Plot: After years as a pirate, hauling poisonous gas out of Seattle for the production of the drug known as sap, Andan Cly wants to settle down. A simple shipping run and a mysterious piloting job from an ex-lover in New Orleans should give him just enough to retire. Only the vehicle that Josephine wants him to pilot under the nose of the Texian occupiers is no airship. At the bottom of Lake Pontchartrain lies a warmachine that may change the tides of the war, an immense submersible with explosive power. One that has killed all the men who have tried to crew it.
My first thought when I started reading this was that it reminded me a lot of Sarah Monette’s alternate history about a courtesan/spy in New Orleans, Amante Dorée. They are different stories, both amazing in their own ways, but it was a strange kind of synchronicity.
I love Priest’s steampunk. Her alternate history of the civil war is enthralling. She has created a complex, detailed world that I would hate to live in but I love to visit. Tension is especially high in this installment as Josephine, by all appearances a simple madam in a bordello, masterminds the theft of a submarine under the noses of the Texians (sic). Plenty of action too: enough battles and near escapes to please any adventure fans. There are zombies, too, but they play a smaller role than ever. Don’t try to read this as straight up horror, you’ll be disappointed and there are so many other things to enjoy about the novel.
But best of all are the characters. Priest writes strong, realistic women like no other. Josephine and Ruthie join a long line of ladies, each quite different in breeding and temperament, but all willing and more than capable of fighting to defend what they care for and believe in. I’m also quite fond of Andan Cly, not just because he’s a pirate, a good man and awkwardly huge (oh, how I’d love to tease him), but also because he appreciates a strong, independent woman.
A lot of the characters that fans of the Clockwork Century have come to love return: Briar, Lucy, Angeline, Jeremiah, Mercy and of course Andan Cly and his crew. Definitely read Boneshaker and Dreadnought first (it makes sense as a standalone but it might be less enjoyable) but if you like steampunk, you should not miss this.