Posted by: Kristi Tuck Austin | February 4, 2011

Write around Richmond: Dreadnought by Cherie Priest

“Why are there no more fiction stories about Richmond?” an author asked at the last Writing Show. In answer, here is Write Around Richmond, a series that looks at fictional portrayals of our fair–and infamous–city. I hope you’ll find new titles to enjoy and new views of Richmond.

DREADNOUGHT by Cherie Priest


Tor Books, 2010

Mercy Lynch, nurse at Confederate Robertson Hospital, doesn’t stay long in Richmond before heading west to find her deadbeat dad, just long enough to give us glimpses of war carnage:

The rows ran eight cots by fifteen in this ward, which served as admittance, triage, and recovery room alike. It should’ve held only two-thirds that number, and the present crowding served to narrow the aisles to the point that they were nearly impassable, but no one was turned away. Captain Sally said that if they had to stitch them standing up and lash them to the closet walls, they’d take every Confederate boy who’d been carried off the field.

She heard [the casualties] arrive, all of them drawn by the cramped, dark little ambulances that were barely better than boxes. Retained men and doctors’ assistants unpacked them like sandwiches, sliding their cots into the daylight, where the men who were strong enough to do so blinked against the sun. Out the small window in her bunk, she could see them leaving the ambulances in impossible numbers; she thought dully that they must’ve been stacked in there like cordwood, for each carriage to hold so many of them.

Later, the city bustles with traffic, little boys hawking newspapers, and preachers outside their churches, the steeples white as bone. Beyond the banks, dry good stores, and the foundry, Nurse Mercy spots the bobbing dirigibles docked at Richmond’s airport.

Before long a sign came into view, announcing, RICHMOND REGIONAL AIRSHIP YARD. Beneath it, two smaller signs pointed two different directions. PASSENGER TRANSPORT was urged to veer left, while MERCHANTS AND CARGO were directed to the right.

She dutifully followed the signs, head up and shoulders square, as if she knew exactly where she was going and what she needed. Another sign pointed to ROWS A&B while one next to it held another area, indicating ROWS C&D. But finally she spotted something more immediately useful—a banner that read, PASSENGER TICKETS AND ITINERARY. This banner was strung over a wood-front shack that was shaped like a lean-to, with no glass in the windows and no barrier in front except a cage like those used by bank tellers.


Picture taken by grasshoppergirl on 2008-06-09 13:13:32.

It’s far from Richmond International Airport, but I picture dirigibles climbing into a clear sky above Tredegar Iron Works. Dreadnought is the first steampunk novel I’ve read, and I must admit I love picturing RVA all steamy and punky.

You can stop by Fountain Bookstore to pick up signed copies of Dreadnought and her earlier novel Boneshaker.


  1. […] River City Fiction on Dreadnought – As part of their “Write Around Richmond” series. “It’s far from Richmond International Airport, but I picture dirigibles climbing into a clear sky above Tredegar Iron Works. Dreadnought is the first steampunk novel I’ve read, and I must admit I love picturing RVA all steamy and punky.” […]

  2. Very much enjoyed reading this. I’ve been seeing Dreadnought touted here and there and with the added spice of having Richmond playing a part in the narrative, I’m definitely putting it on my TBR list. Thank you for taking up the gauntlet tossed out at the JRW Writing Show!

    • Denise,
      Thank you. I’m sure you’ll enjoy Dreadnought. Coming up in Write Around Richmond, I’ll look at Dennis Danvers’s The Watch, Maggie Stiefvater’s Lament, Rebekah Pierce’s Murder on Second Street, Ann McMillan’s novels, and many others. I hope you’ll share your thoughts on those books.

  3. Upon your recommendation, I started reading Cherie Priest’s work (I began with Boneshaker, then Clementine, then Dreadnought). What great reads!!! Thanks so much for a good recommendation and opening me up to the steam punk genre! Any other’s you’d recommend???

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