Premise: Dreadnought is the followup novel to Boneshaker in the Clockwork Century series (if you exclude the novella Clementine). It is set during the Civil War, this time beginning our story in Richmond, Virgina in a Confederate hospital. Nurse Mercy Lynch is good at what she does and has seen her fair share of bloodied soldiers, but when she discovers her Union husband has been killed and her father is dying, she decides to leave for Tacoma, Washington to see him before he is gone for good.
The trip is difficult, to say the least. She has to hop a dirigible through the front lines of the battle. The airship she is on gets shot down but she is able to make it to St. Louis. From there she gets on a Union train known as the Dreadnought to travel through the vast expanse of land west of the Mississippi. The mysterious cargo it is carrying, however, draws the attention of bandits, Rebel soldiers, and an even faster Confederate train as they race to their destination over the Colorado Rockies. On the way to Salt Lake City, will Inspector Galeano discover what happened to a group of missing Mexican soldiers, and will Texas Ranger Horatio Korman learn what is in the last two cars of the infamous train?
When Mercy arrives in Tacoma she meets up with the sheriff who is supposed to lead her to her father. It is here in the Pacific Northwest that she encounters a completely different world full of characters familiar to those who have read Boneshaker. She is introduced to these new people by her maiden name: Swakhammer.
Themes: What is important to you when you are on the edge of losing everything? When she loses her husband and her father is on his deathbed, Mercy is faced with choosing what is important to her. Knowing her father and seeing him before it’s too late become the most important thing to her at this time, so the obstacles in her path are dwarfed by her desire to know the only family she has left.
This is also a story about personal growth. This journey to Tacoma is as metaphorical as it is literal as she makes important life decisions. Mercy left Richmond a strong-willed widow but her arrival in Tacoma and Seattle bring her face to face with her unknown past and an unsure future.
Pros: Mercy is an incredibly strong female lead character that can handle being on her own. She doesn’t swoon over the sight of a man, but she is also feminine and has personal conflict, all of which makes her likeable and realistic. The pacing for Dreadnought was perfect, starting with the creep of sickened soldiers and building to racing locomotives. All the story elements – airships, zombies, the steam walkers – stood the chance of being cheesy tropes, but here they are executed and woven together with a skill that makes them all believable and interesting. I liked the train plowing through hordes of zombies, but it was the giant steam-powered walkers that I really loved.
Cons: Some of the motivational conflicts between characters seemed a little forced in order to move plot points along, but when facing zombies I can see how they would make some of the decisions they did in spite of their allegiances. Since I liked the walking war machines I could have seen more of them in the story. Besides, I wanted to see a fight between a walker and zombies.
Recommendations: Dreadnought gathered steam (pun intended) beginning with the sobering realities of war and accelerating to breakneck speeds of shootouts on dueling trains. Cherie Priest took the foundation she laid with Boneshaker and created something new in Dreadnought, with a few tie-ins to its predecessor. The two stories are greatly different and you can read one without having read the other, but why would you want to? This story is a speeding juggernaut of action, mystery, and intrigue…with zombies.