Thursday, May 20, 2010

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

With the amount of times I've referenced Boneshaker (2009) by Cherie Priest on here you'd have thought I'd do a post devoted to the novel by now. Yeah, been meaning to save it for Gear Bits and Clockwork, but that was also because I'd intended to finish it a month ago. Other work got in the way, though. You all know how it goes. Anyway, enough of my rambling* and on to the book itself.

Boneshaker is Priest's seventh novel, but her first offering in the Steampunk category. Her previous novels are the Southern Gothic stories of Eden Moore (first novel is Four and Twenty Blackbirds), the rural fantasy Fathom, and the post-Civil War Gothic tale Dreadful Skin. Boneshaker was described by Scott Westerfield as "A steampunk zombie-airship adventure of rollicking pace and sweeping proportions," and I'm inclined to agree.

Some background on the world of Boneshaker. It's 1880, and the Civil War has lagged on for 18 years. Thirty years prior, gold was discovered in the Klondike (something Priest admits she advanced by a few decades -- historically the Klondike Gold Rush didn't occur until 1896), and the Russians who owned the area at that time wanted to figure out a way to drill through the ice quickly and easily.

In 1860, the Russians announced a contest -- 100,000 rubles to whoever could come up with a machine that could mine through ice in search of gold. Enter Leviticus Blue, a Seattle inventor, and his Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine (the Boneshaker of the title). Blue convinced the Russians to advance him a huge sum of money to craft the machine, and on January 2, 1863 the engine burst from the basement of the Blue home on Denny Hill and tore through the earth beneath downtown Seattle. The end results of this carnage was the destruction of several banks, and the release of a Blight gas that turned most people unlucky enough to breath it into rotters (Priest's version of zombies).

The action of the novel picks up seventeen years later, well after the wall went up that closed off the Blighted blocks from the rest of Seattle. We meet three characters to start -- Briar Wilkes, widow of Leviticus Blue; Zeke Wilkes, their son; and Hale Quarter, a historian who's writing about Briar's father Maynard and the history of the Boneshaker and Seattle's destruction.

Zeke enters the Blighted blocks under the false (according to Briar) impression that he can redeem the memories of both his father and grandfather. What he doesn't know is that the city inside the wall is chock-full of thieves, criminal overlords, scoundrels, undead, and a whole host of others who are only looking out for themselves. Briar discovers his design and is forced to enter the Blighted area herself to bring him out.

Suffice to say, Boneshaker includes pretty much every element I talked about through the entire Roots of Steampunk series. We've got the Gothic/Urban Gothic story involved through an unclear delineation between good and evil (Zeke is the only truly innocent one in the story; at least from Briar's perspective), the Detective story via Zeke trying to uncover history, the Wellsian Scientific Romance from the high steam technology, the Blighted blocks are a clear Dystopia, and the entire novel is an Alternate History.

This is classic Steampunk style done very, very well, folks. I've yet to finish reading the book, honestly, but I'm completely engrossed in wrapping it up. I mean come on: zombies, a mad scientist (Dr. Minnericht), criminals as heroes, and an entire city with dangers hidden by the Blight gas fog? How can I not love every second of it?

Suffice to say, you need to go read Boneshaker. And also pick up Clementine, which is going to be released on May 31. You know you won't regret it.

*Oh wait, that's what this entire blog is, isn't it?


Adam Heine said...

You may have read this, Matt, but here were my thoughts on Boneshaker.

Basically: I liked the adventure and the world, though occasionally Briar and Zeke would make decisions I thought were dumb. Still, overall, a good steampunk read.

MeganRebekah said...

I love that cover!

Without even reading your summary and thoughts, that cover evokes so much emotion. It's definitely one of those books I'd read on the cover alone. Plus, I need to expand into the steampunk genre a bit more :)

L. T. Host said...

I've heard of this one a lot, but thanks for the summary-- I think I'll have to pick it up, and I know a friend who would like it, too :)

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Can I have the goggles?

Would you say that Boneshaker is an adults-only book, or would kids enjoy it (i.e. what's the violence level in it)?


Adam Heine said...

@Susan: It's really, really hard to make content-judgments for other people. I'd say most of Boneshaker is about PG-13 violence, but there are a couple of rated-R moments (it IS a zombie book, after all).

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

@Adam Thanks! I know it's hard. Boneshaker is published by Tor (generally an adult SF publisher) and it doesn't have an age range, so looks like it's not marketed to kids. There are some adult books that are "clean" enough reads for MG, but sounds like this one probably isn't. I may have to read it, just to be sure. :)

Thanks again!

dolorah said...

Another author to put on my TBR list. I think I need about 2 months off from day job, work, and writing to catch up on all the good novels out there.

I think I remember reading for pleasure. Hmm, what a concept.