Top critical review
41 people found this helpful
pace and character issues, strong prose, satisfying
on October 27, 2010
Dreadnought is Cherie Priest's follow-up of sorts to Boneshaker. It's "of sorts" because while it takes place in the same alternate America at roughly the same time period, and we see a few familiar characters (at the very end), it isn't at all a direct sequel. Instead, it introduces Mercy Swakhammer (yes, his daughter for Boneshaker readers), a nurse at a Confederate hospital during the decades-long Civil War. Early on she receives two important bits of news. The first is that her Union husband has been killed. The second is that her father is near death out in Seattle and is desperate to see her, though he abandoned her and her mother when she was but a child. The first leaves her free to do what she wishes with her life and the second propels her on a risky cross-country trip from one coast to the other. The trip is rife with adventure, involving battles, airship crashes, raids on the train she is on, zombie attacks, mysterious cargo cars, missing Mexicans, a mysterious Texas ranger, a possibly mad scientist, and the underlying question as to whether Mercy will ever make it to the other side of the country.
I thoroughly enjoyed Boneshaker, but to be honest found Dreadnought to be a bit of a slog at times to get through. I kept picking it up and putting it down, which is always a sign I'm not particularly enjoying a book, as I typically finish books in a sitting or two. If it takes me more than three days to get through a sub-400 page book, I'm just not that excited about it.
One of my issues was the pacing. The book started off a bit slow, had some rollicking moments (an airship crash, mechanical walkers), then really slowed down as we got a lot of travel plans and info, ticket buying, etc. I don't need books to be non-stop action, and I'm a huge fan of "quiet" character-driven novels, but this one just seemed unbalanced, never quite finding a smooth rhythm or pace of action.
The characters too weren't all that compelling. The biggest problem was with the secondary characters, none of whom really came alive for me, whether it be the Union commander, the fellow women passengers, the porters, the mad scientist. They all felt a bit perfunctory, there to play their plot role devices but not much beyond that. I can't say I would have felt much had any of them not made it. The main character, simply by being on stage all the time, is obviously more fleshed out, but even with Mercy I can't say I felt she was all that distinctive a personality. At times, yes, but not consistently so throughout the novel. Part of the reason for this I think was that although she's portrayed as a not-particularly passive personality, the intersection of her character and plot quite often makes into a passive character: being ordered to do something rather than choosing it, reacting rather than choosing to act, etc.
What saves Dreadnought probably more than the several strong scenes (and there are several such) is Priest's sharp prose. For instance:
Sunset took forever; with no mountains or hills for it to fall behind . . . The warm light belied the chill outside, and the passenger cars were bathed in a rose colored glow even as the riders rubbed their hands together and breathed into their fingers, or gathered over the steam vents. Porters came through on the heels of the sun's retreating rays, lighting the gas lamps that were placed on either side of each door, protected by reinforced glass so the light wouldn't blow out with the opening and closing of these same portals.
That sort of precision and vividness and wonderful rhythm of prose runs throughout the book; there were several such passages I marked and could have chosen as examples. I actually would have preferred more, to balance out the satisfactory but less magical dialogue/interior monologue.
I finished Dreadnought more slightly satisfied than happy, perhaps even more satisfied at the finishing than the reading. It's a mostly well-written book that just didn't capture my attention fully due to issues with pace and character and while I'd call it a disappointment, it wasn't enough so that I won't read the next book in the series.