Ex-spy ‘Belle Boyd’ is retired – more or less. Retired from spying on the Confederacy anyway. Her short-lived marriage to a Union navy boy cast suspicion on those Southern loyalties, so her mid-forties found her unemployed, widowed and disgraced. Until her life-changing job offer from the staunchly Union Pinkerton Detective Agency.
When she’s required to assist Abraham Lincoln himself, she has to put any old loyalties firmly aside – for a man she spied against twenty years ago.Lincoln’s friend Gideon Bardsley, colleague and ex-slave, is targeted for assassination after the young inventor made a breakthrough. Fiddlehead, Bardsley’s calculating engine, has proved an extraordinary threat threatens the civilized world. Meaning now is not the time for conflict.
Now Bardsley and Fiddlehead are in great danger as forces conspire to keep this secret, the war moving and the money flowing. With spies from both camps gunning for her, can even the notorious Belle Boyd hold the war-hawks at bay?
Cherie Priest is the author of two dozen books and novellas, most recently The Toll, The Family Plot, The Agony House, and the Philip K. Dick Award nominee Maplecroft; but she is perhaps best known for the steampunk pulp adventures of the Clockwork Century, beginning with Boneshaker. Her works have been nominated for the Hugo and Nebula awards for science fiction, and have won the Locus Award (among others) – and over the years, they’ve been translated into nine languages in eleven countries. Cherie lives in Seattle, WA, with her husband and a menagerie of exceedingly photogenic pets.
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.
I think I wasn't in the mood for this. I really, really liked the rest of the series, but I think the best of it was the closed-room horror: the Seattle underground in Boneshaker and the Inexplicables, the train in Dreadnaught, etc. Ms. Priest's research is impeccable and there's some fun in seeing famous people show up in this one, but the political focus and multiple narrators diluted some of the energy. Or it just might be my mood right now. In any case, a decent end to an enjoyable series.
The final book in The Clockwork Century series wraps all the greater (read: political) points of the story. The major goal is the end the war that lasted over two decades. I liked previous books more (except The Inexplicables, that is too YA for my taste even if I do love the world). Boneshaker was more personal and down to earth, Clementine, Dreadnought and Ganymede are great adventures that didn't lose that personal touch, didn't lose its characters. Even if they had political angle (the chase, the unique weapons that could end the war), it was there in the background making the story more important through actions of a handful of people (pirates, smugglers, spies, mothers and fathers, nurses and soldiers, rangers, etc.). I love the world depicted in this series.
That being said, Fiddlehead is too political compared to previous books. That made it almost impossible for me to fully connect with its characters. It is well written, of course. It is written in alternating chapters, one for Bella Boyd and one for whatever is happening in DC.
This is a world where Lincoln survived the theatre attack, but is left in a wheelchair, the world where Ulysses Grant is serving as the president of the Union (his third mandate). This could just be me, but parts of the book were boring. They are rare though. The others are great. Cherie Priest is a wonderful and imaginative writer. I don't even mind her playing with history as some other readers do. It is alternate history, after all.
Dr. Gideon Bardsley made a machine that warns all of them that neither South nor North would win the war, but something more sinister. Then the group of our major characters tries to fight it on their own. They have allies and enemies on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line. I loved how a lot of characters from previous books make an appearance. One of the best scenes is the one that brings back Captain Croggon Beauregard Hainey. I am not sure if I like it because the previous chapters () dragged a bit or the scene is great on its own. For those who expect more zombies: of all the books in the series, Fiddlehead talks of rotters the most. It only has one rotter in the whole book though.
If I should rate the villains by how much they made me angry, then this book would get the highest mark. I could hardly wait for the punishment for the person responsible for all the horrible things in this book.
That brings me to the ending of this book. I would have preferred to see what happened to the characters, but considering the differences between this book and the rest, I guess the ending is suitable.
Well, this series definitely ended on a high note. The last half was so full of tension, that I had to read it all in one go, because I most assuredly wasn’t going to able to sleep without knowing how things turned out. Clockwork Century is an absolutely delightful blend of 3 genres that I already tend to enjoy - Steampunk/Alt History/Zombies. The series first caught my eye because of the great covert art. And I am so happy that it did.
Advanced Copy was provided by Tor Publishing in exchange for an honest review.
Extraordinary, action-packed thriller that shows off the true meaning of steam-punk subgenre…
Gideon Bardsley is a genius when it comes to inventing but being hunted by assassins is something he could not have predicted. His new machine, the brilliant Fiddlehead, could calculate and predict events in the future based on simple facts. Why someone wants to destroy it is one question that needs to be resolved before it is too late.
Belle Boyd has been employed with Pinkerton Detective Agency or “Pinks” after getting somewhat retired from Confederacy. After getting an assignment from Abraham Lincoln to find out who put a threat on Fiddhead, she finds herself following the road which leads her to discovering the awful truth about the disease that was generated from gas. During all the events that happened, she needs to be careful who to trust and who to blame for the situation of United States.
Perfect ending to a great series. Steam-punk has been getting very popular among readers and I can definitely see why. The alternative retelling of history was exciting and gave me a new perspective on the this subgenre and it might be my favorite one. Cherie Priest has become one of the authors to watch for and I cannot to read more of her work!
First of all, I did not realize this was the end of the series; second of all, I did NOT see what the culmination of six books’ worth of zombie hordes would lead up to—I’m almost afraid what to say about how that build-up has culminated here. Granted, you find out all of 40 pages in, but still I was OH HELL NO.
So, the story ends up divided between two areas opposite the Mason-Dixon line: Washington D.C. and Chattanooga down into Atlanta. If you were to film some of the action sequences, they would no doubt be exhilarating; here, the non-stop back and forth dragged it out, IMO. Again, Cherie’s characters are strong (if not annoying; I’m looking at you, angry Gideon Bardsley), although, for the end of a series, you kinda wish you got a finish for each of them (a sort of “where are they now?”). This is true steampunk—not gears and gadgets for gears and gadgets’ sake—and it’s one of my favorite series ever.
First I highly recommend this series to all seeking a blast of a steampunk ride. Priest has created a universe that is filled with amazing gadgets, dirigibles, weapons, and other machinery. She has sprinkled in just the right amount of real history and real people to give it the amazing alt-feel.
Fiddlehead is the final book in the awesome Clockwork Century series and it does a great job at tying together many of the threads. This book and series has alot to offer. It is fast paced, action packed, and fun fun to read. There are all the great steampunk gadgets and weapons. This one has a strong dose of both President Lincoln and President Grant...cool cool.
I loved this book and this series as a whole. I am a huge Cherie Priest fan and highly recommend her and these novels..
Definitely the weakest entry in the series, which is a shame if this is in fact the last story of the Clockwork Century. It's possible that I may have enjoyed this more had I read Clementine first, but I haven't. There are too many characters doing not enough interesting things. Why does Belle need a marshall companion if she's so capable? Why doesn't anyone actually do anything besides her? And there wasn't nearly enough of her or her touted detective skills on display. This isn't a bad book and it doesn't diminish the rest of Priest's works, but I've come to expect more from this series.
A very different story from the rest of the series which was at the same time refreshing and detracting. The multiple POVs were a little unbalanced with Maria's sections the more interesting of the three. I'd also say that the book title is a little misleading in that the Fiddlehead itself merely started the proceedings and barely featured otherwise. The siege also felt like it went on a bit too long. Maria did something interesting, back to the siege, back to Maria doing more interesting stuff, back to the siege, etc. However, but the end I did find myself really routing for the President. The conclusion was fine, but it did feel like a bit of a missed opportunity. The zombies (or any otherworldly thing) are always going to be one of the intriguing aspects of a story and the resolution is only hinted at. This is also the least chronologically dependent book in the series. Yes, it does reference the events and characters in the other books, but only in passing. Knowledge of those books wouldn't change to relevance of the references. The stand out character was the mysterious Kirby Troost who could very well feature in his own spin-off series.
This was a nice wrap-up book of the series (Although Jacaranda - the following mini book - I see you). In a mini-book between the first and second of The Clockwork Century we first meet ex-spy Belle Boyd and she delightfully makes her return in Fiddlehead. In this civil-war struck world, Lincoln has survived the shooting, although now in a steampunk wheelchair with an eye patch he serves as a personal sound-board for Ulysses S. Grant, and they work with incredibly gifted scientist Gideon Bardsley.
The United States civil war is at a peak where both sides are threatened by the perilous idea of loss. But that's not all they need fear. Far from it..
It was nice to have a conclusion to the political tension that had been building over time, and the action especially at the end drew the reader in.
I wish this had tied back into the other books more. There were several characters from the previous books that were mentioned but the ties were loose and flimsy. I wanted more details at the end too. Everything wrapped up too quickly.
The end of the world as we know it makes for an exciting wrap up to an epic steampunk series. That’s the short version. The long version will absolutely “fiddle with your head”.
In Cherie Priest’s alternate steampunk universe of the Clockwork Century, an inventor created the Boneshaker engine that destroyed Seattle (I get a slight shiver writing that) instead of giving Russian prospectors a shortcut to gold in the Klondike.
Destroying Seattle unleashed a poisonous gas that turned everyone who inhaled it into zombies. Not only does that make things even scarier, but in the Clockwork Century timeline, knocking Seattle out of the Union, or effectively out of everything, extended the American Civil War by a couple of decades--and the zombie plague kept spreading.
By the time the series reaches Fiddlehead (book 6!) while the war has finally reached the same point it did in real time, that the CSA is simply running out of resources and the Union will win because it can outwait the Confederacy, there is effectively a third force in the war...the zombies.
That’s where Fiddlehead begins. Also what it is. Fiddlehead is a computer. Technically, it’s more like a Babbage engine. But that’s a matter of semantics. It’s an invention of Dr. Gideon Bardsley, and it has predicted that if the Union and the Confederacy don’t set aside their differences to fight the shuffling horde of hungry undead, then the entire human race is doomed. Just as the Fiddlehead spits out its dire prediction, a gang of mercenaries breaks into the building that houses it to murder Bardsley and destroy the device.
And the race is on. It’s a race between those who want to keep profiteering from the furtherance of the war, and just don’t give a damn how much it costs in human lives because they believe that all human lives are expendable, and those who believe that each life has value and dignity.
It’s glorious to see Abe Lincoln fight one last good fight, even half-broken by barely surviving the bullet meant to kill him in Ford’s Theatre. Ulysses S. Grant rises to one more military charge, from a lifetime of political compromises and drunken defeats, and he stands as the gallant general one final time.
But the story rises (and does it ever rise) on the strength of Gideon Bardsley and Moira Boyd along with those who aid them on their separate journeys. Bardsley, former slave and current genius engineer and inventor, is the man who creates the Fiddlehead and discovers the true nature of its threat. His discovery pushes the story forward, and his clarion call to stem the evil forces the actions of both good and evil. Moira “Belle” Boyd takes action out into the country at war, hunting down those on both sides who can not only corroborate Bardsley’s story, but those who must make a last desperate stand against inconceivable atrocity.
Escape Rating A: Fiddlehead, and the entire Clockwork Century series, is epic in scope and execution. If you like your fantasy/alternate history drawn over a very wide canvas, you will love this series.
I’m sorry now that I haven’t read all the middle books in this series. I’ve read Boneshaker and Dreadnought and highly recommend them both, but I haven't YET read Clementine, Ganymede and The Inexplicables. Although enough backstory is explained to make Fiddlehead flow, I think I would have enjoyed the depths more if I had read everything. I’ll go back. The details seem absolutely awesome.
As it is, this story is incredibly layered. It’s not so much based on character as it is focused on action, and the action never, ever stops. Boyd and Bardsley have very little time to stop a very evil woman from hatching a dastardly plan. The survival of the human race is at stake.
I loved the way that Priest kept her alternate universe moving forward in time, yet still interwove the familiar elements of the history that we knew. U.S. Grant’s final parts of the story are particularly touching in this regard, they both match history, and don’t, and it’s just perfect and heartbreaking.
So I was 4 books and 2 novella's into this and saw she was supposed to wrap up the damn thing so, much like being that far into Niven's 'known space' series I really felt I had to read Fiddlehead and be done with it.
The writing was a bit stronger then the last few installments. And she had a definite goal of wrapping up the extraordinarily long civil war, which meant she was forced to move along the action... I say forced because you can sense it in the writing, even though it wasn't delivered. I have to say, while she wrote better, the prose was some of the strongest yet, the content was utterly lacking and I found the climax of 4 and 2 portions novels to be very underwhelming. I will put this into spoilers... not I think people care all that much...
And as we stand here at Book 5 and it's over I guess my problem, and I didn't really see it until now, is that I didn't care about the fictionalized civil war. It was background, it was a setting. What I started with was Boneshaker and it delivered up Zombies and Steampunk, and it was good. And then it just goes off those brass rails and into some weird speculative universe for two novels and two novella's, and in the 'Inexplicables' you THINK they're going back to zombies and clockwork but really it's just and it ultimately has nothing to do with anything. Now back in Fiddlehead it's just full bore Speculative Civil War and now the Zombies are the background and the Steampunk is something that happens at the very very beginning of the book and is only referred to thereafter.
So I have an unbelievable setting that was fine when it was background and can't stand up as the main event and we were delivered from this event on incredibly small scale. Sad that it was actually some of her best writing, 4 stars for sure, but I'm taking one off for filler content and pointlessness, and another because the whole damn series has gone pointless.
Like I said in my review of "MapleCroft" Priest writes the kinds of things I like to read, she's in my wheelhouse... but then when you see it executed on paper line by line it's really not my jam at all.
This is the fifth and final volume in the Clockwork Century cycle, Priest’s alt-history steampunk Civil War saga (with zombies!), and it basically serves both as a standalone story and a vehicle to tie up all the loose ends from the previous books. Here, former CSA spy turned Pinkerton agent Maria Boyd is assigned to help former POTUS Abe Lincoln protect Gideon Bardsley, who has invented a computer that has calculated that the Civil War (which has been going on for over 17 years) ends well for neither side due to an ever greater threat – and someone is trying to kill him to keep this information secret. Meanwhile, arms heiress Katherine Haymes is trying to convince President Ulysses S Grant that she has developed a superweapon that can end the war once and for all – or will it?
I should mention I haven't read the whole series – I loved the first one,Boneshaker, but I felt let down by the follow-upDreadnought, so I wasn’t in a hurry to read the rest. Fiddlehead is somewhat better, but Priest has a tendency to gum up dialog and action sequences with exposition and/or internal ponderings, and the dialog itself can get too clever (particularly a cat-and-mouse scene between Grant and Haymes as he tries to figure out what her game is). And as antagonists go, Haymes is just too one-dimensional for my taste. The actual storyline is entertaining adventure stuff, but the pacing is really uneven. For fans of the series it’s a decent ending, but for me, I don’t think I’ll try reading the episodes I’ve missed.
At last, the civil war is won by a confederate spy-turned Pinkerton-turned Union agent, a pirate on a dirigible, the first computer engineer, a nurse, Abe and Mary Lincoln, President Ulysses S. Grant, and a man deciding not to unleash a doomsday weapon against a major American city.
Priest can write. The pacing is excellent; the stakes gripping, and the small scale prose is beautiful. For example, this paragraph about the President of the United States breaking into the Secretary of War’s office:
“He reached for the knob, but its firm, reassuring lock suggested that a smith would be required to compromise it. The president did not have a smith handy, and he didn’t feel like calling one. Instead, he had the silence of this particular hall, confidence that the office’s occupant was absent, and a hammer hidden inside his coat.” (156).
That said, I’m unsettled by this series. I can’t tell if it’s a deep and wry exploration of war and how it gets its own inertia; treating people as things; Dick Cheney; and dirigibles or if it’s just a set of stories about people dressing up in steam punk gear and having adventures. With zombies. I enjoy them while I’m reading them, but not so much the having read. Maybe it’s just my profound skepticism about Steam Punk as nostalgia for feudalism with gears on hats, pace http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-..., Girl Genius notwithstanding.
Whew. So I read that last half in a single sitting and had an uber difficult time putting it down to shovel food into my mouth. (I tried real hard to balance it but the croutons kept eluding my fork.) I might put together a more coherent review later (read: this almost never happens) but mostly I'm just overwhelmed and pleased as punch with the pitch perfect conclusion to this series. Soooo many interesting women! And this book, for being full of fascinating men too, still had a variety of really great lady characters across the ethical spectrum and several people of color in central roles. Each of the narrators had a good view of the intense action. Yes. A whole series with no reliance on romance -- some subplots but no women finding completion through heteromonogamy. It was nice to see the reunions and conclusions, though I ought to have said my goodbyes to the Seattle crew before I brought The Inexplicables back to the library. Tiniest gripe too that I forgot Clementine's plot and felt a little lost at some allusions to past events. Also there were a few offscreen actions I wish were up front and center. Anyways, I'm not even that all about steampunk (though I do really like alternate history and zombies and speculative fiction generally) but basically Cherie Priest is up there in my top three authors and this was a good capstone and I am happy.
While I enjoyed having Ganymede set in New Orleans and other books set outside of Seattle, this was the first volume to be so very untethered to that ruined city. It was much more broad in scope, with the fate of nations (the continent! correct Gideon, again) in the balance, and it felt a bit weaker for that.
I feel like Cherie Priest read World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War and saw it is an inevitable end-game to her zombies, but the Blight-zombies were never so contagious as the classic Romero/Brooks variety. I'm afraid I just had trouble imagining 2 nations equipped for war having much trouble with a bunch of former drug-addict zombies. That and a final note at just how permeable the battle-lines of this 20-year Civil War seem to have become.
For all my complaints though, I'll miss these characters.
...I guess there are quite a few things one could say on the historical accuracy of this series or the way is skirts the issue of slavery that hangs over the Civil War. The Clockwork Century doesn't aim to go into detail about that. In the end it is mostly an adventure, their attraction is the strange setting, the machines that almost seem to have a character of their own, the walking dead that haunt the city of Seattle and the gunfights and airship battles that inevitably ensue. Priest provides plenty of that. I must admit I liked these books more for the strange machines and vivid settings than the alternative history. Priest's extensive tinkering with history in favour of a single point of divergence probably makes it a bit less interesting for the real history buffs. They are great fun to read however and Fiddlehead is a fitting conclusion to the series. I'm glad I've been on board for the entire journey and if Priest does decide to return to this alternative history I'm definitely putting it on my to read list.
Priest ends her series on a strong note; Fiddlehead is unusual among the Clockwork Century series in that it features historic figures (Grant, Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln) among its characters, albeit in alt!history format. It's nice to see Maria Boyd, from Clementine, again, and to see that Mercy Lynch's letters have gotten into the right hands, but the series ends a long way from where it began. As always, the book has a cinematic feel and pacing; ten pages from the end I was genuinely puzzled as to how it was all going to come together.
There is certainly room for Priest to return to this version of things in the future, and I hope she does, as some things are very nicely settled, while other things remain still to be resolved . . .
On reread: it seems strange to see the series end so far from Seattle; however, this is a solid entry in an intriguing series. In reading these books, I often felt as though I were reading action films, if that makes sense -- they're quickly paced and move along rapidly from crisis to crisis. Priest is perhaps the best of the second-wave steampunk writers.
I started reading this a while ago but just finished last night. It didn't take me forever because it was boring-far from it but I had access to cable for a whole month and just couldn't be bothered to pick up a book! lol I have absolutely no complaints about this book. The author did a great job describing everything and I could easily picture the scenes and see them playing out like I was watching a movie instead of reading a book. I love that! As I read in someone else's review-she doesn't throw in a bunch of steampunkish things just to be able to call it "steampunk"...everything has it's purpose and proper place. I have only read one other book in this series but between this and "Boneshaker" I would say this one is the best. I'm looking forward to reading future works by this author (even if this is pretty much the end of the line for long works in this particular series) and I'm eagerly awaiting the arrival of "Maplecroft: The Borden Dispatches" to my local library.
This is the final full-length book to C. Priest's Clcokwork Century series, and she finished super strong. This is the high-water mark for steampunk novels right now in the USA.
Fast page turning, tension driven story with not one, but two Civil War presidents involved, and cameos of characters from some of the other novels.
This fifth book in the series wraps up a series loosely tied together, bringing aspects from most of the other stories in a pleasantly surprising and unexpected way.
My only gripe, and it's minor, is the item that gives the story such an intriguing title is a very minor aspect of the story, and thus I find it a bit misleading. But, like I said, that's a minor complaint and if I was limited to fewer letters in this review, I'd not mention it.
I'm so sad that this is the last book in the Clockwork Century series for a while. I hope she revisits it in the future, because I've loved the characters she's created and the world in which they live.
I liked this better than The Inexplicables, but not as much as Boneshaker and Dreadnaught. She brings the long civil war to an end with an interesting use of historical figures.
I do have to say that I was disappointed that the text was printed in black ink. All 5 of the previous books were printed in sepia ink and it just set the tone of the wartime, steampunk atmosphere. The black ink was too pristine for me.
Well, really well drawn characters looking for a little better plot, would be a description.
It's not a bad book, and I love Priest's zombies (though they are not traditional zombies). Quite frankly, any book that gives Mary Todd Lincoln a gun is great. I love how Priest draws her here. The Grants are done very well, and it is a pleasure to see Belle Boyd again.
And yet, the plot really wasn't all that compelling, and this seems to be a little bit of problem with some of Priest's series. Her stand alone novels are wonderful - but both this final volume and final volume in the Eden Moore series are off.
Least favourite of the series. It was OK... but I didn't really find that there was anything actually at stake throughout the narrative, and the characters were kind of lackluster compared to the previous titles. Oh well.