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Vinita "Mercy" Lynch is working as a nurse in a Richmond, Virginia hospital when she receives word that her husband has died in a POW camp. Shortly thereafter she also receives a telegram that her father is seriously injured and would like to see her before he dies.

In order to reach Washington Territory, where she will be met by a sheriff who will take her to Seattle to see her father, she will need to travel by dirigible, steamship, and train. The journey will take her through Border States and up the Mississippi to St. Louis to take the train. It is in St. Louis that Mercy finds out that the only train that is headed to Tacoma is operated by the Dreadnought, a Union-operated steam engine that she has heard a few unpleasant stories about.

As that seems to be the fastest option, Mercy buys a ticket and what should have been an uneventful trip turns into something more. The train is attacked by both bushwackers and Rebel soldiers; although Mercy cannot understand the interest they have in the train. The answers might lie with whatever cargo is within either the second or last train cars. How will the journey end for Mercy and the rest of the train's passengers?

Dreadnought was my first foray into the steampunk genre and I really enjoyed it. Ms. Priest sets a fast pace with a great storyline and wonderful characters.

The characters first. I found Mercy likable in that she has a down-to-earth, no nonsense personality. Horatio Korman, the Texas Ranger, has - for me - an unobtrusively larger-than-life personality who gets the job done and is very thorough about it. Captain Warren MacGruder is the kind of officer you want to have in charge in that he leads by example and wouldn't ask his men to do something he himself wouldn't do. Malverne Purdue, on the other hand, is rational, yet mad, scientist who will stop at nothing to protect the secret of what is on the last train car. Theodora Clay and Norene Butterfield were, for me, the two wild cards personality wise. Not sure if they are entirely likable, especially Theodora, but they can grow on a reader.

Now, for the storyline. Or, rather, the different storyline threads that are interwoven together through the characters. The entire book is a journey in itself, with each character bringing his or her own branch of it into the whole. After all, Mercy is traveling across the country in order to see her dying father. Ranger Kormanis trying to find out what happened to a large amount of men in order to avert a possible war. Captain MacGruder is not only protecting the passengers, but the train's cargo as well, part of which may (or may not) be at cross purposes with what is on the last train car. Malverne Purdue's sole object lies in the last train car, regardless of what else may be happening.

An added benefit for the geek in me was the steampunk element. This was shown through the Dreadnought, the Shenandoah, the walkers, and how the steamship was run.

I will definitely read more of Ms. Priest's books in the future.

Book Blurb for Dreadnought

Nurse Mercy Lynch is elbows deep in bloody laundry at a war hospital in Richmond, Virginia, when Clara Barton comes bearing bad news: Mercy’s husband has died in a POW camp. On top of that, a telegram from the west coast declares that her estranged father is gravely injured, and he wishes to see her. Mercy sets out toward the Mississippi River. Once there, she’ll catch a train over the Rockies and—if the telegram can be believed—be greeted in Washington Territory by the sheriff, who will take her to see her father in Seattle.

Reaching the Mississippi is a harrowing adventure by dirigible and rail through war-torn border states. When Mercy finally arrives in St. Louis, the only Tacoma-bound train is pulled by a terrifying Union-operated steam engine called the Dreadnought. Reluctantly, Mercy buys a ticket and climbs aboard.

What ought to be a quiet trip turns deadly when the train is beset by bushwhackers, then vigorously attacked by a band of Rebel soldiers. The train is moving away from battle lines into the vast, unincorporated west, so Mercy can’t imagine why they’re so interested. Perhaps the mysterious cargo secreted in the second and last train cars has something to do with it?

Mercy is just a frustrated nurse who wants to see her father before he dies. But she’ll have to survive both Union intrigue and Confederate opposition if she wants to make it off the Dreadnought alive.

Night Owl Reviews Dec, 2010 5.00