Tue
Sep 27 2011 3:00pm

Will this Sub Sink their Battleship? Cherie Priest’s Ganymede

In Cherie Priest’s newest installment of her Clockwork Century series, Ganymede, something lurks in the bayous of Texan-occupied New Orleans. Ganymede, the only-known working submarine, is a war machine that could finally put an end to the Civil War, if only someone knew how to drive it. While the occupying army sweeps the swamps in search for this machine, one woman — Miss Josephine Early, a mixed-race madam of a high-scale brothel — is desparate to find a pilot who can work this machine. And that pilot might be none other than her old flame, the airship pirate Andan Cly...

Throw in some walking dead, some voodoo common sense, and a pirate cove and you’ve got another thrilling addition to Priest’s intricate alternate history steampunk world.

Ganymede bounces back and forth for the first half between Andan in Seattle and Josephine in the Deep South. While Priest gives us some cameos of characters from previous books, it’s really Yazou, the former right-hand man of the villain Minnericht from Boneshaker, who plays the most important role for Andan. He makes an offer for the Naamah Darling to get more supplies to fix the crumbling infrastructure in the city, which, along with Josephine’s mysterious job in New Orleans, would enable Andan to quite his sap-running days and settle down — perhaps even with Sheriff Briar Wilkes. So, determined to kill two bird with one stone, Andan makes plans to cross the country with his mute first mate Fang, the inquisitive boy genius Houjin (or Huey for short), and the former crook Kirby Troost.

Meanwhile in the Big Easy, things aren’t going too well. In this world, the Republic of Texas is a nation separate from both the Union and the Confederacy, and its oil-fueled financial backing had kept the Southerners afloat throughout the war. After a Union attempt to take over New Orleans in 1862, Texas helped the Rebs fight off the Unionists and stayed behind in order to “maintain security.” This agreement, however, doesn’t suit the denizens of New Orleans very much, especially since the Texians put the city under martial law ever since freeing it in 1864. Moreover, the city boasts a diverse population, including a significant community of free people of color. Feeling trapped between a rock and a hard place, it’s no wonder that there are several groups with Unionist sympathies who would do whatever it takes to help end the war.

That passion is what drives Josephine Early, who is another woman that kicks brass and takes names in the Clockwork Century universe. In comparison to the previous female protagonists, though, I like her better than Briar or Mercy. Refreshingly, unlike those two, Josephine carries no extensive baggage concerning the men in her life, but wields fiercely-motivated passion to fight for what’s hers: her ladies, her brother Deaderick, her New Orleans.

I also appreciate that the past relationship between her and Cly is not full of drawn-out angst, or is resolved with a clichéd rekindling. A lesser writer would’ve fallen into either trope, but Priest sidesteps both nicely. Like any old relationship, what was done was done, and feelings were hurt, but now they have both thoroughly moved on.

The big “Z” word — albeit, the voodoo version sans the “e” — finally makes an appearance in this novel, which makes sense, considering that the person who discovers the presence of the undead in the city is a well-respected voodoo priestess Madame Laveau. She, along with Texas Ranger Korman, the deadshot from Dreadnought, are on a mission to warn others about the undead.

Overall, the tension surrounding this novel is about how to get Ganymede out from underneath Texan noses. In comparison to the zombie-plowing escapades that pumped up the adrenaline during the last third of Dreadnought, the action in Ganymede is slower, although there is a background story about the pirates of Barataria Bay that I would’ve loved to hear more about.

Nevertheless, the way the books are progressing not only illustrates a complicated political and social world, but also seems to snowball towards a bigger showdown as more and more people slowly realize that something not right is happening in the Pacific Northwest. If I can make any predictions whatsoever about where future books could be set, I’d like to see one in the North, but perhaps instead, we’ll return to our favorite zombie-and-gas-plagued city. Steampunk Battle in Seattle, anyone?


Ay-leen the Peacemaker runs Tor.com Steampunk on Facebook and Twitter and the multicultural steampunk blog Beyond Victoriana.

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