Oct 10, 09
There are several really cool things about Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker: the first is the eye-catching cover; the second, that it’s steampunk; the third--only noticeable when you peek inside--is the brown- (née, sepia) colored font. Reading Boneshaker is like looking into an old Victorian photograph--the exact effect I’d want if I was writing a book to fit a genre influenced primarily by that era. This isn’t the first book I’ve read with a font color other than black (an edition of Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story that I own comes to mind), but it was surprising and fit well with the genre.
Cherie Priest did a little (okay, a lot) of alteration to history for this book. The Civil War is instead the Great Rebellion and has been ongoing for the past 18 years. I’m not too familiar with Seattle’s history, but she mentions in the Author’s Note at the end that she took many liberties with that as well. If you can stand suspending your belief in historical accuracies and want to read a book that’s all about “a grand and dangerous adventure” (p. 62) then Boneshaker shouldn’t bother you at all.
In fact, if you like zombies, you’ll love Boneshaker; let me tell you why. The book opens with an excerpt from a book in progress written by Hale Quarter laying out the historical foundation of which we’ll need to know in order to understand the repercussions of certain events. It’s the 1860s and the Russians want to break up Alaskan ice to find gold, but haven’t got the means to do it themselves. Lucky Leviticus Blue wins the contest that follows and in a short amount of time, creates Dr. Blue’s Incredible Bone-shaking Drill Engine. Inspired by greed and power, the Russians pressure Blue to finish earlier than the deadline, but a test run for demonstration purposes goes awry and Blue’s Drill Engine winds up tearing through the underground of several blocks including those of a district lined with banks. Money is stolen, people are injured and killed, but when it’s all over Blue and his machine are nowhere to be found. Shortly after, healthy people otherwise unaffected by the Drill’s menacing journey start to fall sick and die, but they don’t stay dead for very long.
When the novel opens onto the first chapter, we meet Briar Wilkes and her son Ezekiel--Zeke for short--living in what’s now become the Outskirts. The drill’s haphazard run opened up an underground vein that’s been releasing dangerous fumes into the air for the past 16 years; the blocks ruined by this blight has been partitioned off from the rest of the city. A huge wall now separates it from unaffected grounds and it’s in the Outskirts Briar has been raising her son. As we soon find out, there’s a man named Hale Quarter nosing around for information regarding Briar’s husband and father--Leviticus Blue and Maynard Wilkes, respectively. Everyone believes Blue responsible for the Great Blight; Briar and Zeke have had the past 16 years as punishment, reminders from an angry public that won’t let Blue’s legacy die. Convinced of his father’s innocence, Zeke develops a plan to enter the old city and find evidence to prove his case.
Boneshaker is all action and suspense, with zombies. In fact, I felt at one point the zombies almost became the driving force of the novel, leaving Zeke and Briar’s journey to the periphery. It seems as if the book started with one purpose in mind--finding the truth about Leviticus Blue--and the zombies became the rouse for Priest to change tactics halfway through the book. As it turns out, there’s more to the novel than Leviticus Blue.
The suspense that looms over the mysterious Minnericht was written well--so well I was a little scared when he actually appeared; he was creepy, frightening, and forceful in all the ways Priest had led us to believe. He’s only one character out of an entire cast that all stood out amazingly on their own. If Priest can do one thing really well, it’s write interesting and vivid characters. My particular favorites were Lucy, Cly, and Jeremiah (although why his dialogue was always italicized when he wore his mask, I’ll never understand). The women in particular are strong-willed and independent. They’re as fierce as the next person in an environment I’d expect nothing less from. I was only confused because a lot of times Zeke came off as too immature and trusting for a boy of his age (15 going on 16). For the sake of the book, there wouldn’t be too much of a plot without him making certain decisions, but I couldn’t help thinking he was more like 12 going on 13 for as youthful as he acted.
In any case, there were a couple of other disappointments. I wish Priest had done more with lemon sap because let’s face it: a drug that, with chronic and prolonged use, will eventually turn you into a zombie is a really, really cool idea. I also was never quite sure what actually caused the blight--the reasons were given as suggestions, offered to the characters and readers as something logical to consider, but never in such a way that I trusted it completely as something to believe. Other than that, I loved Boneshaker.
There’s all sorts of extras that make the book worth reading, the least of which is the setting; the Civil War never looked so different when labeled the Great Rebellion and prolonged for 18 years. I think most of all, the characters fleshed out the personality of the city with their rough, no-nonsense demeanors, soft hearts, and determination. If you want to read a book about survival and hope with a menacing bad guy and weapons with names like the Doozy Dazer, then read Boneshaker. The zombies and the mad scientist don’t hurt either.