Audible Frontiers, 2011
I missed out on Clementine’s initial release via Subterranean Press but discovered last week that Audible released an audio version via their Audible Frontiers SFF imprint. Clementine is a novella set in the Clockwork Century universe and centers on two main characters: Captain Croggon Beauregard Heaney (first met in Boneshaker) and former Confederate spy turned Pinkerton detective Maria Isabella Boyd. Clementine focuses on the narratives of these two characters featuring Heaney’s quest to recover his stolen vessel The Free Crow (now christened the titular Clementine) and Maria’s first job as a Pinkerton to ensure the Clementine’s safe arrival at its destination. Of course, not everything goes according to plan for either side…much to the delight of readers. While having read Boneshaker isn’t a requirement for reading Clementine the events that take place prior to the novella, namely the theft of the Free Crow from Captain Heaney and its rechristening as Clementine, are detailed towards Boneshaker’s conclusion. The how and why of it are less important than the fact that it did happen though and new readers (or listeners) will have little trouble jumping aboard with Clementine.
Both the lead characters of Clementine are vividly drawn. The massive Heaney driven and determined is a brigand through and through but not without some sense of justice and honor. Heaney, a former slave is first time the Priest really confronts the social situation of a 19th century America. The strong confident and deadly Maria Boyd is treated in a similar manner allowing for Priest to illuminate the prejudices faced by both women and non-whites. While it might be argued that Maria Boyd, as an unmarried woman, serves as a sort of rehash of Briar Wilkes from Boneshaker it don’t honestly think that is the case here. Maria, twice widowed and without child, is also something of a notorious figure given her role as Confederate spy. As a result in addition to the stigma of a being an unmarried woman the question of her loyalties to her former home adds an extra element of distrust when dealing with her new employer. The social politics aren’t a central concern of the novel and serve more as added element of tension rather than some sort of moral finger wagging.
The folks at Audible did a great job in casting two narrators: Dina Pearlman and Victor Bevine. Both narrators do a fantastic job of capturing the southern accents of both Maria and Captain Heaney; though Victor is much less adept at capturing the Jamaican accent of Heaney’s first mate. While the narratives remain separate during the early chapters the different narrators definitely help in forming a concrete picture of each character. Later, once the two leads have crossed paths the alternating of male and female narrators during dialogue definitely adds to immersion.
While I think Priest is extraordinarily adept at crafting distinct and memorable characters Clementine gives Priest a chance to flex her muscles with high octane action. Airship chases and gun fights are littered across the novella and Priest does a fantastic job at creating some intense action scenes. One in particular, which has Maria manning a ball turret on an airship, left me grinning and near breathless at the same time. The final half of the novella in particular was one great action set piece after another.
Clementine was a fun listen and I was more than a little disappointed that there wasn’t more once the novella was over. Not that things weren’t wrapped up in a satisfactory manner, they were, but mostly because I had enjoyed my time with the characters so much that I didn’t really want it to end. I hope we get to see Captain Heaney, his crew, and Maria Boyd again.