The final book in the Clockwork Century series (at least so far).
Publication year: 2013
Page count: 366
This is the book where the ongoing Civil War in US comes to a head. The Union and the Confederate states have been in war for 20 long years. Texas is almost an independent state and boasts the best technology in the south.
Gideon Bardsley is a former slave and now an inventor. He’s invented and built a thinking machine called the Fiddlehead. However, some people are very threatened by the machine because men are sent to destroy it and kill him. Gideon manages to survive and most of his machine survives, too. He also manages to save most of the calculations his machine has done for the not-so-simple question of who will win this war. He seeks shelter with his patron, the former president Abraham Lincoln. He shows the Fiddlehead’s results to Lincoln. The results are frightening: neither North nor South will win because the rotters will kill everyone. Now, Gideon and his friends will have to find out who is trying to sabotage his work and also to convince people that not only are the rumors about the rotters real but they are a terrible threat.
Maria “Belle” Boyd is a former spy and now works for the Pinkerton’s detective agency, in Chicago. However, she’s nearly broke and miserable in the cold city so when Pinkerton himself gives her a mission which will take her back to the south, she’s happy to do so even though the client in none other than the former president Abraham Lincoln himself. Lincoln sends her to south, to find the evidence that proves Gideon’s machine is correct.
This is an alternate history where Lincoln survived the attack at the theatre but he’s confined to an electrical wheel chair. He’s still an educated and smart man (to say the least) and very respected by most people. The Union’s current president is Ulysses Grant, but he’s an old man who feels that he can’t trust the men closest to him, including the ministers. He drinks too much, too. But when Lincoln confronts him with the Fiddlehead’s evidence, Grant starts to really see the machinations around him and decides to stop them.
This is a more political book that than any of the previous ones, but is has no less action and adventure. Maria was introduced in the novella “Clementine” but the other POV characters are new. She’s a no-nonsense, capable woman who has acquired many un-ladylike skills in her years as a spy for the Confederacy. She uses society’s rules when they serve her and ditches them when they don’t. Gideon is brilliant but abrasive. He has little patience with politics or scheming.
Fiddlehead is a good final book. It ties up the underlying plotlines about the war and the rotters satisfyingly. However, we see only a few of the familiar characters from the previous books, so their fates are still left open. But Priest has already written another novella set in this world (Jacaranda) so we might see more of Mercy Lynch, Briar Wilkes, and the others in the future.