What I’m Reading: Cherie Priest – The Inexplicables

This is either the fifth or the fourth book (depending on whether you count Clementine in or not) in Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century series, and it differs from the previous ones in several aspects. The most obvious one is that it is the first that is not named after a piece of machinery, but instead after living beings (which do not even play that much of a central part in the novel). Another difference (or really several, but they belong together) is that it is the first that does not have a female point of view character, but that its single narrative consciousness is a male, and a (at least at the beginning) not very likeable one to boot. And finally, The Inexplicables is the first installment of the series that does not take us to new places, but instead leads us back to the location of Boneshaker, Seattle.

It is not surprising, then, that we meet many familiar names in The Inexplicables, including that of the novel’s protagonist Rector, who was a minor (and distinctly unsympathetic) character in Boneshaker. He has not grown any more likeable since then, and as a sap dealer who likes to dip into his own stack he has not much of a life expectancy either. The novel starts with him turning eighteen and getting turned out of the orphanage he has lived in all his life; and finding himself homeless but plagued by a (literally) haunted conscience, he attempts to turn his life around and make atonement by trying to find and bury the corpse of a friend who he thought he sent to his death. As that friend happens to be Zeke, readers of Boneshaker know right from the start that he is still alive, which makes for a nice tie-in with the earlier novel, something that Cherie Priest manages exceedingly well during the whole of this volume – we get to revisit lots of familiar faces and places but it never feels repetitive or a mere re-hash of Boneshaker.

The Inexplicables is a more focused novel than its predecessor Ganymede was, but it is also less of an adventure tale than any of the previous novels – during the first two thirds of the novel not much is happening at all, it’s mostly just Rector stumbling around and meeting people. But that is okay in this case, because The Inexplicables is above all a character story – the story of a man (really still a boy for the most part) attempting to redeem himself and become a better person. Character portraiture has always been a strength of Cherie Priest and her Clockwork Century novels and it is due to her deft hand at describing convincing and memorable characters that the lack of plot is barely noticeable – although I’ll have to admit that it is nice when things start to get moving in the novel’s final third and its two plot strands speed towards their respective finales. If I have any complaints about this novel then it is that those strands are not all that well-connected to each other and run parallel for most of the time instead of intertwining; but as the main focus of The Inexplicables really is Rector’s road to redemption and the plot is mostly subordinate to that, it boils down to just a minor niggle that does not distract much from the general enjoyment of the novel.

And enjoyable it is, like all the novels in the series so far – it is great to see that Cherie Priest manages to retain her momentum and to keep Clockwork Century chugging along at a vigorous speed this many volumes in, at a stage where many other series begin to run out of steam. As in Ganymede, there are also hints about a greater, overarching plot to the series as a whole, and I’m very curious to find out where she will be going with that – judging by her previous work, it will likely not be along any worn-out tracks but in unexpected, new and exciting directions.

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