Normally I don’t like writing full reviews these days, but I just finished reading Ganymede by Cherie Priest and she’s one of my favorite authors. So…I think I’ll write a bit about my thoughts on her latest steampunk work.
Ganymede is the fourth addition to the Clockwork Century universe, coming after Boneshaker, Clementine, and Dreadnought (in that order)–all of which are centered around a steampunk alternate history in which the American Civil War has carried on for nearly decades longer than in real life. The story follows two main characters: Andan Cly, the air pirate fans got to meet first in Boneshaker, and Josephine Early, a biracial prostitute and Union spy who is new to the series.
It all starts with Josephine down in New Orleans. She’s on a mission to deliver a prototype war machine, the titular Ganymede, into the hands of the Union–a machine which could change the war, possibly end it. So far, however, no one has been able to navigate the thing safely out of its hiding place in Lake Pontchartrain, down the Mississippi River and past Confederate forces into the Gulf, where a Union airship carrier is due to pick it up. Many men have already died trying.
Josephine is running out of options fast, and there’s only one other person she can think of who might possibly be able to get the job done. That’s airship captain Andan Cly, who also happens to be her former lover. Now, Josephine must convince him to take the job–despite their past and despite the inherent danger.
Their previous relationship adds instant potential for drama to the plot, and folks, we wouldn’t have an adventure if Andan didn’t take the bait on piloting the Ganymede. So there’s your setup.
Now for the adventure.
What I Liked
How many cool things can you toss into one novel and still make it work? Airship pirates, New Orleanian prostitutes, Texas Rangers, a submarine, spies, a Voodoo queen, zombis… Ganymede has got them all. For those who have been following the series all along, we get the treat of seeing some past characters make appearances, though I won’t say who (besides Andan, of course). We get to meet some new characters, as well. A particularly interesting one for me–perhaps because of her mystery–was the Voodoo practitioner Marie Laveau, who was based on the real-life figure. I really wanted to learn more about her, though. It’s a shame we didn’t get to see more of her in action.
Another thing I liked was the attention to detail that Priest showed when it came to the settings. You really get the sense that she knows these places: Seattle, New Orleans, the swamps. Maybe at times we got just a little too much description–how many scents can the human nose really pick up on all at once?–but I did appreciate the details nonetheless.
Also, you get to take a ride in the Ganymede itself, of course. And what a ride it was! Priest gives us a lot of great details about how the submarine works, how the crew worked to navigate it, etc. I found that interesting.
For Cherie Priest, steampunk is all about having fun, and as far as the aforementioned elements go, I believe she delivers plenty of this with Ganymede.
What I Wasn’t So Keen On
Up until Ganymede, one of the things about The Clockwork Century novels is that they didn’t have any romance. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I’ve always found it peculiar because most genre novels these days (of the ones I’ve read) seem like they have it in one form or another, however big or small. Ganymede, however, features a few potential romances, though I won’t spoil anything. The obvious one, as far as romantic tensions go anyway, is between Andan and Josephine.
Now, in a situation like theirs I’d expect a few sparks to fly–and they do, but I wonder if it was enough. There were a few power struggles here and there, but…I felt like it didn’t amount to very much. I guess I was expecting more.
There was also a certain reveal that popped up with one of the characters, which I was a little confuddled on. It seems recently there’s been a huge surge with authors wanting to include more characters who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered in their stories. I’ve got nothing against this (I have a bi lady in my WIP myself), but when it is done I feel like it needs to be well-integrated. If it’s sprung on you at the last minute then is never mentioned again, then why use it in the first place? Mere shock factor doesn’t cut it for me. If it’s supposed to shock, shouldn’t it also continue to add more tension throughout the rest of the story?
I won’t spoil who’s who, but I will say the reveal of character which occurred in this light didn’t hold any real significance for me. I wasn’t shocked (that seemed to be the intent) so much as left scratching my head, wondering what it was supposed to mean in the scope of the larger story.
Anyway, those were the big things I wasn’t so sure about.
All in all, Ganymede may not be my favorite story in the Clockwork Century series, but I did enjoy reading it. I liked spending time with the characters and thought they were all full of personality and pluck. Priest excels in writing strong heroines, as well. Sometimes, though, I wish she would take things a little further–like with Marie Laveau–but in some cases it could be she’s just saving some action for future novels. In any case, I think I’ll stick around for the next to find out how it all ends.
What I Took Away as a Writer
A couple of things:
- If you’re gonna do something and you want it to matter, then really go for it. Romance, action, drama…it doesn’t matter what. Just do it. Take it all the way. People don’t read genre fiction for the ho-hum and so-so. They want you to take them to places they’ve never been and could otherwise never visit if it weren’t for fiction, or places they’re afraid to go to and yet hold intrigue for them. As a writer, you can’t be afraid to take readers there and you have to be willing to. If you aren’t, then it might be best to leave certain elements out rather than getting hopes up and failing to deliver.
- Writing action scenes is tough. For the most part I actually liked Priest’s action scenes in Ganymede and thought that overall she succeeded, but there were times during the submarine rides where I thought there was a little too much dialogue going on. I think it’s hard to find the balance between relaying important information and maintaining an appropriate pace for the situation at hand–especially during action scenes. If you say too much, it can drag things out unnecessarily. If you say too little, the scene is over before you know it. Not an easy thing to work out!
Yeah, so that’s what I took away.
Have you read this novel yet?
Do you plan to? How about any of the others in the Clockwork Century series? If so, which ones were your favorites? Least favorites? (Care to share why?)
Personally, Clementine and Dreadnought are my two favorites out of the bunch. I really enjoyed the pacing and the characters in those two more so than in the others.