REVIEW: Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
Monday, 8th March, 2010 Comments Off
In the early days of the Civil War, rumors of gold in the frozen Klondike brought hordes of newcomers to the Pacific Northwest. Anxious to compete, Russian prospectors commissioned inventor Leviticus Blue to create a great machine that could mine through Alaska’s ice. Thus was Dr. Blue’s Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine born.
But on its first test run the Boneshaker went terribly awry, destroying several blocks of downtown Seattle and unearthing a subterranean vein of blight gas that turned anyone who breathed it into the living dead.
Now it is sixteen years later, and a wall has been built to enclose the devastated and toxic city. Just beyond it lives Blue’s widow, Briar Wilkes. Life is hard with a ruined reputation and a teenaged boy to support, but she and Ezekiel are managing. Until Ezekiel undertakes a secret crusade to rewrite history.
His quest will take him under the wall and into a city teeming with ravenous undead, air pirates, criminal overlords, and heavily armed refugees. And only Briar can bring him out alive.
The plot sounds intriguing enough. Alternate history? Love it. Steam-punk? I’m there. Coming of age adventure story? No complaints here. Zombies? Oh God, YES! So it was with bated breath and trembling hands that I cracked open Cherie Priest’s new novel about a son searching the truth about his father and a mother trying to save her idiot son before he turns into the undead. Did I enjoy it? I’ll give it a three out of five. It wasn’t bad, not at all but it fell somewhat short of my, admittedly high, expectations. Boneshaker was hyped as a steam-punk novel but save for one kick ass weapon that neutralizes the zombies (or “rotters” as they are called in this book), the story could have been set in any time period and it would be just as good. Sure, there is the eponymous Boneshaker machine but by the time our protagonists get to it, it is a wreck. There are also the airships and the mechanical arm of one of the characters but again these inventions, I felt, were not given enough exposure in the story to really make it feel like it takes place in a alternate world where pirates flying around in steam powered ships are the norm.
I also question why the few survivors who remained in the walled off section of Seattle chose to do so. It’s not like there was no way out. The Wilkes mother and son combo proved that. One of the characters mentioned in passing that despite the poisonous gas and the zombies, a good life could be made within the walls. But after reading their exploits, I find it hard to believe that any sane person would choose to stay in a walled off part of a city, forced to wear a gas mask all the time in order to breathe lest the gas transforms them into a “rotter” just so they can make some money. Yes, I know. Suspension of disbelief and all that but at least make it plausible for me to suspend my disbelief. Staying in a poisonous part of town when there is nothing to stop me from leaving because there’s money to be made just don’t cut it.
Those criticisms apart, Boneshaker is a good if not a great adventure story. A teenager reading this book would relate to Ezekiel ‘Zeke’ Wilkes with no problems. When you’re a teen, you think you know everything there is to know and when you have a chip on your shoulder like Zeke does, well, you think you can solve that problem pretty quickly. All you need is some food, a gun, a map, a gas mask and you’re good to go. Oh, there’s the zombies of course and a supposedly mad doctor skulking around somewhere but you can worry about that later.
Yeah, Ms. Priest got the teenager character down pat.
There is also the mystery of what happened to Leviticus Blue who built the Boneshaker machine that destroyed half of Seattle and caused all that gas to come out and create all that mess. The reader is tantalized with the possibility that the mad doctor (one Dr. Minneritch) could be Blue in disguise. The truth will shock you!
Actually, no it won’t. But isn’t it fun to find out?
Boneshaker is an enjoyable enough read for adventure/steam-punk fans even if the steam-punk elements are few and far between. The author promises more books set in the same universe which she calls ‘Clockwork Century‘ and has already announced two titles:Clementine and Dreadnought due later this year.
Author: Cherie Priest
Publisher: Tor Books
Format: Trade Paperback
Date of Publication: September 2009
Bought from: Amazon.com
Did I like it? Liked it enough to be interested in the spin-off book, Clementine. I give it 3 out of 5.