The Inexplicables, Cherie Priest’s fourth novel in the Clockwork Century series, breaks from her previous books in several ways. Most significantly, instead of being set in a new location in her Civil War-torn US, we return to Seattle with a new perspective: that of the drug-addled Rector Sherman, the kid who had a brief appearance in Boneshaker as the boy who showed Zeke Wilkes how to enter the city. This is the first full-length novel with only a male protagonist (though she did have Captain Hainey starring in her novella Clementine, and Andan Cly shared the spotlight with Josephine Early in Ganymede). There isn’t a mechanical showpiece that serves as the title’s namesake, either–though discovering exactly what the “Inexplicables” are surprised me.
The breaks from her previous storytelling don’t hinder her, however. In fact, The Inexplicables doesn’t rehash as much as it refocuses on the aspects that got readers to love her world in the first place: a gritty survival tale where gas masks and goggles are necessary to live another day, and the aesthetic’s rough edges feel natural and real. Like all of the books in the Clockwork Century, The Inexplicables is a stand-alone novel, but is accessible enough to pull in new readers while giving nods to longstanding fans.
Rector Sherman’s motivation to enter Seattle–to appease the ghost of Zeke Wilkes–reads like a weak excuse on his part. What is more convincing, however, than this delusion is Rector’s interest in getting that yellow sap fix he needs and earning a living now that he’s grown up. So what better way to get both than to go past the wall into an undead wasteland to become a full time dealer/drug runner? (Okay, I can sympathize with this MO a bit, despite the idiot logic, since free books were a strong incentive for me to get into publishing).
This book reads significantly faster than her two previous ones. No time is wasted on exposition or scenic explorations. The post-zombie apoc Seattle that had engaged readers in Boneshaker is fleshed out further, while still giving background story nods that harken back to the first novel. For example, one passage has Rector visiting the old jail that was the backbone of Sheriff Wilkes’ legendary reputation.
The secondary cast that was first introduced in Boneshaker shines this time around, especially Miss “Princess” Angeline, the daughter of Chief Seattle; Houjin the energetic boy genius; and Yaozu, the yellow sap kingpin and this city’s Nucky Thompson. The other Doornails take the backseat aside from Zeke, but their ensemble presence is a strong point. But in this book, Princess steals every scene she is in (and rightfully so).
Rector himself is not a likable character: immature, self-serving, and ignorant about a lot of things, he nevertheless wins this reader’s heart at the end. It helps that he’s the whipping boy of the entire cast, which first earned my sympathies. Not to say that Seattle residents don’t take kindly to newcomers–they just don’t tolerate clueless brats like Rector.
I’m not sure why Rector sticks around with Zeke or Huey (he’s not sure of that himself), though it is obvious that the pair pity his situation enough to have him tag along. But, as the trio searches for the mysterious Inexplicables and later discover a devious plot to destroy Seattle, their growing friendship becomes more believable, if not 100% full of male bondness by the end.
I’m also happy to know more about Seattle itself—not just the abandoned ruins that Rector sees above ground, but also a better understanding of the social dynamics between the Doornails, the Station sap producers, and Chinatown. I’m glad that Chinatown is not conflated with being in league with the drug producers, but would like to see more explored about the people there aside from Huey and the brief appearance of Doctor Wong. Despite Yaozu’s literal placement as the “yellow threat,” he’s also painted as a determined individual trying to save his ramshackle city the only way he can, which I appreciate.
The main action of The Inexplicables resolves itself a bit too quickly for my liking. Somehow, the lack of a technological set piece as the gist of the plot threw me off, since I wonder if the Inexplicables themselves will have further impact on later books. There is a hint of a larger final showdown on the horizon, however, and it looks like the battlelines are being drawn. Overall, though, The Inexplicables provides another rousing adventure and a solid addition to this series.
Interested readers can check out an excerpt of The Inexplicables here.
Ay-leen the Peacemaker is the founding editor behind the multicultural steampunk blog Beyond Victoriana and has been recently published in the academic anthologies Fashion Talks: Undressing the Power of Style and Steaming into a Victorian Future. And she tweets.