Clementine by Cherie Priest
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
What kind of book is this? Is it science fiction, alternate history, steampunk, or just madcap adventure? All of the above.
Clementine is is part of the Clockwork Century series, and I admit I cheated and read these out of order, starting with this book. The storyline was a huge draw, honestly.
I'm a sucker for Westerns, especially with a heroine at the helm. Maria Isabella Boyd is on the wrong side of the Civil War, as far as I am concerned, but I don't like her any less. She's a complex woman with her reasons for being a Rebel spy. Deep down, she's a decent human being. While I abhor slavery and all the injustice associated with it, it's a reminder that many on that side of the conflict weren't necessarily people who believed in the inferiority of black people and that they should stay slaves. Many believed in the right to maintain their way of life, and for their families. So, long story short, I still loved Maria despite her loyalties. When you're a young girl growing up, you often wish that Indiana Jones and The Lone Ranger had female counterparts. As a very grown-up girl, I still cherish the opportunity to read about larger-than-life heroines saving the day in a historical setting. Belle Boyd is for you if you are of a similar bent.
Similarly black children hear about the Civil War and think about how much it must have sucked to be deprived of your basics rights and to be treated as property. You want to hear about heroes with brown skin who fought for their own freedom and autonomy, and there are not enough stories about these heroes. It's disheartening to think that all blacks during that period were out of control of their own destinies and basically victims. Well, Captain Croggon Beauregard Hainey is for those kids. He's answerable to no man but himself. It's made him into an outlaw, but at least he can be treated as a man and not a 'boy' or property. He's steaming mad when a redheaded thief steals his very own hard-won airship. And he'll go to hell and back to get his Free Crow ship back. When he encounters Belle Boyd, they end up becoming temporary allies, because she's after the cargo on his ship, and he's after his ship himself. Maybe at one time they might have been enemies, but today is a different day. Hainey is a tough, fearless, strong-willed hero. Even when he does questionable things, I still rooted for him for his sheer force of will and determination.
Clementine is for adventure-loving readers who wonder about the 'what ifs', or how what happened could actually have been a little different then the way it's written in the history books. I probably missed a few key points, since I read this out of order. But it's not terribly hard to follow, overall. I get the idea that technology is more advanced than it would have been back in the actual period. It makes this sort of a low tech Steampunk Science Fiction, with an emphasis on the actual adventure. I really liked the idea of this book, more than the execution, to some extent. On the good side, I loved the manner in which Priest conveys this time period. I did feel like I was right there in the book as I read. My biggest issue with this book lies in the confusing descriptions of the workings and machinery of the hydrogen-driven airships. It was a little dry for my tastes. When descriptions get too technical, my eyes start to glaze. I could have done with a little less of that and more focus on the action and characters. However, I liked what was there. I also feel that more interaction between Captain Hainey and Belle could have enhanced the books. I'm not saying that Priest was going for a romantic entanglement, but the chemistry was certainly there, and I would like to see how that would have been handled in her alternate version of history. Maybe that will come along later. There's always that possibility. I can see the Captain and Belle meeting again someday. Not as enemies, but perhaps as allies once again.
I loved Dreadful Skin, so my bar for this author is set high. That's why I couldn't give this one a higher rating. At 3.5 stars, Clementine is an enjoyable book with larger-than-life main characters, despite its flaws. I'll be paying another visit to the Clockwork Century series in the near future.
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