Cherie Priest, Fiddlehead

Tor, New York, 2013.

The fifth and last planned (so far) novel in Priest’s Clockwork Century series, Fiddlehead, like Dreadnought and Ganymede it removes the action from the poisoned city of Seattle, but much more successfully than either of them. Fiddlehead takes place in the centres of Union and Confederate power, and focuses around a calculating engine developed by former slave Gideon Bardsley – which has predicted that both Union and Confederacy will lose the war to the walking dead – and the plots of moneyed interests to keep the war going for the sake of profit in the face of ex-President Lincoln’s and current-President Grant’s attempts to bring the war to a close.

An aside: the scenes with Lincoln and Grant felt rather comic-book-esque – I mean these characters, larger-than-life, are canonised rather than problematised – which took away from the book for me.

The main characters are Grant, Bardsley, and retired-spy-turned-Pinkerton-agent Maria Boyd. Bardsley’s prickly arrogance-of-genius is interesting, as is his quite real desperation when Evil Money moves to discredit him by framing him for money. Grant is not, alas, very interesting – but Maria Boyd! I sometimes feel, particularly with the Clockwork Century series, that Priest is at her best when writing somewhat unconventional women, or women who make the best of situations in which they never expected to find themselves, and Boyd is a perfect example. Whether investigating leads or racing against time to stop a terrible weapon, she remains a fascinating character – although I may well be biased in her regard.

Although at points flawed and problematic, Fiddlehead is fast-paced, entertaining, engaging, and rather a lot of fun. The best series books make you want to go back and reread their predecessors, and Fiddlehead did exactly that.

Priest, The Inexplicables; Higgins, Wolfhound Century; Croft, Lois McMaster Bujold: Essays on a Modern Master of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Let’s talk about books!

Cherie Priest’s The Inexplicables

First up: Cherie Priest, The Inexplicables. Tor, 2012. Copy courtesy of

I enjoyed this one. I think I’ve figured out why I didn’t love Dreadnought and Ganymede half so much as Boneshaker. Priest’s poisoned Seattle, with its yellow gas and its rotters, its decay and peril and strangeness, is a compelling character in its own right.

Here our viewpoint character is Rector Sherman, petty crook, small-time addict, who enters the city because he’s no other place to go. Soon he finds himself in the middle of a struggle for control, and has to pick sides.

There’s also a sasquatch. It’s really pretty good.

Peter Higgins’ Wolfhound Century

Next, briefly: Peter Higgins, Wolfhound Century. Orbit, 2013. ARC courtesy of the publisher.

This? This is fluently-written, numinous, complex, promising debut. But ultimately somewhat disappointing: I expected more climactic resolution, even from the first book in a new series.

Still recommend it, though. Higgins makes very pretty sentences.

Longer, more detailed review hopefully forthcoming elseweb.

Lois McMaster Bujold: Essays on a Modern Master of Science Fiction and Fantasy, ed. Janet Brennan Croft.

Last for today: Janet Brennan Croft, ed., Lois McMaster Bujold: Essays on a Modern Master of Science Fiction and Fantasy. McFarland Press, 2013. e-ARC courtesy of the publisher.

Review forthcoming from Strange Horizons. Short version: there are one or two good papers in here, but my overall feeling is that this is a bloody awful mess of a collection. And most of the papers wouldn’t pass muster for critical engagement with anyone whose opinions I respect.

Yes, I’m cranky.

That’s it at the moment. Now to decide how to prioritise my present reading list, sigh.