Last week I told you about a back-luck streak I had with books, when I felt like every book I started wound up being a snooze-fest. Dreadnought was the book that broke that streak. It simply didn’t give me time to get frustrated or bored. Dreadnought moved at breakneck speed from the first chapter to the epilogue and kept me on the edge of my seat throughout. I do not advise starting this book on the bus on the way to work, as you may be far too tempted to “forget” your stop and possibly your job altogether in order to finish it.
Dreadnought opens in a Confederate military hospital in Richmond, Virginia, where practical Vinitia “Mercy” Lynch is a nurse. In Priest’s alternate Clockwork Century, the Civil War did not end in the 1860s; instead, it has turned into a decades-long conflict so deadly that every Confederate state (save for Mississippi and Alabama) has outlawed slavery and given former slaves citizenship in order to recruit more fighters. Mercy’s own loyalties are somewhat divided; while she works at a Confederate hospital and Yankee armies burned her family’s farm twice, she is also married to a Union soldier.
The events of the book are set in motion when Mercy receives an unexpected telegram. Her estranged father, Jeremiah Swakhammer, has been critically injured. His friends beg her to make the long trek to Seattle to visit him. Mercy — still reeling from a recent death — decides that despite her father’s failings, she can’t ignore what might be his dying wish.
There’s just one problem. There’s a chance that a few Civil War battles are smack in the middle of Mercy’s route to Seattle and her father.
Dreadnought is a particularly excellent book to read on an airplane because no matter how annoying your flight is, you’ll end up grateful that you can fly from one end of the country to the other at all. While the Clockwork Century contains more advanced technology than historical nineteenth-century America, travel from Virginia to Washington State is no easy task. In order to get to Seattle, Mercy has to take a hydrogen airship, a ferry, a horse-drawn cart, and more than one train (not necessarily in that order), all the while praying that the Union and Confederate armies won’t get in the way of her progress.
As Mercy moves further west, she hears more and more about the new technologies both sides are developing, including the Union’s dreaded “Dreadnought” steam engine. She also learns more and more about “yellow sap,” the mysterious drug that turned some of the soldiers under her care into walking corpses.
I don’t want to say more about Dreadnought‘s plot — I knew very little going into this book and had tremendous fun watching Mercy face down each surprising new obstacle on her way West. I will say, however, that Mercy Lynch is a hell of a traveling companion. She’s smart and capable without seeming superhuman, and her warm compassion is mixed with a healthy dash of no-nonsense attitude. The plot developments are exciting, but they wouldn’t work if the reader didn’t care about the woman at their center.
Boneshaker is a great introduction to the Clockwork Century, but Dreadnought takes the brakes off and lets Priest’s imaginative world move at full speed. Highly recommended, especially if you’re in need of a fast-paced adventure to shake your doldrums.
Rating: Buy It