Review: Dreadnought

Review: DreadnoughtDreadnought by Cherie Priest
Series: The Clockwork Century #3
Published by Tor Books on September 28, 2010
Genres: Adventure, Alternate History, Historical, Horror, Steampunk
Pages: 400
Format: ARC
Source: Won

Nurse Mercy Lynch is elbows deep in bloody laundry at a war hospital in Richmond, Virginia, when Clara Barton comes bearing bad news: Mercy’s husband has died in a POW camp. On top of that, a telegram from the west coast declares that her estranged father is gravely injured, and he wishes to see her. Mercy sets out toward the Mississippi River. Once there, she’ll catch a train over the Rockies and—if the telegram can be believed—be greeted in Washington Territory by the sheriff, who will take her to see her father in Seattle.

Reaching the Mississippi is a harrowing adventure by dirigible and rail through war-torn border states. When Mercy finally arrives in St. Louis, the only Tacoma-bound train is pulled by a terrifying Union-operated steam engine called the Dreadnought. Reluctantly, Mercy buys a ticket and climbs aboard.

What ought to be a quiet trip turns deadly when the train is beset by bushwhackers, then vigorously attacked by a band of Rebel soldiers. The train is moving away from battle lines into the vast, unincorporated west, so Mercy can’t imagine why they’re so interested. Perhaps the mysterious cargo secreted in the second and last train cars has something to do with it?

Mercy is just a frustrated nurse who wants to see her father before he dies. But she’ll have to survive both Union intrigue and Confederate opposition if she wants to make it off the Dreadnought alive.

Cherie Priest’s books are really interesting and her diction and syntax excellently crafted. I have now read three of her books and I still feel like there is something missing. Maybe it’s that there is never a single bit of romance; there are not even any married couples still happily together. I do not think every book needs romance, but it does seem odd that in a series of three books there would not be a single instance of attraction or a relationship. The closest to a relationship is Mercy and her husband, who never makes an appearance except in death. The main characters do not even have to be the ones; how about a couple of side characters leaving together or hooking up or something? It just struck me as weird.

Or maybe what’s missing, in this book for certain, is the overarching plot. Technically, there is one: Mercy journeying to her father’s bedside. Except that the book does not feel like it is actually in any way about that. At all. When Mercy arrives at said bedside, the book ends promptly. And by promptly, I mean in a page and a half. All of the drama was supposed to beto bring these two characters back together, but obviously it wasn’t. It makes it quite apparent that the frame was tacked on at the end as an excuse to make the character take this trip across country. Is that bad? I think so, because it lends the whole book a sense of unreality. What was the point?

Characters from Boneshaker make an appearance in this book, although I would say it’s more of a cameo than even a supporting role. As with the previous books, the women are strong, the men are too, the zombies are hungry and the scientists are crazy.While I like these books, I cannot pretend that I don’t wish they were just a little bit better.

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