(2013) Cherie Priest, Tor, £7.99, pbk, 366pp, ISBN 978-1-447-2-2558-4
Ah, well, all good things as the saying goes, but 'Fiddlehead' marks the end of Priestís Clockwork Century steampunk series. Yes, the series that started way back in 2009 with Boneshaker, and was followed up by Dreadnought, Ganymede, and The Inexplicables and now reaches its conclusion, although there are rumours that Priest might revisit her created world in short story form.
The American Civil War is twenty years old and going nowhere, much like ex-spy Maria 'Belle' Boyd who finds herself in her forties, widowed, and in disgrace, until she gets a call from a former nemesis, namely one wheelchair-bound Abraham Lincoln who needs her help as the former Presidentís friend, ex-slave and inventor Gideon Bardsley has been targeted for liquidation, and his calculating engine, Fiddlehead, is earmarked for destruction, as the question has been asked of the giant computational machine: who will win the Civil War, and the answer has been given. Not the North or the South, but the living dead coming out from the West. There are those who knew it all along, and would prefer it to remain a secret, and there are those who have kept their head in the sand, believing that the war will be won one day, and donít want to know what Fiddlehead has calculated. So now Boyd finds herself an agent on the Unionist Pinkerton Detective Agency and the race is on. The inventor and his creation must be saved, like the rest of America.
Unlike the previous books of the series, which were virtually standalone novels with barely a nod to the others in the series, Fiddlehead does try to draw some strands together with some characters re-appearing from the other books, something that works well in places and not so well in others.
It is slightly James Bond-like in places with an action-packed opening, some good set pieces and maybe the odd pacing problem in others when things slow right down as we get a more mundane spy thriller, something I have always found in Priestís other novels, but these criticisms are more than complimented by Priestís knack of creating a believable alternative history where there are standard steampunk tropes that are part of a believable society, another plus point is her ability to create believable characters complete with all their foibles and weaknesses, particularly alcoholic President Ulysses S. Grant and inventor Bardsley who are well-rounded, if sometimes flawed, annoying, characters.
Recommended, of course, and if you want to cut to the chase you could just read Fiddlehead but you would miss so much fun and one of the best steampunk series of recent years.
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