Cherie Priest likes to write about secrets. If not secrets, then, perhaps, misdirection. In Boneshaker, Priest used misdirection/nondisclosure to lead the reader away from the truth of the past. In Dreadnought, secrets held were at the heart of the story, the reason Mercy Lynch felt compelled to discover the Union’s purpose with the mammoth train, the Dreadnought. Again, in Ganymede, Priest uses nondisclosure to forward air pirate, Andan Cly, on his mission–though it isn’t his secrets that sets him off on his journey.
Cly is trying to go somewhat legit. Tired of shipping Sap (an illicit drug made from the Blight gas that has turned Seattle into Zombie Land), Cly runs guns and supplies, despite the ‘not really legal’ aspects of either cargo. It’s one such trip that leads him to New Orleans, a place he once lived and the woman he once loved. Said former love, Josephine Early, has a job for Cly and, agreeing to the it without really knowing what it entails, will find Cly in the middle of the still raging Civil War, dodging both the Confederate and Texian armies.
In the belly of Lake Pontchartrain rests the Ganymede, (based on a similar, real life Civil War experimental submarine, the Hunley), a ship that could end the war. But as Cly discovers, the vessel is dangerous, nearly impossible to fly and has killed all its past pilots. Cly must maneuver the ship away from the armies and out of the mouth of the Mississippi if he wants to complete his mission or, more importantly, survive.
The story is, like many of the others in the Clockwork Century series, a roaming journey, this one shifting through Louisiana bayous and the underground walled city in Seattle and includes brief appearances by historical figures who fit effortlessly with every air ship pirate and imaginative character. Absent is the “European Victorian” approach to steampunk, one that Priest has proven can be present in America and yes, even in the deep south. We don’t visit Victorian England in the Clockwork Century series, but that does not, in any way, lessen its quintessential steampunk essence. Rather, it proves that with well researched details and a perfectly structured plot, any place can be steampunked and still retain its lush imagery and vivid imaginings that the genre demands.
Priest is amazing at detail, brilliant at transforming an imagined, impossible history in such a way that flying airships and a decades-long Yankee Invasion seems not only plausible but simply neglected in our history books. With the authentic language and lush settings Priest readers have come to expect, Ganymede does not disappoint and is effortlessly at home in the Clockwork Century series.