Clementine by Cherie Priest (Clockwork Century #1.5)

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.

SPOILERS FOR BONESHAKER

It took me ten days to read this novella. How on earth could I have let this happen? Oh yeah, I had midterms, that’s how.

This story takes up right after the events of Boneshaker. The air pirates who helped Briar get over the wall into downtown Seattle had just stolen Croggon Hainey’s airship, and the novella opens with Hainey and his crew racing back east to retrieve his ship. Even though I took forever in finishing it, the novella was a quick read. There were times in Boneshaker when the author’s language leaned too close to being ponderous, but the shortness of this story helped to keep that tendency in check. The length also meant the action never stopped, which led to a pretty wild ride, both literally and figuratively. Also, I liked how the plot opened up the rest of Alternate United States to exploration, with the action occurring in the Rockies and the Midwest.

Croggon Hainey is such that I can take or leave him. His main goal is to get back his airship by any means possible, and that’s all he thinks about for the entire story. I can see how that narrow-minded focus could make him appear admirable in his determination, but for me, that focus gave him the appearance of being more one-note than he’s intended to be. Maria Boyd is the more intriguing of the two protagonists. She has the upbringing and manners of a respectable southern lady and a spine of steel who never lets anyone underestimate the abilities she has at her disposal. She’s a no-nonsense sort of person who prides herself on getting the job done. Her skill with all sorts of artillery is pretty excellent.

However, the interactions between Hainey and Maria continually felt odd to me. He’s an escaped slave; she’s a former Confederate spy. In this story, they both treat each other like human beings and individuals with skills that can be used to help the both of them. I felt that, given their backgrounds, race would have been more of an issue in terms of how each person saw the other. In this alternate world, the Civil War has been ongoing for almost twenty years. Although I’m not sure how much the increased length has affected attitudes towards slavery, entrenched racism is still very present. As such, it’s almost guaranteed that Maria would have internalized it. Hainey’s distrust of Maria because of her Confederate background comes through loud and clear, but Hainey’s background and his race doesn’t provoke as much of a response in Maria. And this felt very weird. Is this just me? Am I making a fuss over nothing?

On the whole, this novella felt like a set-up for something bigger. I could easily see Hainey and Maria meeting up later and getting involved in various other dangerous situations. In particular, I think Hainey as a protagonist would come across better in a novel-length story. That being said, the novella is a nice continuation of the Clockwork Century universe that expands the world’s parameters, and thus its possibilities. It’s a solid read that anyone who doesn’t have midterms or other forms of projects and exams should be able to finish quickly and with ease.

Disclosure – library

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