Dreadnought by Cherie Priest
Cherie Priest has written a total of three books (Dreadnought,Clementine
, and Boneshaker
) that take place in the “Clockwork Century.” While each book contains characters and references in the other books, they can still be read independently from one another without missing the overall plot or context of the story. The protagonists of these books are all women; they are strong, independent, and above all, willing to blow away a zombie head or two.
Vinita “Mercy” Lynch is working as a nurse in a war hospital in Richmond, Virginia, when she learns that her husband has died in a POW camp. Then she receives a telegram from her estranged father, who is dying in the frontier town of Seattle, and wants desperately to reconnect with her. With little else keeping her in Virginia, she embarks on the long and arduous journey to the distant Western Territories.
Priest conjures an alternate history in which the Civil War has lasted for nearly twenty long years, and slavery is no more. There are airships, steam-powered robots, and fortress-like trains capable of leveling entire forests. Oh, and there are zombies: hordes upon hordes of flesh craving, gore-covered, rotting zombies.
Mercy’s journey through the war torn Border States is fraught with danger, and she barely makes it to the Mississippi River. In St. Louis, her trip takes a turn for the worse as she boards the only train headed out west: the monstrous Union steam engine known as the Dreadnought. It supposedly carries deceased Union soldiers to their final resting places, but Mercy learns that the Dreadnought also carries a mysterious cargo, which draws considerable Confederate attention, ranging from rebel bushwhackers to diabolical mechanized walkers.
Something far worse than outlaws awaits Mercy out west, and it could spell the end for not only those aboard the Dreadnought, but also the entire United States as well.
Priest does an excellent job of balancing Mercy’s mental and physical journey. The grief of losing her husband, as well as the painful possibility of reconnecting with (and then possibly losing) her long lost father.
Dreadnought carries a sort of Steampunk vibe, and because of that, it doesn’t seem unreasonable that there are robots or flying machines, as they are all defined by technologies that existed at that time. Discussing the zombies will give away some of the plot, but her reasoning for their existence is not unbelievable, and she easily places a horror element into a sub genre that very rarely has any.
The only flaw one may find with Dreadnought is that Priest creates such a fantastic world, but only examines a small portion of it. The book reads rather quickly, and will most likely leave the reader wanting to know more.
Dreadnought is an excellent read set in a unique world that is unlike most anything in Science Fiction today. Reading this novel will most definitely spur you to pick up another one of Cherie Priest’s books, just so you can revisit “The Clockwork Century.”
Authors after Dark has nominated Dreadnought for steampunk novel of the year.