The fourth installment in Cherie Priest's Clockwork Century Series, "The Inexplicables," has all the elements of alternative steampunk history her readers have come to know and love. In this newest adventure, we return to the walled city of Seattle in the late Nineteenth Century to find things there just as bad as ever.
Recter Sherman (a minor character from Priest's "Boneshaker") is kicked out of the orphanage on the Outskirts on his eighteenth birthday. Addicted to sap (the drug crafted from the Blight gas inside Seattle that poisons people into the zombie-like rotters) and with no prospects, Rector turns to Seattle to settle a debt.
But once inside the poisoned city full of outcasts and outlaws, things do not go as planned. For one thing, the secretive inhabitants of Seattle's underground are under attack. Outside forces are trying to get into the city to take over the sap trade, and they don't care who they kill in the process. For another, mysterious monsters known as the Inexplicables have made it inside the city to prey on human and rotter alike. And most mysterious of all: the rotters are disappearing.
Rector finds himself caught in the middle of a feud between drug runners and outcasts. Along with fellow wayward teens Zeke Wilkes and Houjin, he is sent on a mission to save the home he just found, even while everything in that home is trying to kill him.
Rector isn't quite as fascinating a narrator as the characters in the other Clockwork Century books. He's no Briar Wilkes or Mercy Lynch, brave and independent and fueled by noble motives. And his life so far hasn't been as interesting as that of air captain Andan Cly or Union spy and brothel madame Josephine Early. What he is is a teenage junkie, prone to whining, who has to grow into his courage as the book progresses.
The best thing about "The Inexplicables" is that it brings us back to the Seattle of the first book in the series. The cast of larger-than-life characters we came to know and love in "Boneshaker" are all aboard, and life for them hasn't gotten any less exciting.
The downside (especially for those who loved the zombie-fueled mayhem of "Dreadnought" and "Ganymede") is that the book is surprisingly light on zombies in favor of the other menaces plaguing the city. In fact, a major plot point is that many of the zombies have gone missing leaving the city with only a skeleton crew (pardon the pun) to discourage would-be invaders.
"The Inexplicables" focuses less on fantastic steampunk machines this time around and more on legend. Right from the title, we know that this is going to be a different animal than the rest of the books in the series. It would be ruining the surprise to explain what exactly the Inexplicables are, but one of the great things about them is they mean that Princess Angeline will play an important role in the plot.
Different, and perhaps even less fun and exciting than the rest of the series, "The Inexplicables" is still a damn good read. Priest does a phenomenal job of getting in the heads and motives of three teenage boys set loose in a monster's playground, and her characterization is as always phenomenal.
This is a must-read for anyone who can't get enough of Cherie Priest's steampunk zombie epic.
Stay informed, stay alive: Denver zombiephiles can pick up the entire Clockwork Century series by Cherie Priest––"Boneshaker," "Dreadnought," "Ganymede," and "The Inexplicables"––at the Tattered Cover Bookstore on the 16th Street Mall in downtown Denver. Ask for Joyce. Tell her I sent you.
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