This is a sequel to Boneshaker. It doesn't look like a direct sequel, because it has a different immediate setting and a different main character (and other set of major characters until the end). However, having read both, I would strongly recommend that you read Boneshaker first. If anyone reads Dreadnought and likes it without Boneshaker, I'd like to hear from them, because having the experience of Boneshaker felt essential to me. The speculative element of the sap was much more peripheral here than it was in Boneshaker, and the ending was tied up in the characters of Boneshaker, who didn't appear elsewhere, so I felt like both of those things made it satisfying as a sequel where it might be less so as a stand-alone.
The other thing that feels essential to me is that you should be the right kind of audience for this book. I was on the borderline of that. There is a disclaimer in the front that says, "I'd like to thank you in advance for not sending me e-mail to tell me how bad my history is. I think we all know I've fudged the facts rather significantly. (Except the zombie parts.)" So okay: if you are the sort of person who doesn't like alternate history, don't read these, because the history: it is alternate. But there is another potentially problematic audience, and that is the me audience: that is to say, the audience that wants to go, "Oooooh! So, how is it alternate? Where did things diverge? What did they do to get more industrial infrastructure to keep this bit going and get that bit built and how did they get to this piece without having that resource and who was around to teach them to do that without this guy?" And that is not the story cmpriest wants to tell here. Her disclaimer is not just about fudging the facts. Her disclaimer is really that she wants to tell a story about a nurse taking a
The nurse in question is Mercy Lynch (born Vinita Swakhammer, for those of you who have read Boneshaker), and she is competent and determined and able to keep her mouth shut and able to share relevant information rather than risking an idiot-plot. All of which make her an admirable companion if you are stuck taking a dirigible, a train, or an assortment of conveyances across a war-torn continent. She has a set of skills that are actually plausible in context, and provenance for those skills--there is a reason she knows how to shoot, a reason she knows how to climb around on things, a reason she knows how to pull shrapnel from people and cope with unpleasant scents--and this puts her many leagues ahead of her urban and steampunk cohorts in most regards. She doesn't fall into obvious relationships with any of the other characters but relates to them individually, nor is she called upon to cope with everything perfectly. Which is good, because even by the end of the book, it looks like there's going to be a lot more ahead of Mercy Lynch-Vinita Swakhammer to cope with, and the imperfect kind of coping is a good deal more fun to watch.
If you're not too addicted to logistics or automatically opposed to zombies, jump on the westbound train and have fun with this one.