Friday, October 21, 2011

Ganymede - Cherie Priest

Ganymede is the fourth book in Cherie Priest's Clockwork Century setting and the third one published by Tor. Priest had already sold a fourth book to Tor, to be published next year, and recently is was announced that there will be a fifth novel in 2013. This series hit the ground running with Boneshaker (2009), which was nominated for a Hugo last year, and it seems only to have picked up speed since. Priest certainly managed to hook me on her interesting mix of steampunk, alternate history and zombies. Although Ganymede reads a bit differently than both Clementine and Dreadnought, it is another strong entry in the series.

Captain and pirate Andan Cly has met a woman is and ready to leave his questionable business behind and settle down. Before he can do so however, he wants to make one last and very profitable run. The man in charge of Seattle's drug trade is asking him to ship a lot of equipment needed to keep the gas covered city from turning into a death trap. Andan has also received a request from a woman in New Orleans he has a history with. She is none too clear on what the job entails but together with the supply run, the pay of this job could make his retirement from piracy a real possibility. So, reluctantly, Andan leaves his love behind and sets out one more time to New Orleans, where he will make the acquaintance of a mysterious device known as Ganymede.

The previous two entries in the series the Subterranean novella Clementine and the novel Dreadnought, both published in 2010, read more or less like a high speed car chase. There is lots of frantic action in those novels that would not have been fitting for Ganymede. The Ganymede is a primitive kind of submarine, a slightly more advanced version of a historical craft known as the Hunley, one of the many historical details in the novel. With this machine, the designers hope to finally be able to convincingly blockade the Confederate trade routes and end the war that has been dragging on for two decades. If they can get it in the hands of the Union that is.

The development of the Ganymede has been a process of trail and error, in which error often means death. Although designed to keep the occupants both hidden and safe, the technical challenges of keeping people alive in such a hostile environment allow for very small margins of error. Priest uses that to build the pressure. Everything has to be done just so, and everything as to be done right the first time. Not getting it right means detection, suffocation or drowning and the crew of the Ganymede is well aware of that every step of the way. Some parts of the story are absolutely nerve wracking. Priest eventually releases all that pressure in the very exciting climax of the novel.

Besides Andan Cly, whom readers will already know from previous books, Priest introduces a new main character for the New Orleans part of the story. Josephine Early is a madam in New Orleans, running what is euphemistically called a boarding house for women. Like Brair, she is a middle-aged woman with a no nonsense attitude and definitely not afraid to get her hands dirty. Like many of the characters in this book she is of mixed white and African origin and keenly aware of how precarious her position in the Confederacy (where slavery has been abolished in most states in Priest's alternative history). Through Josephine we explore New Orleans, the heat and humility, a touch of voodoo and more than a bit of the French origin of the city. Ganymede contains some wonderfully atmospheric descriptions of the city, spiced with a number of fantastic Steampunk vehicles.

Josephine is also the link with what could be considered an overarching theme in these novels: the presence of zombies. I must admit I felt that this part of the plot didn't really fit in too well with the rest of the story. It is a complication to their mission with the Ganymede I suppose, but on its own, it does not offer a resolution of any kind. It might be a bridge to the next book though, as more people become aware of this growing threat and the need to do something about it. The whole thing made me wonder if Priest has plans to somehow join these episodes and have the characters tackle the problem more decisively. Or if we will indeed see an end the stalemate the Civil War is in. There is more than enough material for another few episodes anyway.

I guess Ganymede is still a book that can be read independently of the others but Priest lets a lot of characters return and puts in a bunch references to earlier events. The only major character who isn't at least mentioned is Maria Isabella Boyd, one of the main characters of Clementine. I'd say you definitely get more out of it if you have read the others but don't let that stop you from picking this volume up. Ganymede turned out to be not quite the story I was expecting, but once again Priest managed to mix the intoxicating ingredients of the Clockwork Century and a number of memorable characters into a fine novel. Fans of the series thus far, will definitely appreciate this offering.

Book Details
Title: Ganymede
Author: Cherie Priest
Publisher: Tor
Pages: 349
Year: 2011
Language: English
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2946-2
First published: 2011

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