TBR Challenge: Getting Back in the Series

This month’s TBR Challenge is to read a book in a series you’ve gotten behind on. I had several to choose from. I picked Ganymede, the fourth book in the Clockwork Century steampunk series by Cherie Priest, because my partner just started the fifth book.

This book had all the things I’ve enjoyed about this series: amazing steam-based engineering, slightly subversive alternate history, and a cast of fascinating, believable, diverse characters. Reading Priest makes me wonder why so many authors stick to a white canvas or give active roles mostly to male characters, when the alternatives are so much more interesting.

This series focuses on a different set of characters in each book, with an overall story arc concerning the Civil War (decades long in this alternate history) and the growing walking dead problem facing North America. In Ganymede, the main characters are airship captain Andan Cly, based in the blighted, dangerous city of Seattle (sight of Boneshaker, the first book in the series), and New Orleans madame Josephine Early, with whom he has a romantic history. Jo, a free woman of color, has a plan to help the Union finally win the drawn-out war, and she needs an airship pilot to make it work. Cly wants to help if he can, and he also wants the fee she is offering — the money and the chance to have his ship modified by experts unavailable in the Western territories offer big steps forward in his plan to stop smuggling drugs (“sap” made from the chemical gas that blights Seattle) and instead work to bring Seattle back into closer contact with the rest of the country. His desire to change his life is motivated largely by his feelings for Briar Wilkes, the sheriff of Seattle who was the heroine of Boneshaker. Commissioned by the people of Seattle to bring back supplies, Cly and his small crew go to New Orleans.

It’s interesting that Cly and Josephine, former lovers, do not have a romance in this book. Cly’s feelings are all for Briar, although their relationship occupies only a few pages in the beginning and end. (Josephine has the beginning of a possible relationship by the book’s end, too.) Instead, Cly and Jo work together, not completely harmoniously or honestly, treating each other as equals. I enjoyed that.

Their project is the machine in the book’s title. Ganymede is a submarine, originally built for the Confederacy, which was lost while being tested. Jo and her co-conspirators want to give it to the Union forces, but attempts to operate it have resulted in death and disaster. Jo believes that the craft is designed more like an airship than a sea-going vessel, and Cly comes to agree that he and his crew can operate the submarine in a risky escape voyage from occupied territory into the Gulf of Mexico, where a Union aircraft carrier can pick it up. As with previous books in this series, success hinges on luck, bravery and creative engineering.

It’s a great combination of action-adventure and character interaction. Loyalty to causes and people are important, different types of intelligence and strength are explored, and the plot takes exciting twists as various forces, including zombies, come into play. Priest’s cast of characters includes strong women, loyal pirates, savvy prostitutes and various renegades of several ethnic heritages, working imperfectly together toward a dream of a more free and tolerant nation, with liberal doses of humor along the way. I’m glad I returned to the Clockwork Century.

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Our Jolly Holiday, Part III

This is the long-overdue third (and final, thankfully) installment about our UK holiday in the summer of 2012. I had some picture uploading issues, and there wasn’t much point without the photos, as you’ll see below. If you’d rather read in order, part one is here and part two is here.

Exeter Cathedral

Exeter Cathedral

On Tuesday, we drove to Oxford. We collected a friend of mine who is lecturing at Oxford for the summer and needed to get to Exeter to give a conference paper the next day. We were glad to get to spend a couple of days with her by driving her down to Exeter, my partner’s old university. (Picking her up in Oxford involved getting soaked with dirty water by a passing vehicle and a hair-raising illegal drive through the controlled part of the city trying to pick up dry clothes from her rooms. Definitely an adventure, but not one we care to repeat.)

Towelephant in our room at the Nobody Inn

Towelephant in our room at the Nobody Inn

Once we got out of Oxford, we had a good drive, albeit in intermittent rain; we went off the road for a good view of Glastonbury Tor and a decent tea at the Abbey barn, home of the Somerset Rural Life Museum. That evening we stayed at on old favorite place, the Nobody Inn in Doddiscombsleigh, a tiny village just outside of Exeter in the gorgeous Devon countryside. We had by far the finest meal of our whole trip there, although we had to miss their famous breakfast the next morning in order to get to the conference on time.

Old Exeter

Old Exeter

During the conference session, my partner and I wandered around Exeter. We did a quick tour of the university to see how much it has changed and then parked the car while we walked along the city wall to the cathedral and some of the older sections of the city.
Exeter City Wall

Exeter City Wall

1596 building in Exeter

1596 building in Exeter

Head of the White Horse

Head of the White Horse

After the academic duty was discharged, we made our way back to Oxford by a leisurely and roundabout route. We had a nice lunch at a favorite pub, another King’s Arms, this one in East Stour, Dorset. We visited Cerne Abbas and saw the Giant, and we climbed the hill at Uffinton to see my favorite White Horse.

After saying our good-byes, we headed out of Oxford as far as Woodstock, where we found a warm late welcome at the Duke of Marlborough.

Cotswald Falconry Centre

Cotswald Falconry Centre

The next day was a highlight of the trip, a visit to the Cotswold Falconry Centre. This is a working falconry and non-commercial breeding facility, located on Batsford Park Estate. They have a variety of demonstrations during the day, along with actual hands-on falconry experiences; the staff are incredibly friendly and knowledgable, and the birds are just amazing. I could go on and on about our day there, but mostly I’ll just post pictures.
Mike with Rosy and Jim, two vultures

Mike with Rosy and Jim, two vultures

A lovely pair of hawks

A lovely pair of hawks

Kestrel

Kestrel

Falcons

Falcons

Sill a noble pursuit

Sill a noble pursuit

Wotan, the Bald Eagle

Wotan, the Bald Eagle

Xena, the Golden Eagle

Xena, the Golden Eagle

Joe the barn owl, still working at age 20

Joe the barn owl, still working at age 20

Leah, a lovely falcon

Leah, a lovely falcon

The falconer pictured in some of these shots, Mike, was wonderful about showing the different birds, explaining the work involved, and answering questions. Lots of questions. He was eloquent about the relationship between the handlers and the birds; the birds are only caged or restrained for their own protection, since the smaller birds are prey for the larger ones (as he said, there would be only “one large, overfed Golden Eagle” on the property.) He let one young peregrine falcon, Leah, fly away for several hours, and then when he called to her (with an offer of food), she came down from a height of about three thousand feet in an incredible dive.
Leah returns after a long free flight

Leah returns after a long free flight


The centre has an active breeding program, and we enjoyed peeking in at the breeding pairs as well as viewing some owl and vulture chicks.
Owl family

Owl family

Breeding hawk, viewed through peephole

Breeding hawk, viewed through peephole


After our day of falconry, we decided to drive some of the roads marked on my map as “scenic.” We drove to Hereford, because I’ve never been there, and then headed back in the general direction of Gloucestershire. We stayed for the night in Monmouth, so technically we were in Wales for part of this holiday — the border down there is extremely convoluted. This time our inn was the King’s Head, a Wetherspoon’s hotel where were pleased to find it was curry night.

On Friday, it rained. All day. It was the wettest day of our entire fortnight-plus in the country, and we got extremely wet. We spend the day in Slimbridge at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, which is a fabulous, mostly outdoor, refuge and conservation site. They have amazing birds from all over the world, as well as some other wetland creatures. Ducks like water, so the residents were very active and visible; we had an umbrella and decent waterproof jackets. What we didn’t have was a charged battery in the camera, so I only took a few pictures, several of them of indoor amphibians.

Swan gathering

Swan gathering

Ne Ne, Hawaiian geese

Ne Ne, Hawaiian geese

Some sort of tropical pheasant (?)

Some sort of tropical pheasant (?)

African Clawed Frog

African Clawed Frog


Some kind of newt (creepy)

Some kind of newt (creepy)

Poison Dart Frogs, always my favorites!

Poison Dart Frogs, always my favorites!

To good friends!

To good friends!

The rest of our holiday was spent with very good friends in Gloucestershire. This is the only photo I took. Everyone involved preferred it that way, but rest assured that we had a good time.