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.