Author: Cherie Priest
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Adult fiction, steampunk/fantasy
Series: The Clockwork Century
Rating: 3.5 tweaks out of 5
Boneshaker begins in the Outskirts, the lands surrounding a walled portion of downtown Seattle in 1880, with Ms Briar Wilkes, a labourer in a water filtration plant, encountering a biographer for the mad scientist and inventor, Leviticus Blue. Why, one might ask, is part of 1880 Seattle all walled up? And why would the biographer of a mad inventor talk with Briar? The answer, dear reader, is Zombies.
In 1863, Leviticus Blue was hired by the Russian government to build a drill that would tear its way through ice and rock to get to the Klondike gold. So Blue built a machine. And then that machine tore its way through the Seattle underground, right through the bank vaults (most of which probably held Klondike gold, to be fair). There were earthquakes and toppled buildings and a great deal of property damage, but the worst consequence was that the machine broke into a vein of subterranean gas that had a rather unfortunate property: it turned living people into the living dead. The gas escaped and devastated several square blocks of Seattle. It would have done more damage, but they erected walls to contain it and everyone who could flee did so.
Sixteen years later, Briar was living with her son, Zeke, in the Outskirts just outside of the Seattle walls. Briar was Blue’s wife. Since he apparently single-handedly destroyed Seattle before disappearing, she was not well liked. But she got by and took care of Zeke while she was at it. One thing she could not do, though, was tell Zeke the truth about what happened to his father, Leviticus Blue. Zeke, an intelligent and headstrong youth, did not take Briar’s silence well and decided to break into the city to discover the truth.
Briar, knowing the danger he would face, went after him.
And so begins the adventure of Boneshaker, the story of a mother going after her son. There were airships and airship pirates, a princess, zombies, survivors, damp tunnels, gadgets, a one-armed woman, a masked man, and zombies. The point of view bounced between Briar and Zeke as they explored and encountered the inhabitants (both undead and alive) of apocalyptic Seattle, which gave me an excited little thrill as they got closer and closer to each other. The secondary characters were each unique and fun, the plot was relatively simple, Briar and Zeke were smart and fun, and the action was delightfully gory. The environment, though, was where Priest really shone. She created an exceptionally realistic world in and under Seattle, where the inhabitants must deal with the threat of the gas and the zombies, and the immensely more terrifying and dangerous threat of other living humans.
To cap it off, Boneshaker ended on an immensely gratifying twist, which left me satisfied after reading.
Boneshaker didn’t have flaws so much as minor annoyances. Although Briar was a strong and highly competent fem-protagonist, she was almost too strong and competent. For one, she was a crack shot with a shot gun that she had apparently locked away for fifteen years, and she didn’t have a history as a woman of the law or anything similar. At times, the quantity of environmental descriptions became overwhelming and I began to skim over them, though this may be an issue with the reader rather than the book. There were a few too many places where fortunate happenstance played a leading role; I found myself thinking “Well, isn’t that convenient” a little too frequently for my tastes. However, as I said, those were irritating but barely took me away from the plot and character.
I found Boneshaker to be a fun and easy read, without any deep thought required. I recommend it to anyone looking for a satisfying example of the steampunk genre with a dash of horror and action/adventure, but not if you want something that will linger in your mind.
Cherie Priest is the author of twelve novels, including the steampunk pulp adventures Dreadnought and Boneshaker. Boneshaker was nominated for both the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award; it was a PNBA Award winner, and winner of the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. Cherie also wrote Fathom and the Eden Moore series from Tor (Macmillan), and her novellas Clementine, Dreadful Skin and Those Who Went Remain There Still are published by Subterranean Press. In addition to all of the above, she is a newly minted member of the Wild Cards Consortium – and her first foray into George R. R. Martin’s superhero universe, Fort Freak (for which she wrote the frame story), will debut in 2011. Cherie’s short stories and nonfiction articles have appeared in such fine publications as Weird Tales, Subterranean Magazine, Publishers Weekly, and the Stoker-nominated anthology Aegri Somnia from Apex. Though she spent most of her life in the southeast, she presently lives in Seattle, Washington, with her husband and a fat black cat.