Book review and giveaway: Dreadnought

Posted by 23rd November 2010

Dreadnought by Cherie Priest

When Cherie Priest's Boneshaker was published last year, it brought steampunk to a wider audience (and, perhaps, cemented Seattle's reputation as the steampunk capital of the U.S.). Dreadnought takes place in the same world as Boneshaker, but begins on the other side of the country and brings a new perspective to the events of Priest's "Clockwork Century" world.

Vinita "Mercy" Lynch is a nurse working in a military hospital in Richmond, Virginia. It is 1879, and the Civil War is still raging. (Yes, still.) The weapons have grown in size and in destructive capability, and there's no end to the war in sight. Mercy discovers that her husband has died in a prison camp and her father is gravely ill in Seattle. Needing a change and curious to meet the father who left her family when she was young, she sets off across the country for Washington.

Mercy's journey by dirigible, barge, horse and train would be fraught with peril without the complications of a war and the accompanying threats of attack and espionage; to cross the nation alone requires her to be tough and smart. Mercy fits the bill perfectly; she's strong, inquisitive and adventurous, while still remaining a believable character who is grieving for her husband, wary of a meeting with her father, and encountering the mixed politics of a divided nation.

Dreadnought is filled with interesting details, from the weaponry used in the war (including the titular machine) to the details of this alternate history. While Mercy is southern, her husband fought in the Union Army for Kentucky, and the conflict of the border states is explained well. (Personal digression here: I worked in the state archives of Kentucky while getting my library degree, and handled all sorts of genealogy questions sent in by people whose ancestors fought in the Civil War; the families who lived in the border states of Kentucky and Virginia during the war have amazing stories to tell, and Priest touches on this in Dreadnought.) The book is nonstop adventure and, at times, a mystery story — what's locked away in the back cars of the Dreadnought? — and even goes into sci-fi as the Dreadnought ventures farther west. (Those who have read Boneshaker have an advantage in knowing what lies ahead for Mercy, but those who haven't read the first book will have no difficulty in following the story.)

Dreadnought is a great tale, with historical details, steampunky gadgetry, and memorable characters. I recommend it highly! And, as such, I'm giving away the copy I was sent, so that someone else can have the fun of discovering this story for the first time. To be entered in the giveaway, post a comment below. No specific questions need be answered this time, but feel free to be creative. (As previous entrants know, your entry may be discussed by a puppet when we do the drawing; if you can handle that, have at it.) Deadline for entries is Friday, December 10. Good luck!

(For more info on Dreadnought, check out the page at Macmillan.)

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