I have one small complaint about Fiddlehead, the fifth and final book of Cherie Priest’s highly entertaining Clockwork Century. And I will put it out there early, so I can move on to all the good things that I loved about this book in particular, and the series as a whole.
My complaint is thus; nobody told me that there was a short novella I needed to read in order to get a bit of background on Maria, a main character in the novel. I have read all five books, but Clementine would have been nice to have my hands on. Christmas IS coming up though, if there is anyone who wants to remedy the situation for me.
As fans of the series know the American Civil War has continued on for twenty long years. Steam powered technology has changed the war and Texas tech has allowed the South to extend a losing fight. The yellow drug imported from Washington territory is really taking its toll, causing both death and a bit of a zombie issue as well. Enter genius inventor Gideon Bardsley and his amazing thinking machine, code-name Fiddlehead. After years of work and a lot of data entry he asks who is going to win the war. (Presumably this was the second question asked of the machine, with an answer of forty two being a puzzle to figure out another day). Gathering up the answer the very day his lab is being sabotaged he flees to his financial backer, one Abraham Lincoln (who years earlier survived but was disabled by an attack at the Ford theatre). The news is dire; it won’t be the North or South who will win if the conflict continues but the walking dead.
From there we get a lot of action. Former Confederate darling turned Pinkerton agent Maria Boyd is brought in to track down who is trying to hush up Gideon’s work. President Grant wakes up to the fact that he is being played like a fiddle (see what I did there?) by his own staff; and can only hope that it isn’t too late to stop a terrible tragedy. Bardsley and Lincoln work to get word of the undead threat out despite being hounded at each turn; first by threats and later with extreme violence. And when the actual dastardly plan is discovered it is up to Boyd to save the day, and the country.
I devour these books like candy and this last entry was no exception. Priest knows how to keep a rhythm in her writing, plenty of action but enough breaks to allow a reader to catch their breath. Steampunk elements show throughout but never take over the story itself; a few airships and the like are all we really see. I loved both major character additions; Maria continues the tradition of very capable women doing awesome things and Bardsley’s abrasive personality combined with his genius was entertaining to watch.
This series has taken a very interesting approach to get to this point. After four books I would have been hard pressed to find an overarching story arc. Each dealt with different characters and there were only lose connections between them and their stories. But with this last entry it proved itself out. I love the approach, many individuals were responsible for the end result and they were not all from a single group; rather they all played their own small part. By staying away from a core group of characters the world felt bigger and lacked those crazy coincidences that often plague series trying to get everyone back together. (In a way the forth book, by far weakest of the series, fell victim to the problems that usually plague final volumes; it was the one that felt like a reunion tour of old characters). We only get a few letters from characters left in Seattle, despite being the home of two out of the four books. We glimpse a few other old friends here and there but never in a way that felt like an intrusion. It felt more real, and made the world feel bigger in a good way.
What more can I say, I loved the series and am very thankful Fiddlehead provided a strong conclusion. Did I have some issues? I felt this book’s set up was a bit thin, both in how a thinking machine works and how its importance was known by the books villain (I mean it is a thinking machine, how did they know exactly what was going to be asked even if they knew what it did). But nothing kept me from wanting to read this book cover to cover in one sitting, and I was entertained throughout. Oh and let’s be honest, I would be the weirdo that could read an entire faux-history book dealing with the alternate course the war took; the little hints I got from book to book were never enough.
A great conclusion to the series.