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The Inexplicables by Cherie Priest

The Inexplicables by Cherie Priest
Book Name: The Inexplicables
Author: Cherie Priest
Publisher(s): Tor Books
Formatt: Paperback / eBook
Genre(s): Steampunk / Fantasy
Release Date: November 13, 2012

Set in the Clockwork Century universe where there are zombies, diesel and steam powered war machines, and mad scientists aplenty running around through the United States, Rector has gotten old enough to get kicked out of a Seattle orphanage. Sadly, he hasn’t kicked his drug habit and has been guilting himself over the disappearance of one of the boys he used to run around with, Zeke Wilkes. Rector decides that in order to stop getting haunted, he has to brave the Seattle Wall…and the poison gas and zombies inside. Shortly after, Rector gets the shock of his life when he finds out that Zeke isn’t dead and that the stories of zombies and poison gas were not exaggerated and that there are people living within the wall. Turns out the biggest problem though isn’t coming from within the isolated section of Seattle, but from outside.

This story read very much like an updated version of a “boy’s own adventure.” Actually, I’ve been rather surprised that the Young Adult fiction enthusiasts haven’t glommed onto it as it features teenage protagonists. This most likely has to do with the cover not featuring some broody beefcake on it and there being no romance or love triangles during the course of the story. Either that or eighteen doesn’t mean “young adult” the way I thought it did. All of which is stupid because this would be an excellent book for teenagers.

The boys make for a good contrast from each other. Houjin, Zeke’s friend and quite likely the only other teenage boy within the wall was his usual resourceful, inventive self and between him and Zeke’s near endless optimism, they both balanced out Rector’s heavier character struggles. Considering that Rector starts out as addicted to the poisonous sap distilled from the zombie gas and heads off into a known deathtrap complete with the walking dead to give someone a decent burial he comes a long way mostly by having the unrelenting optimism and ingenuity of Zeke and Houjin around to pull Rector back from that precipice. His first plan didn’t have a lot of planning to it and the idea of trying to find a body for burial in a place where the dead walk makes me think that Rector’s beginning attitude was vaguely suicidal. That most of the adults inside the wall would not hesitate to shoot Rector in the face if they thought he was turning rotter (either by sap or gas) and everyone cut Rector off from his drug of choice cold turkey probably helped too.

While Rector, Houjin, and Zeke certainly have the spotlight for most of the book, but Angeline Sealth is the most important guiding figure in this novel although Rector’s (completely justified) fear of Zeke’s mother Sheriff Briar Wilkes and Zeke’s crush on Mercy Thompson the nurse do have their moments. For that matter, the book passes the Bechdel test and doesn’t fall victim to the all too common tropes of “there can be only one Strong Woman Character ™” or “Strong Women Characters ™ do not get along with other of their type.”

With regards to the story itself, I liked it and how it showed the walled community of Seattle worked. The residents within the wall aren’t particularly thrilled with Yaozu, the current shady boss businessman, but as sketchy as he is, no one wants anyone there whose sole purpose is to harvest and make deadly addictive drugs that incidentally turn people into zombies. Especially those who are okay with letting those zombies loose into the area outside the wall. Naturally they have to be stopped and it was an interesting look at a community who clearly preferred the devil they knew who was willing to work with them to strengthen their community, than deal with the far less scrupulous newcomers. It made sense to me and the roles that Rector, Houjin, and Zeke play in the matter are suited to their talents. Rector knows some of the new sap distillers and provides information about them. Houjin has the engineering expertise to pull off a major part of the plan. Zeke is quick and willing to help and follow instructions, at least most of the time.

There’s been some hinting at an overarching plot regarding the zombies and the gas for the past few Clockwork Century books, but in The Inexplicables it starts to come out more. Given the sharpening picture of how the gas reacts with animals differently than it does with humans and how sap detox works, I am very interested in seeing how this plot thread reveals itself.

I am really looking forwards to the next book.


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