Top critical review
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on August 16, 2014
I'm glad I got this as a used book through an Amazon seller. And that saddens me, because after reading Boneshaker and Dreadnought, I was a fan. I mean a FAN of Cherie Priest's Clockwork Century series. The world building is first rate, the scene setting, the descriptions, the mood and tone and pacing were just stellar in those first two books. 5 stars to both of them, no complaints at all.
I read this one out of order, and I'm hoping Ganymede turns out to be better. Below are the reasons I'm giving The Inexplicables 2 stars.
1 - poor quality of writing. Unlike the first two in the series, the phrasing and description in this one grew clunky, choppy, poorly executed. What had previously been a thrilling ride through a masterfully conceived storyworld full of exciting dangers, mystery, and wonder instead became a bit of tedium in places, so much so that I had to force myself to read every word. I loved reading Boneshaker and Dreadnought. Not so much The Inexplicables. It wasn't a chore, but it wasn't anywhere near as delightful and enthralling as the earlier books.
2 - bad copyediting. This one is on the publisher, and this is why I say I'm glad I got the book used from an Amazon seller. If I'd paid full price, I'd be asking Tor for my money back. Call me a stickler, call me OCD, I don't care. You don't publish a novel under the pretense of putting out a professional product and then leave in 3 typographical errors, the aforementioned clunky writing, and at least one instance of the author leaving herself a note to revise something. I swear. Read page 260, about 2/3 down the page. There's a parenthetical insertion there that has no real transition from the surrounding text, and the way it's written screams "author's note to self". The copyeditor was asleep at the wheel here, and that irks me. Self-published authors are faulted all the time for putting out poorly edited or even unedited work. When a professional house does the same thing, they get the same treatment.
3 - poor characterization. The usual suspects from the series are here, and I remembered them well enough from Boneshaker and Dreadnought, so I liked seeing them when they showed up. The central protagonist, however, lacked any compelling qualities. I didn't really care much about his plight. Whenever he ended up in a dodgy situation, I actually felt like he deserved it. At the very least, I didn't care if he survived or not. I was more concerned about the other characters, and that weakened the story something terrible. What I did like about Rector Sherman was that he had an unconventional background and unconventional qualities (he's a drug addict) for a protagonist. But with a set up like that, it's somewhat essential that the character experience some peril or trauma related to his background. Otherwise, it's a parade of people wagging fingers at him to never touch that evil sap ever again cross his heart and hope to die. Mixed in are frequent soliloquies in which Rector debates the pros and cons of his addiction, grapples with the urge, the constant urge to use again. Except it isn't constant and like much of the problems that the characters encounter in the story, Rector's risk of using again and getting himself into trouble just gets swatted aside like an annoying fly. Repeatedly. The moment where he finally "chooses his loyalty" as the blurb says he will just falls completely flat.
4 - lack of any real conflict. Except at about the 70% mark where the true threat is revealed, there isn't much in the story that presents anything resembling peril or conflict or problems to solve. And the ultimate resolution of the conflict was a miserable Deus Ex Machina! The characters had all done pretty well setting up life inside the walled city of old Seattle, forced underground to avoid the poison gas and zombies aside. Rector spends a little while struggling to adapt, but he makes quick work of it really, so when he runs into the same problems again later on, it's like he's just spinning his wheels. Sure, drug addicts often go through that experience, but that doesn't make for good storytelling. And then an off stage resolution of the major conflict? Really? We don't even get to see the action?
There were so many opportunities for the book to excel, for Rector's past to catch up with him and force him to choose a life of sobriety or a life of addiction, and for that to be the real conflict and threat the whole cast would have to face. Threats to life and limb exist and come up now and then, but the three main characters, Huey, Zeke, and Rector, all get by pretty well unscathed. Nothing happens that causes any of them to have an epiphany or run into so much trouble it looks like they won't make it out. Since those are the hallmarks of the first two stories, and what got me to love the series so much, it was really disappointing to find them left out in this one.
The eponymous "inexplicables" are a clever addition, and one that I appreciate seeing. Much of the series is an amalgam of historical truth, myth, and historical invention, and the author excels at creating suspense around her chief characters (excluding Rector Sherman here). That said, the side plot involving the inexplicables fell flat for me. It was a short story on its on and would have worked really well as such. Putting them into this novel, and making them the focus by titling the book that way wasn't the best idea, IMO. It was like having both feet on separate trains with the constant worry that the tracks might eventually diverge.