  

The dynamic between the main characters is perhaps the strongest side of Clementine. Here you have two people, who are both very smart and very dangerous, and are on the opposite sides of the conflict but they have no choice but to work together in order to survive. How is this going to play out?
The supportning characters really only have one purpose, and that is to move the story forward. Except for Hainey's two crew members, who are interesting and charismatic in their own right.
 
Now, I do have two issues with Clementine. For one, the story feels way too rushed. The first act isn't too fast-paced, and Priest takes her time in setting up the plot and introducing us to the characters. But once the heroes do meet, we are being rushed through the plot. There are no breathers, no time to get to know the characters a little better.  
 
I've read an interview with Priest, where she explains why the book is so short:
“Subterranean Press wanted to produce a one-off set in the Clockwork Century universe, and I wanted to let them. However, I have a first-refusal clause in my contract with Macmillan – which stipulates that Macmillan gets first look/first pass on anything over X amount of words. Therefore, I had to keep Clementine under that word count, in order to make sure that no noses were tweaked.” 
I understand now the limitations that the author was faced with, but the story would have benefitted from a slower pacing.
 
My second grievance is that there is no real villain. Let me rephrase that: there are villains, but they are no match for the heroes. With Boyd and Hainey being such badasses, their adversaries needed to be at least as strong, if not stronger. Instead we’re treated to a few very bland, one-dimensional baddies.
Despite its flaws, I enjoyed Clementine a lot. Plus, it's a great tease for the rest of the series.
My rating: 3/5
 

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