Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book
Rate this book
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.

416 pages, Paperback

First published June 1, 2009

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Cherie Priest

74 books4,022 followers
Cherie Priest is the author of two dozen books and novellas, most recently The Toll, The Family Plot, The Agony House, and the Philip K. Dick Award nominee Maplecroft; but she is perhaps best known for the steampunk pulp adventures of the Clockwork Century, beginning with Boneshaker. Her works have been nominated for the Hugo and Nebula awards for science fiction, and have won the Locus Award (among others) – and over the years, they’ve been translated into nine languages in eleven countries. Cherie lives in Seattle, WA, with her husband and a menagerie of exceedingly photogenic pets.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
5,666 (17%)
4 stars
11,802 (35%)
3 stars
10,595 (32%)
2 stars
3,744 (11%)
1 star
1,159 (3%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,149 reviews
Profile Image for Michael.
274 reviews752 followers
December 4, 2013
``Miss Eliza Bennet, let me persuade you to follow my example, and take a turn about the room. -- I assure you the anti-gravity hoverchannel is very refreshing after sitting so long in one attitude.''

Eliza was surprised, but agreed to it immediately. She unstrapt herself from her leather seat restraints and stood, careful to maintain her balance as the airship encountered turbulence. When she entered the hoverchannel, she activated the polarity redistribution magnets within her combat suit and began floating comfortably around the perimeter of the foyer.

Miss Bingley's attention was quite engaged in watching Mr. Darcy's progress through his book, so much so that at one point she nearly navigated the ship into the side of Pemberley; and she was perpetually making some inquiry.

At length, finally exhausted by her tenacious attempts to force a conversation regarding his book, Darcy relented. "It's entitled Boneshaker. An American novel."

"What do you think of it?" Eliza said as she drifted by.

"A bit nonsensical, really. Steampunk claptrap about the Civil War going on much longer than it actually did, which caused technological advances that didn't really happen until much later. And a zombie-infested city called Seattle. It has been blocked off from the rest of the country, and our heroine must go in to rescue her foolish son."

Mr. Bingley crossed the room, his steam-powered mechanical legs stomping their way across the carpet to the cabinet where he refilled his glass. "Zombies in America? That does sound quite silly. Everyone knows that zombies are native to Britain. That's how I lost my legs."

"Please, Bingley, don't tell us that old story again," Mr. Hurst said, adjusting himself on the sofa before falling back asleep.

Darcy said, "The plot moves along at a good pace, but the characters are a bit uninspired. A teenage boy constantly doing something inadvisable; the protective mother, blasting zombies and trying to save him."

Eliza smiled. "Darcy, certainly you aren't saying literature is full of strong female characters who run around rescuing male characters."

"Nor should it be," Mr. Hurst said, drifting slowly in and out of consciousness.

Ignoring Mr. Hurst's interjection, Darcy said, "I suppose the fairer sex aren't shown in powerful roles that often, even in these books written in the far future about the distant past . . . er, or perhaps about the same time as now . . . When were we written?"

Miss Bingley inquired, "Are you sure the dinner agreed with you?"

"I feel fine, thank you," Darcy said.

"Admit it," Sherlock Holmes said, standing in the doorway, Watson at his side. "You enjoy all the fashionable gimmicks flying left and right, and the pace keeps you entertained. Yet you wonder why nothing surprising was done with any of these elements."

Darcy moved over as Holmes sat on the sofa beside him, lighting a pipe. "You're right, Holmes. The whole reinvention of the Civil War is fascinating in theory. Then the author does nothing with it. The book has nothing to say. No reflections on the civil war, racism, or politics. Nor does it say anything about the true nature of zombies. In fact, it says little about love, which is the very heart of the story."

J. K. Rowling, refilling her glass of zinfandel, said, "And it's practically a young adult novel, isn't it? Other than one or two mildly violent zombie moments and one four letter 'S' word, this could be the next film from Pixar. There's not even a gay sorcerer to throw off the prudes."

Darcy met Eliza's eyes as she orbited the room. "Have you read it as well, Miss Bennett?"

"Braaaains," Mr. Hurst moaned softly.

"I found it diverting," Eliza said. "I always read the books nominated for the Nebula awards. But, like you, I found the novel didn't meet my expectations. When you look beyond the stylish trappings, you have a run-of-the-mill adventure story written in a workmanlike fashion. I imagine the query letter was spectacular, though."

Darcy was on the verge of speaking when Mr. Hurst lunged up from the sofa, saliva splattering from his vicious maw, his eyes sunken in and rolled back into his head. He lurched across the room toward Bingley, whose back was facing him.

Eliza kicked off of the wall and rolled over to Darcy, pulling his pistol from his belt, and fired several rounds through Mr. Hurst's head. A splatter of blood, brain and skull chips showered down on Harold Bloom.

"Well," Mr. Harold Bloom said, wiping blood from his face and wiping it on the sofa, "that was entirely unnecessary, but what HASN'T been? The whole book review is sound and fury, signifying nothing. And how many times is this hack going to parody Pride and Prejudice? He seems to think it's much more funny than it is, just as Oscar Wilde thought himself hilarious, when he is in fact highly over-esteemed."

Holmes puffed his pipe, a gray cloud of smoke rising above him. "I can't believe I didn't notice Mr. Hurst was turning. Usually I'm so attentive to details."

"Nobody's perfect," Darcy said. "Would you mind putting that pipe out? We are in a zeppelin, you know."

Holmes sighed and stood up, pulling on his overcoat. "I'm going next door to the Kurt Vonnegut review. Pipe smoking is encouraged over there."

And as Holmes left the room, suddenly the review stopped.
Profile Image for colleen the convivial curmudgeon.
1,155 reviews286 followers
March 20, 2010

Steampunk and zombies and mini-apocalypse, oh my. How could you go wrong?

For starters, you could have lead characters that I never really connected with or cared that much about. Protagonists whose most active role was to get themselves into the city, and then who became fortunes of fate, as things happened to them.

I did like some of the secondary characters better, especially Swakhammer. (Though it seemed weird to me that Briar called calling him Mr. Swakhammer. It was probably meant to be an affectation to remind us of the time period, when men and women were more formal, but since these characters are so informal, it was just kind of weird. Just another layer of distance in a book which keeps you at yours...

I think, really, that's what it is. The characters are never really developed - it's more an actiony-adventure type story, which could be fine, except it seemed like it almost wanted to be a deeper, more thoughtful story at times, it just never quite managed to be so.

Oh, and the brown font on the off-white paper killed me at first, but I did mostly get used to it.

Anyway, I never felt truly frightened or saddened for these characters and their exploits, though I did sometimes feel annoyed that they seemed so ingrateful for the help people were giving them (Briar), and that they kept running off and getting themselves in trouble without finding out what was going on first (Zeke). And I never really connected with them, so didn't much care.

And the whole thing with the big bad was meh. And I don't just mean the anti-climactic end, I mean everything about it. The build-up, the reveal, everything. There's something which happens at the end which Briar is said not to care about because her focus is on something else. Well, I didn't care, either.

Wow - do you think I could say "I didn't care" any more?

The only thing I did sort of care about is the fate of Swahkhammer, which we're left not knowing. I read somewhere that this is the first of a planned trilogy, but I doubt I'll continue unless I hear really good things about the follow-up.

All that said, I do agree with one reviewer who said that this story could make a good movie, though. Visually it would be pretty awesome, and you can get away with less develoepd characters and more haphazard happenings in movies.
Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
2,895 reviews10.6k followers
June 12, 2012
Sixteen years after Leviticus Blue reputedly robbed a string of banks and released the Blight using his drilling machine, the Boneshaker, his son Ezekiel goes back into the walled remains of Seattle, braving rotters and Doornails, to clear his name. His mother, Briar Wilkes, goes into the walled wasteland to bring him out. Can she find Zeke before Dr. Minnericht finds him?

I've got mixed feelings about this one. For one thing, the writing doesn't tickle my innards and the characters are all pretty weak. It also feels like it could have been 70 or 80 pages shorter. A steampunk book with zombies and airships shouldn't have so many dull spots. Also, there was a 35 page block missing from my copy but I don't think I missed a whole lot due to the aforementioned pacing issues. Furthermore, Boneshaker is a misleading title since the Boneshaker doesn't make an appearance until the very end.

However, I did manage to enjoy myself while reading it. I love the idea of a walled up city infested by zombies as well as the culture of those that stayed behind to live off of what was left, the Doornails. The concept of zombies being created by subterranean pockets of gas was interesting, as was lemon sap, the drug made from said gas. The steampunk tech was nicely done, complete with artificial limbs and a sound cannon. The airships were also good, even if under-utilized. Zeke and Briar's struggle to find one another was well done, even if it dragged for my tastes. Dr. Minnericht was a Darth Vader-ish enemy but the reveal of his identity was pretty good, as was his death.

I wouldn't exactly say I'd recommend buying this but if you could find someone to lend it to you, I don't think you'll be very disappointed.

Profile Image for Felicia.
Author 28 books128k followers
October 2, 2010
1) Best cover art I've seen in a LONG TIME!

2) Very specific style of writing that too a while to hook me. It reminded me of Red Dead Redemption in book form with Steampunk. I definitely got into it when all the zombie stuff took off, cool details there.
3) All the Steampunk stuff was awesome, and well detailed and realized. The world definitely grew on me a lot.
4) Main problem was that the characters didn't hook me until WAAAY into the book. I really feel like the main character could have been fleshed out more, maybe it was the spare prose style that kept me a bit distanced from caring enough? I dunno. I never really felt like her backstory with her dad and husband was filled to my satisfaction, it almost felt coincidental that she was tied to two such famous people in this world, maybe it's my fault and I skimmed too much though. I did love the fact that she wasn't a cliched "peppy go-getter lady lead who meets a dreamy airship captain". So kudos for a different woman lead there.

Definitely recommended for an interesting, Western-style Steampunk extravaganza.
Profile Image for Nancy.
557 reviews762 followers
March 4, 2016
Posted at Shelf Inflicted

Dazzling inventions, air pirates, evil bad guys, underground vaults, goggles, daring rescues, gold, Blight gas, a one-armed bartender, a princess, zombies. Oh, what fun!

The setting was vividly described and rich in details. The main characters were well developed and fascinating. Briar Wilkes, widow of Leviticus Blue, eccentric inventor, searches for her teenage son, Zeke, in a walled-off section of Seattle, where a dangerous yellow gas shrouds the city, forcing the remaining inhabitants to live underground. Lots of action, suspense, and vibrant, quirky characters helped move the story along at a brisk pace.

I thoroughly enjoyed the twists, surprises, and very satisfying ending of this riveting adventure story.
Profile Image for Miranda Reads.
1,589 reviews154k followers
December 10, 2020
Waiting for this book was better than reading it

I was so excited to read this one - to try a great steampunk novel (I read a few top ten lists, and this one made every one of them). Within the first few chapters, I knew that I didn't like it. Mostly because this was essentially a really long Scooby Do chase scene

We have Leviticus Blue - crazed inventor of the "Boneshaker." Years ago, he "took it for a test run"...aka drilled underground and into the bank. As a result, he "accidentally" released the blight from the ground and the world hasn't been the same since.

Figure 1: The Boneshaker.

We follow Briar, his widow, and Ezekiel, his son. Ezekiel - desperate to clear his father's name grabs a gas mask, crosses the barrier and enters the blight-stricken city. Briar, upon hearing this, grabs a different gas mask, enters to bring her son back. Commence the Scooby Do-ing. One runs here, the other runs there. Repeat.

I eventually lost track of the plot completely - I will not be following up on this series.

Audiobook Comments
--Mostly well-read by Wil Wheaton and Kate Reading. Though, I did notice that everyone speaks completely normal while constantly wearing gas masks. There should be a lot more of muffled words, huhs and Come again?

YouTube | Blog | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | Snapchat @miranda_reads
Profile Image for Brad.
Author 2 books1,684 followers
December 4, 2013
I dug Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker, but I wanted so much more.

I dug Blighted Seattle and the Outskirts, but I wanted more detail in the former and more time in the latter.

I dug the Rotters, but I wanted more rot, more zombie madness, and more exploration of their potential ability to communicate and problem solve.

I dug the pseudo-history and Hale Quarter, the fictional biographer, but I wanted more installments of his history.

I dug the back story of Leviticus Blue, but I wanted to be convinced that he was evil rather than merely devastatingly irresponsible because while I can see devastatingly irresponsible as being negative for all, I don’t think it can really be called evil.

I dug Dr. Minnerecht, but I wanted more time in his lair, more time with his nasty deeds, and way less of his silly petulance.

I dug Zeke, but I wanted him to do more, to be more active.

I dug how Briar took responsibility for the killing of Levi Blue, but I didn’t like that she did it nor the way that she did it, and I find the general cheering on of her actions a bit disconcerting.

I liked the supporting cast, but I wanted more of what brought them to where they were, what motivated them, what they cared about, who they were pre- & post-Blight.

I dug the technological steampunk elements, and was more than willing to suspend my disbelief, but I wanted more of the steampunk social criticism to go along with the toys.

I dug the hints of a larger world beyond Seattle, but I wish there’d been more of it here so I wouldn’t have to wait for Clementine.

I dug that there were three interesting women, but I didn’t like their disdain for men nor that they felt like three versions of the same woman.

I dug the dirigibles, and for once there was enough time with the Skypirates to fulfill my desire.

So to recap: I dug it, but...
Profile Image for carol..
1,516 reviews7,716 followers
July 14, 2013

Started off slow, but I fully realize that was a miscalibration with the story compatibility recognizer. I don't really do the mother-hen story line, and I often get the urge to slap headstrong teenage boys. I started this on vacation in NYC, and we just weren't getting along. Plus, NYC is all busy and distracting and such. Once home, I picked it back up and had a little better luck, but soon got distracted with shinier books life. Finally opened it again today and finished the last 250 or so pages, proving at least one of two things: 1) that I am a ridiculous procrastinator that would do anything other than class homework, and 2) Priest can pull it together; it just takes awhile.

Story alternates between the viewpoint of Ezekiel, a young teen, and that of his mother, Briar Wilkes, a hard-working widow. She was married to an inventor, Leviticus Blue, who built a machine that was supposed to impress the Russians with it's gold-mining skill. Except before the debut, things go a little haywire and a bank or two is robbed instead, and a mysterious low-lying gas released into the local atmosphere. Perhaps it was connected to the machine, perhaps it wasn't. Blue disappeared, and the gas turned everyone it touched into "rotters," otherwise known as coffee-deprived Seattleans zombies. The rest of the world walled Seattle off and did their best to forget about it, except for two things: they still hate Briar, as a stand-in for Blue; and the yellow gas can be distilled into a drug (of course the new drug comes through Seattle. Don't they always? ). Zeke decides to find out the truth. Mama hen chases him down with the intention of making him safe, and perhaps, telling him the truth.

Positives: characterization that is fairly multi-culti without making it an issue and doesn't treat females like a bunch of sex objects (cough, cough, Brent Weeks), but instead like people trying to live how they know, and be as tough as they need to to survive. Side characters were particularly interesting and unique, and I rather liked they they didn't always 'group up' and stay together for the rest of the quest search. I'm particularly fond of the Indian Princess who was oracle-like in her advice, and mysterious enough that Zeke wasn't sure if she was going to knife him or save him.

Criticisms: Blah, airships. I suppose they are useful for getting characters in and out of walled cities. Personally, I find them to be the steampunk equivalent of the modern car chase, and usually use the time to go fix get a drink. Blah fifteen year old boys, who are at once brave, naive, selfish, defiant, clever and obtuse.

Of all the characters, the villain was a bit of a trope. Build-up was scary; actuality was a bit like Paul Reubens in the original Buffy. I also could have passed on the conceit of the weird dude in the beginning approaching Briar about writing a biography. Not sure where it got the story, except some navel-gazingness. Might have incited the kid to leave, but then again, it might not have. Oh wait, I get it. It was a way to introduce backstory. Ok, I'll scratch that as a complaint. Annoyed me at the end, however.

Speaking of the end, it was a strange mix-up of unfinished and happily ever after (oh stop, that didn't give anything away). Quite a few unanswered questions. While part of me likes to have everything explained, it just isn't possible in a book of this length; I was left with intriguing questions about the Blight, about the Civil War, and about the people in Seattle.

Overall, a middling book that I'm glad I read. Judging by the way reviews run the star gamut, it might be worth checking out for yourself. And I still can't decide if Priest pulled it together or I'm a successful horrible procrastinator.

Cross posted at http://clsiewert.wordpress.com/2013/0...
Profile Image for Montzalee Wittmann.
4,500 reviews2,315 followers
October 23, 2021
(The Clockwork Century #1)
by Cherie Priest

Well, I got the chirp addition for a super low price and the blurb sounded great but it was so incredibly slow and boring! I couldn't wait for it to end. I almost quit several times. Nothing more to say.
Profile Image for Wil Wheaton.
Author 98 books195k followers
January 2, 2010
Cherie (disclosure: she's a good friend, and I read the ARC of Boneshaker) has crafted a beautiful and believable world, and filled it with characters who never once rang false to me. The characters, the dialog, and the descriptive prose all come together to create a wonderful novel that is is easy to read and hard to put down.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,559 reviews8,669 followers
November 25, 2015

I rarely (because I'm cheap and OCD) abandon a book. It may take me awhile, but eventually the constant chirp in the back of my brain makes me run and pick the damn thing up and just finish it. However, there are few RARE exceptions to this rule.

When a book is SO poorly written, so filled with cliches, bad adjectives, and weak verbs; when the dialogue is so awkward and stilted that it is a painful experience to read; when the book produces no virtuous feelings in me; when there is NO forward momentum (except for the earthy desire to finish and be done with it) -- it begins to dawn on me (pg 194) that I should just abandon the book.

Thus I excommunicate it: close the book, blow out the candle, and ring the damn bell. May god have mercy on Cherie Priest's soul.
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,517 reviews10.9k followers
April 7, 2010
2.5 stars. I liked the set up of this steampunk story and I thought the characters were well developed (especially Briar who I thought was great). That said, for some reason I did not get "hooked" on the story and found myself just getting through the book. For me, I would have liked to have learned more about the "alternate" world in which the book is set in and have the story tie into (or at least hint at) bigger issues to come. There were some nice tidbits about the larger world but I would have liked to have seen more. All and all, it was a decent read and I will read the next book in the series when it comes out where the story will hopefully expand.

Nominee: Hugo Award for Best Novel
Nominee: Nebula Award for Best Novel
Profile Image for mark monday.
1,633 reviews5,002 followers
May 14, 2012
engaging but decidedly minor yarn featuring brave women, pirate airships, a zombie plague, and a battered & barricaded alternate seattle. the steampunk elements are of the american west variety, so as far as the atmosphere conveyed, this is more muggy days than foggy nights. enjoyable for the most part, although the highly tedious & annoying character of the son made the last third tough-going at times.

i really don't have much else to say. this was a pleasant and forgettable way to pass an evening. so here are some things to fill out this so-called review:



fridtjof nansen:



Profile Image for Clouds.
228 reviews629 followers
June 30, 2013

Christmas 2010: I realised that I had got stuck in a rut. I was re-reading old favourites again and again, waiting for a few trusted authors to release new works. Something had to be done.

On the spur of the moment I set myself a challenge, to read every book to have won the Locus Sci-Fi award. That’s 35 books, 6 of which I’d previously read, leaving 29 titles by 14 authors who were new to me.

While working through this reading list I got married, went on my honeymoon, switched career and became a father. As such these stories became imprinted on my memory as the soundtrack to the happiest period in my life (so far).

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I save the best part of my dinner until last – savouring the anticipation as much as the taste. Boneshaker (the 2010 winner of the Locus Sci-Fi Award) had the look, to me, of a tasty little treat, so I kept putting it off for as long as I could resist.

Steampunk, zombies and air-pirates. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it?
When I saw that the text inside is printed in sepia-brown, I thought it was a delightful touch of icing on the cake!

Gushing reviews like this one, from the usually more reserved Jason, didn’t dampen my growing expectations.

We all read a lot of books, hoping to find 'A BOOK'.
Sadly, for me, Boneshaker is just ‘a book’.

Before I start my grumbling, I’d like to acknowledge the many things that Priest does well here:
- The original concept is brilliant
- The book tumbles along at a good pace
- Much of the imagery is strong and memorable
- Several of the supporting characters stand out brightly
(I'm thinking of Swakhammer, Lucy O'Gunning and Fang)

So far, so good?

My first big issue comes with the Mother/Son protagonists (Briar & Zeke). I can’t think of many . As for Briar, she’s got a touch more .

My second issue is the !

My final gripe made me so mad that when I saw my cats had knocked the book into a bathtub full of water shortly after I’d finished it, I didn’t think “Oh no, my treasured novel has been soaked!” – I thought “Hah! You deserved that!”

There are two major hooks and two minor hooks to pull us towards the climax.
Frankly, by the end I didn’t care.

I enjoyed the ride – it was a kind of 2.5 for me, and I’m a generous soul so I rounded it up to a 3 – but as I was hoping for a 4, I left Boneshaker sorely disappointed.

ps - I just remembered that and also that we never get a good (any?) explanation for why - gah!

After this I read: Elantris
Profile Image for Fergal.
Author 15 books309 followers
March 6, 2016
This so could be made into film... loved it! Thanks Cherie :)
Profile Image for Cassy.
184 reviews623 followers
February 22, 2011
This was my first foray into steampunk – unless Golden Compass counts. This may not be my genre. I am willing to keep going for a book or two, but the prospects are poor. And according to the clerk at the bookstore, Soulless must be my next read.

I was on the fence about reading this one. It was officially on my to-read list, but the ho-hum reviews were making me doubt the placement. Then I heard Cherie Priest was coming to a local bookstore, Murder by the Book (great name, right?) in a week. I thought “better now rather than later”.

Now I’ve read it. My feelings are best conveyed by shrugging my shoulders. It reminds me of young adult fiction: action at the expense of everything else. Good ideas get lost. Characters are encouragingly introduced, but never developed. There is no grander picture or underlying meaning. It is just a bit of fun. Sadly, it wasn't exactly my type of fun and I felt bored at times. To her credit, however, I did very much like the alternate world she created. And I marked a few pages for good descriptions.

Let’s move on to the good stuff: meeting Cherie Priest. The book earned an extra star due to these fond memories. Honestly, she was more entertaining than her book.

She was completely unscripted, which was awesome. She stood in front of thirty people and gossiped/joked/rambled for over an hour. She didn’t have notes or a plan. She didn’t read from her latest release. She talked about her mom’s crazy religious ideas. She made big gestures with her hands and talked too fast. She would lose her place mid-sentence and just start talking about something else. She wondered out aloud why her supermodel friend’s parents are so plain-looking. She was momentarily distracted when the store dog snored behind her (“The dog just snored behind me!”). In short, she was endearing.

She talked candidly about how Boneshaker (with its great cover artwork) revived her career. She was under contract with Tor for four books. Her first three Southern Gothic Eden Moore books began as a mediocre success and then went downhill. She believes she could have sold more copies of Not Flesh Nor Feathers from the trunk of her car. She was certain Tor would drop her after the fourth book and was considering taking up a pen name for a fresh start. She took offense to some snobby, online comments that only the British could write steampunk because only the British had class issues, colonialism, an industrial revolution, wars, and so forth. She took up the challenge. She thought about how the American Civil War could be been dragged out if this happened, then this, and then that. Think of the new technologies that might have been created! Her editor had Cherie drop a vampire book in progress and devote her attention to this new idea.

Nowadays, she has plans to keep writing in her alternate Clockwork Century world, including books set in New Orleans, Florida, and Washington DC. She would love to solve the Seattle problem one day. She has other projects too: collaborating with George R. R. Martins(!), her new book about an OCD vampire Bloodshot, and so forth. She is a ball of energy.

She also explained why the connector book, Clementine is so hard to find: Tor didn’t want it. If she kept the book short, she could get around her contract with Tor and publish with her employer, Subterranean. They didn’t print enough initially. Cherie joked even she wouldn’t pay the $150 e-bay price for Clementine. There are now plans to print more.

As usual, the best thing about meeting an author is that it helps me to better understand the tone of their books. Remember I wrote that Boneshaker was all action action action? I realized while listening to Cherie talk and crack jokes that she is okay with that. She wants to have fun. She likes throwing outrageous ideas together just because she can. More power to her. But I am moving on.
Profile Image for Allison.
548 reviews566 followers
March 10, 2017
Boneshaker is very different from other Steampunk books that I've read (and enjoyed). I think it's considered Steampunk because there are airships (not enough, though!) and a few machines that could be considered in the historical Sci Fi realm. Other than that, it does not have any of the characteristics that I look forward to in Steampunk. No adventure. No cool gadgets or scientific experiments (the breathing masks just don't count).

And there's far too much grit and gore. I've never really been interested in zombies. They make a boring enemy, in my mind. This book only confirmed that. Far too much of it is spent running from 'rotters' or shooting them. When I realized it was a zombie book, I knew I was in for a challenge.

This is an apocalyptic dystopia set in the past with some barely recognizable Steampunk elements. It's the bleakest dystopia I've read so far, one where people can't even breathe the air. Most of the time not spent running from rotters is spent trying to breathe through masks that filter out the yellow sludge that turns people into rotters. Let's just say this is not a pleasant place to be. And let's say that unpleasant things happen when people are unable to take their masks off for any reason. Too much time is spent on every little detail of how hard it is to get by there, on details I'd really like to get out of my head somehow.

I could have used more focus on the people and their interactions, because that's when it started to get more interesting (in the last quarter of the book).

I'm actually not sure why I'm giving this a second star. Maybe because I managed to finish it and was actually ok with the ending? Or maybe I liked a couple of the characters (not the main ones), even though I didn't get enough of them. But I really didn't enjoy the experience of reading it much at all and I'm glad it's over.
Profile Image for Megan Baxter.
985 reviews658 followers
May 19, 2014
My husband gave up on this one when he got a hundred pages in, and felt nothing was happening. So I wasn't too sure what I would make of it, but in the end, I liked it a lot more than he did. I certainly never felt like nothing was happening, and the core mother-son dynamic of the book I found particularly engaging.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.

In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook
Profile Image for Joel.
553 reviews1,600 followers
January 25, 2011
I really wanted to like this one - my first real foray into steampunk, which I've always found aesthetically amusing, at least - but somehow, it just didn't do it for me.

I mean, it's bursting with cool stuff and sounds like it should be really fun to read: a brilliant mad scientist, an inventor of a clockwork horror that ravaged a city; an isolated alternate Seatlle surrounded by a giant wall that keeps in a deadly gas; said gas turns people into flesh-hungry zombies; the only way to get over said wall is via a Final Fantasy-style airship; a collection of hardscrabble survivalists like the gruff lady bartender with the mechanical arm and the giant enforcer covered head to toe in elaborate armor.

But somehow, none of this really grabbed me. I just kept reading, looking out for the next cool idea (the villain's lair is an interconnected series of train cars, buried underground!), but not getting involved in the story, which includes a fairly pedestrian mystery (who is the evil mad scientist?) and two dull leads (a mother's quest to save her son can probably be an interesting structure upon which to hang a zombie airship novel, but it would require interesting characters).

I don't quite get it. Priest is a fine writer, and the plot clips along, but I just found a lot of it tedious, and the "solution" to the central mystery really fizzles.

Plus I have no idea what I'm going to say when we discuss this in book club. It's not exactly deep in any sense of the word, just a fun (or not so fun, sadly) adventure.
Profile Image for Sarah.
729 reviews73 followers
April 13, 2017
My reaction to this book:

70% Really? But nothing has really happened!
85% This is really quite boring
87% Oh God, go away
90% Maybe I should DNF?
95% Somebody shoot me before I have to finish this
99% There's a freaking EPILOGUE?!?! I won't survive...

Well clearly I survived, but I do have to say that it takes a special book to turn steampunk and zombies into boredom. And I can't even imagine making 90% and DNFing. Until now.

Anyway, I found the story boring and predictable and I didn't like the alternating mother/son chapters. I've been looking forward to this one for a long time, too. You just never know.
Profile Image for Maja (The Nocturnal Library).
1,013 reviews1,881 followers
November 29, 2012
Is there anything a mother wouldn’t do to save her son? Even if they are mostly estranged and angry at each other? Would she willingly walk into a place where the air is poisonous and hundreds of zombies roam about?

Of course she would. I would, too.

That’s the choice Briar is forced to make, and it really isn’t a choice at all. Sixteen years ago, Seattle was destroyed by one of her late husband’s inventions, and she became an outcast, a poor, single mother with no one to rely on. From that point on, Briar and her son were lucky when they could cross the street without someone spitting on them for something neither of them played any part in.
Briar’s son Zeke is only sixteen and he’s desperate to clear his father’s name, not knowing that his father really is guilty of turning Seattle into a poisonous prison. And there is no doubt in Briar’s mind, her late husband poisoned the air, flattened the city and created rotters, the zombies. But every boy wants his father to be perfect, so Zeke runs away from home to go to Seattle and prove his father’s innocence.

As much as I enjoyed the (too few) steampunk elements in Boneshaker, what I found most intriguing was the complexity of Briar’s relationship with her teenage son Zeke. I normally dislike situations that stem from lack of communication between characters, but in Boneshaker, their reasons for not sharing secrets with each other were so painful and real that I couldn’t blame Cherie Priest for deciding to write it exactly like that. It is what made these characters truly alive, as if they didn’t exist until they were around each other or thinking about each other. Despite the alternate history setting and all those fantastic inventions, despite the zombies and everything else that was exciting, Briar and Zeke were what really kept me on the edge of my seat. When it comes to character bulding, Cherie Priest is the best psychologist I’ve come across since Ann Aguirre, which is saying something, my friends.

But it appears that everything good comes at a price, and excellent characterization was very pricey indeed. In terms of steampunk, Boneshaker leaves a lot to be desired. I realize I’m very nitpicky when it comes to this sub-genre, but if authors won’t use the endless possibilities it provides, I see no point in writing it at all. The steampunk bits did not blow me away like they did in Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, and I expected more from Priest language-wise, to be honest. Still, keep in mind that Boneshaker won the 2010 Locus Award for Science-Fiction, so this is probably just me being unreasonable and difficult. I get like that sometimes, just ask my siblings. :)

Although Boneshaker didn’t leave me completely satisfied, I am intrigued and eager to read the next book in this series.

Profile Image for Jason Pettus.
Author 12 books1,268 followers
November 16, 2009
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com:]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.)

Ah, steampunk! The very definition of a literary subgenre, steampunk tales fit not only within the general category of science-fiction (in that the storylines usually hinge on technology that has not yet been invented), but then bury this uninvented technology within a past that never was, usually the Victorian Age to be specific, imagining various scientific breakthroughs that never actually happened and then imagining what life would've been like if those breakthroughs had been real (for example, the idea of computers actually being invented in the 1860s instead of 1960s, the concept behind one of the first steampunk novels to really define the genre, 1990's The Difference Engine by famed "cyberpunk" authors William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, resulting in a room-sized monstrosity covered in gleaming brass and powered by steam, thus explaining the origins of the term itself). And thus just like serial-killer crime thrillers or Georgian romance tales, so too does steampunk have a very specific audience in mind, and so too does its success mostly depend on its ability to offer up a series of specifically fetishized details that its small, fiercely loyal audience is specifically looking for.

And thus do we come to Cherie Priest's mindblowing new Boneshaker, which as industry fans know has been causing quite a stir over the last few months, seemingly coming out of nowhere to make both Publishers Weekly and Amazon's "Best of 2009" lists, and with such genre veterans as Warren Ellis and Cory Doctorow tripping over their own feet in their attempt to gush more and more about how marvelous it is. And there's a very good reason for this; because this novel is perfect, or at least "perfect" as it's defined within the narrow confines of what makes a genre project truly great. And in fact, this book is so great that I thought I would use my write-up of it today as an excuse to rather wonkily go through step by step and explain where exactly Priest gets things so right; that's how good it is, that it's not just entertaining but can serve as a useful tutorial as well to fellow genre authors who are facing problems with their own projects.

So let's start with what's the most obvious strength of Boneshaker, and what's been getting it so much attention in such a short period -- it's a book with not only a fascinating grand hook behind its plot, but filled with enough fascinating incidental details as well to easily propel a 400-page manuscript. And this of course is where so many genre authors get things wrong, as seen again just last week for example in my review of Peter Crowther's "Forever Twilight" series -- that in their zeal to come up with a great concept to propel their book in general, they forget that an entire three-act storyline needs to be constructed out of that great concept too, leading to stories that often have huge gaping holes in their middles, giant hundred-page sections where literally nothing happens, as the characters essentially sit around having frivolous conversations as they wait for the next lever in that storyline's Grand Concept to kick into gear.

So in Priest's case, she starts with a doozy of a concept, which like I said is basically step one in writing a great genre novel -- she imagines an alternative-history late-1800s, in which the Russians have hired an American mad scientist named Leviticus Blue to construct a giant drilling machine he calls the "Boneshaker," so that they can go prospecting under the ice in Alaska and jump-start the Klondike Gold Rush a good half-century before it happened in real life. But something goes terribly wrong in the Seattle basement where Blue is constructing the machine (an accident? sabotage? the mystery behind the incident is yet another part of the complex storyline), creating a giant sinkhole that essentially collapses the entire downtown district; and that's where the real trouble starts, in that the subterranean rift ends up releasing a poisonous underground gas, which just happens to turn anyone who comes into contact with it into a flesh-eating zombie. And since Washington is still a territory instead of a state, the US government wants nothing to do with this accident's complicated and expensive clean-up; and so as a sloppy stop-gap measure, the residents of Seattle basically build a giant 200-foot wall around downtown, turning the entire district into a yellow-haze-filled wasteland of wrecked Victorian parlors and the rotting undead, along with a small community of gas-mask-wielding smugglers, criminals and other libertarians, who have carved out a hardscrabble existence for themselves through an ingenious series of underground tunnels and basement living spaces, filled with clean air from impossibly long tubes snaking over the walls and industrial-strength bellows run by sweaty Chinese laborers.

Yeah, an astonishing concept, like I said, but then Priest backs this up with a whole series of smaller developments, all of them related to the main Grand Concept but pedestrian enough to fuel the page-to-page action that keeps the manuscript moving forward: a gang war within this underground community; a diluted version of this poisonous fog called "yellow sap" that those on the outside use as a recreational drug, basically Priest's version of opium; the owners of the weaponized zeppelins who transport this yellow sap in and out of the contaminated zone; the steel-helmeted Hessian criminal warlord who may or may not be the surviving, horribly disfigured Dr. Blue. And that leads us to the second big thing that Priest gets right in Boneshaker, which is that all the truly great genre novels in history are ones filled with startlingly unique visions; and here Priest is just overflowing with such visions, delivering mental image after mental image that most of us never even thought possible until she came up with them, deftly combining steampunk with a post-apocalyptic zombie tale, a first-person-shooter videogame, and the John Carpenter classics Escape From New York and Big Trouble in Little China (which let's not forget, was originally meant to be a steampunk tale itself, until the producers fired the first screenwriters and updated the story from the 1880s to 1980s). After all, this is the particular fetishistic detail that fuels both steampunk and science-fiction in general, the delivering of stunning visions of technology that never was; and here Priest does a superlative job, not only with the grand scheme of things but all the way down to its gritty details.

And that leads us to the third big thing Priest gets right here; that like so many of the best genre projects in history, she comes up with a grand mythology that informs the entire book and more, while still not getting lost in telling this one specific story. Because for those who don't know, Boneshaker is actually only the first volume of a coming trilogy Priest calls the "Clockwork Century," a sweeping look at an entire alternative 1800s, one in which the Civil War has turned into a twenty-year Vietnam-like bloody stalemate, and where the Republic of Texas discovers oil a good 50 years before they do in real life, funding a this-time successful revolution which leads to them now being their own sovereign nation. All of these things inform this first novel of the trilogy, and especially when it comes to the dueling airships which make up an entire beguiling subplot on their own (one of the many things that has led to the Civil War lasting so long in the first place, the invention of a modern-style Air Force out of armored balloons, a technology that is perfected much more quickly by the Confederacy); yet Priest doesn't allow this mythology to spin out of control either, but rather doles it out in these delicious little scoops, making you constantly wanting a little more just like the best genre projects do.

And that leads us to the fourth thing Priest does right with Boneshaker, the crucial yet subtle element that eludes so many mediocre genre projects that could've been great; she takes the time and attention to populate this fantastical environment with very real-feeling, highly complex characters, thus corralling this insane plotline and grand mythology and bringing it down to a human level that we can intimately relate to. For example, the entire story itself is told through the eyes of Dr. Blue's widow, the proud yet frazzled single mother Briar Wilkes, who only gets involved in this mess in the first place in an attempt to rescue her smart yet naive teenage son Zeke, who one day sneaks into the contaminated zone in an attempt to gather proof that the father he never knew was in fact not guilty of deliberately causing the sinkhole for material gain, as the 15-year-old popular rumor that has ruined his reputation has it. This essentially boils the entire book down into a family drama, which is nice enough on its own; but now add all the morally dubious yet sympathetic people the two meet along their separate journeys, from the massive yet kindhearted airship captain Jeremiah to the mechanical-armed tough-talking saloon owner Lucy, not to mention the dozens of fully realized incidental characters along the way.

Add all of these things together, and you get what you see here in Boneshaker, a book that literally could not be written better than it currently is, which is why today it receives a perfect score of 10 among those who are already genre fans; but of course, keep in mind that this definitely is a genre project when all is said and done, which is why its general score is a bit lower, because don't forget that in order for a book to score in the high 9s here at CCLaP, it must be able to transcend its intended audience and appeal to a large general crowd as well, which this book definitely does not. It is for sure the book to try if you've always been curious about steampunk, and want to pick the absolute best of the genre so to not waste your time; but if you simply have no interest in steampunk at all, you will be unable to see this book as anything other than ridiculously silly no matter how well it's written, a fact which should be tempered against all my glowing praise of it today. That said, I'm confident in proclaiming that it will appeal to most people out there, and of course for existing genre fans it should immediately be moved to the top of your reading queue; needless to say that it'll be making CCLaP's own "Best of 2009" list coming next month, and that I'm now eagerly awaiting the release of volume two in the series (Clementine, coming from Subterranean Press next summer, which is apparently about Civil War spies and is partly set in Chicago -- hmm!).

Out of 10: 9.0, or 10 for steampunk fans
Profile Image for Michael Fierce.
331 reviews23 followers
July 22, 2019

In an alternate history setting of Seattle, Washington, during the late 1880's America, Briar Wilkes, wife of mad inventor, Leviticus Blue, blamed for the destruction and downfall of their city several years prior, enters the dangerous, walled up, toxic gas infested inner city, by airship, to find and retrieve her runaway son, Ezekiel, who's determination to clear Leviticus Blue's name - while hoping to answer who his father is - could lead him to his death at the hands of zombies or may worse, becoming one himself.

Briar Wilkes is a strong, amazing female protagonist, which says a lot for how far this genre has come, especially when you look back on where its roots came from: the late 1800's adventure fiction of Jules Verne and the beginnings of the horror zombie films of George Romero.

A lot of this book, however, centers on Ezekiel. An intelligent boy and a fine, mostly charming character in his own right. But, his character may need to ripen a bit more before he's quite like his mom.

I feel that if the book had kept the spotlight and focus more on Briar Wilkes, and a little less on her son, Zeke, it would've easily merited a full 5 stars for me.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Briar Wilkes ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Still. No doubt whatsoever I want to read the entire series. I thought it very engaging and was thoroughly interested in the gas-choked, beautiful, dusty world. Full of memorable, perfectly realized characters and sequences, with lots of eye-catching imagery, including, airships and air balloons, goggles, robotic contraptions, and... hordes of scary comin' straight atchoo zombies!


Optioned for a movie, fingers crossed it'll be pushed through to completion and be as closely impressive and representative to the book as possible.

Anyone that didn't like this book should GO SMOKE A BIG FAT ONE, chiznilla for a minute, re-read it, chiznill some more, and lemme know how that worked out for ya.

Peace out mofo's!
Profile Image for Jeffrey Caston.
Author 8 books130 followers
January 12, 2022
Boneshaker is going to appeal to a broad base of steampunk and fantasy fans. I liked it, but didn't love it.

Set in a steampunk alternate history in the early days of the American Civil War, the story moves quickly to a huge disaster called the "Boneshaker" tunneling machine that transforms the up and coming city of Seattle into a toxic disaster zone called the Blight. Gases escape from the earth, killing some, making zombies of others. No help comes because at this point Washington is only a territory, not a state.

The two main characters are Briar, and her 15 year old boy Ezekiel. They are the spouse and son of the Boneshaker machine that caused the disaster. They get out of the city, which is then walled up to try to contain the Blight. For those who didn't make it out or decided to stay, well, kinda sucks to be them.

Anyway, this is a different take on the unfolding of the American Civil War. It has a post-apocalyptic feel mixed into the steampunk elements. It's got some very colorful characters. It's got lots of action and adventure that moves along. The setting I love, reinterpreting Seattle as wasteland populated by flesh eating zombies and hard-cases. The narration in the audiobook makes the language come alive. it has interesting plot twists.

So here's why this ended up only 3 stars for me. At first I was totally loving the story and the writing. At first...

Then there was a narrative technique that I really didn't care for. And then it came up again. And again. And again. And then slightly different, but again. The writing of it has a lot of conjunction sentences that I felt made it awkward and clunky. For example, Brian (I think it was her) puts on some protective goggles. It reads, "[i]t fit, but not very well." Then Ezekiel at another point is trying to escape some baddies with an ally born of convenience and then the ally, who has an injury is related as saying "[b]um hip or no, he could run, but he couldn't run quietly." Okay. So basically the goggles didn't fit her well, right? So why not just say that? And the dude running, okay so why doesn't it show me how the ally's awkward running created noise the drew the baddies' attention. I fully realize this could just be a pet peeve and a super subjective nit-picky gripe. And I don't mind a little bit of this, but this sort of writing kind of became the predominant narrative technique and I felt it made the narrative awkward. It also creates POV problems. Either the person is perceiving an event or circumstance or they are not.

Just my opinion. I am sure there are tons of people who will like this story. And at the end of the day, this was certainly interesting enough for me to check out the next book in the series. Maybe the writing style will grow on me.
Profile Image for Rick Riordan.
Author 321 books399k followers
November 8, 2013
set in an alternate Civil War America where a horrible accident has turned Seattle into a quarantined wasteland filled with zombies. Briar, the widow of the mad scientist who caused the disaster, must enter the city to find her son, who has gone there determined to find evidence that will clear his father’s name. This is a highly original pageturner and a must-read for steampunk fans.
Profile Image for Apatt.
507 reviews766 followers
April 6, 2015
My first steampunk book... or is it? When I look at “Best steampunk books” list they tend to include H.G. Wells' The Time Machine and China Miéville's Perdido Street Station both of which I have read but I doubt Mr. Wells had steampunk in mind at the time of writing, and the excellent Perdido Street Station seems to encompass several subgenres. In any case Boneshaker is the first consciously steampunk book I ever read. According to Tor.com Cherie Priest is the Queen of Steampunk, with Boneshaker being her most popular book, and it was nominated for both the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award. A triple steampunk whammy then, seems like an excellent place to sampling this relatively new subgenre.

Unfortunately for Boneshaker it is the book I read immediately after Margaret Atwood's wonderful Oryx and Crake, a book it has virtually nothing in common with apart from the author's gender. Comparing the two books would not be "apple to apple", except that Oryx and Crake is a hard act to follow in term of the impact on this reader and just the sheer excellence of it. Having said that Boneshaker is not too shabby. I was looking for a accessible, entertaining sf/f quick-read and this book fits the bill reasonably well. However, I was expecting it to be a little more breezy and the first few chapters turn out to be rather melancholy, and our heroes are introduced in a depressing state of privation. There are two protagonists in this book, a lady called Briar and her teenage son Zeke, their relationship is somewhat tumultuous thanks to the absent father who messed up their city with his Boneshaker super drilling machine, which caused buildings to collapse, several deaths, and worse of all release a noxious gas from underground which turn people into zombies (of the fast moving variety).

The book is fairly welled paced though there is a chapter of Zeke having a long drawn out angst ridden scene with his mom which taxed my patience a bit. Once the adventure gets going however, the book chugs along nicely to the very end. The world building is very nicely done throughout, from the very first chapter which establishes the world vividly and the "poisoned city" and the underground part of the book is are skilfully created. Ms. Priest herself is quite the prose stylist, she often comes up with clever turns of phrase and lyrical descriptions. Her dialogues sometime sparkle and suitably formal or flowery for the 19th century setting. I would say the writing is somewhat above average for sf/f, certainly for a steampunk/zombie mashup.

There are a couple of weaknesses in the book however. The character Zeke is your typical wilful independent rebellious teen archetype. I do not find him very prepossessing, he is a little short on personality, his motivation is not entirely convincing, he seems to be there to drive the plot and appeal to teen readers. Fortunately his mother Briar is a more interesting protagonist who goes on her own separate adventure to find Zeke after he went off on his own into the walled zombie filled city to do his not very convincing motivation thing. Her character is much more successfully developed and she is quite believable, strong, smart and likable, I wonder if this has anything to do with the author's gender and identification with her character? Secondly the plot seems to meander a little, especially when the narrative is switched to Zeke's point of view. I find myself not so invested in Zeke's plight and wish the damn zombies would just make a happy meal out of him. The supporting adult characters are quiet nicely developed also, my favorite being Lucy with her steam driven mechanical arm.

In fact the steampunk aspect of the book may be its best feature, I enjoy the descriptions of weird steam driven machines with oil leaking all over the place. The scientific details are never gone into but the alternative technology is still more believable than the magic found in most fantasy novels.

The book ends satisfactorily though I could have done without the superfluous epilogue. I am not sure whether I will read the other volumes in this Clockwork Century series, but I am likely to read more of Cherie Priest's novels. The lady has skillz.

(3.75 stars or something like that!)
Profile Image for Mir.
4,842 reviews5,003 followers
March 4, 2018
The Boneshaker of the title is a mining device that figures largely in the background, but not the events, of this story. Invented to access gold beneath the ice, the Boneshaker instead destroyed a part of Seattle and released an unknown gas that transformed those who fell victim to it into zombie-like Rotters. The ravaged area and the victims were enclosed in walls to keep the blight from spreading.

Sixteen years after this disaster the inventor's teenage son Zeke ventures into the ruined area looking for evidence to exonerate his father. When his mother Briar realizes that he is in danger she goes after him, facing zombies, drug-dealers, mad scientists and other dangers to save her son. The two encounter an array of colorful characters and must sort lies from truth to find one another again.

Briar and Zeke were both believable and sympathetic characters, and the people setting, and larger world-building were interesting and imaginative. I could see more adventures occurring in this alternate history. The one serious weakness that kept grating on me as I read was that the author never convincingly explains why so many people continue to live in the blighted area where they face constant deprivation and danger. In most similar novels this issue is handled in one of two ways: 1) There has been a fairly universal apocalypse and there is nowhere better to go. 2) Some outside force (the government, alien forcefields, etc) has created a barrier and keeps the people trapped inside it (because they are mutants, or exposed to a disease, or as a punishment). In this case it is relatively easy to get in and out of the city, and we are told that quite a few people come and go, usually to obtain drugs. So why doesn't everyone else leave?
Profile Image for Shannon .
1,221 reviews2,133 followers
October 30, 2010
Seattle, 1879. Fifteen years ago a clever and talented inventor created a machine dubbed the Boneshaker, designed to mine for gold in the Yukon. Instead, he tunnelled under the city right into the banking district, causing whole sections of the city to cave in. After looting the banks he drove the machine back through the tunnels and into the basement of his fancy home, and was never seen again, leaving his pregnant wife with the stigma of Leviticus Blue's escapade.

Not only did the boneshaker destroy parts of the city, but from the underground tunnel came a gas, a gas that killed people or turned them into the walking dead, driven to attack and consume the living. In an effort to stop the gas from spreading further inland, the city built a giant wall around the contamination site, while the survivors stayed on in the outlying suburbs.

Now fifteen, the son of Leviticus and Briar Blue (now using her maiden name, Wilkes), Zeke, wants to turn his father into a hero instead of a widely-hated mad scientist. Zeke makes his way into the walled city, determined to find his parents' old house on the hill and discover something that will redeem Levi Blue in the eyes and minds of the population of Seattle. When she learns what he has done, Briar - a hardened, taciturn woman who slaves away at the water mains and endures endless "blue" taunts - follows him in, determined to rescue him. But finding Zeke in a city of zombies and other perils isn't easy, and when she encounters the folks who live in sealed tunnels under the city she learns of the mysterious inventor, Dr Minnericht, whose clever inventions have helped the people survive, even though they all think he's really Levi Blue, returned to the city he helped destroy.

This book came highly recommended by friends, and I want to say that I hope my review doesn't put you off reading it if you were so inclined before, but the sad truth is that I didn't really enjoy this book. I can't recommend it, but neither will I not recommend it. If that makes sense.

I love the premise. Colonial city beset by noxious gas, zombies and zeppelins. Sort of. Priest apparently took liberties with the city and with American history - I wouldn't have noticed if she hadn't pointed it out, somewhat defensively, in her Note at the back, and I don't care that she did - and added to the historical period a more inventive mechanical technology and nifty airships. The steampunk aspect is grimy, dirty, sooty, fiddly, weird and wonderful - all the things you would want from steampunk.

Then there's the horror blend - the zombies. They make the old city into a danger zone, a place of risk and death that the gas alone can't manage so spectacularly. The zombies are more visible, and definitely more audible. The trouble is, zombies have always bored me. I don't even find them very scary. They're mindless, and have only one goal; therefore they are predictable, and it's unpredictability that makes a character truly terrifying. Sure, one scratch and you lose your mind and become a walking corpse bent on eating human flesh, but that just somehow doesn't give me chills. I'm not saying I wouldn't be terrified if chased down a street by zombies, but I used to get scared in any game that involved being chased. Zombies just aren't clever. They might be hard to kill, but they're not hard to outsmart.

That's not what I had trouble with in this book, though. The trouble - or part of it - is Priest's writing style. There's nothing wrong with it, per se, she doesn't have bad grammar or use awkward sentences. It's more that it's the kind of style I expect - and get - when I read paranormal romance and even some fantasy - a simplistic style that wears on me and makes my eyes glaze over. It's not what I want when reading science fiction or speculative fiction. It was disappointing. Simplistic. The characters fell flat for me, their dialogue bored me (and there's lots of dialogue). Zeke was a realistically annoying and petulant fifteen year old who did mature somewhat by the end of the book; it still made me tired of hearing him whine and always try to have the last word - and really, how stupid is he to go off into the blighted walled city in the first place? Briar should have been the ideal protagonist, being a tough woman in a hard world who's come a long way from the pretty, young trophy wife of Leviticus Blue. But she has no personality.

The bond between mother and son was a brittle, thin thing, but it was realistic for the characters and their history and the adventure of the novel definitely made them closer. Briar thawed too, but I still found her empty. Both Briar and Zeke take turns offering perspective in their individual chapters, and both have the kind of inner introspective, wondering voices that bugs me in pulp fiction. The characters of Briar and Zeke are just so self-indulgent and into analysing every little thing, that I struggled to keep reading.

First of all, [Zeke] had little patience for being told what to do by anyone, much less a stranger who appeared to be inebriated and looking to become further inebriated at the nearest opportunity. Second, he had deep-seated doubts as to why this man who'd initially greeted him with threats of bodily harm might be moved to help. Zeke didn't trust Rudy, and he didn't believe much of what Rudy had told him.

And furthermore, he didn't like him. (p.94)

(Ah, the ubiquitous, standalone climactic sentence. When overused, as the trend is in genre fiction these days, it quickly becomes aggravating and one of my big pet peeves.)

Someone behind Briar gave her back a friendly pat. It startled her, but there was nothing salacious about the gesture so she didn't flinch away from it. Besides, this was more friendly human contact than she'd had in years, and the pleasantness of it smoothed the keen, guilty edge of her sorrow. (p.190)

See what I mean? There's nothing actually wrong with the writing (except for the too-free use of climactic standalone sentences); it just is too much like the mindless, formulaic writing that pervades genre fiction and makes me more and more jaded. I've become quite snobby about this because of some truly terrible books that I've read, and any similarity just makes my lip curl.

Then there's the plot, and the narrative. It's slow, and painstaking. A single scene can take pages while the protagonist overthinks everything, and everyone's every arm movement and eyebrow twitch are noted. I love detail in books and generally prefer it to books with not enough detail (though the writing style plays a big part - sometimes less is definitely more) - but somehow the detail here was not the kind that engages me. I can't tell if it's the details themselves or the way they're shared. Many of the descriptions I had a hard time following, and picturing: the words used or the way things were described, I'm not sure but either way I was often confused. There were some details that weren't explained - or they were but I didn't notice. Like, where does the inner city get the coal that they need to keep the furnaces going constantly? As far as the rest of the city goes, no one knows that anyone still lives inside the wall. And why? Why are the "Chinamen" there, and why do they take the responsibility of keeping the bellows going? Why did Rudy kill one of them? Did anyone else notice that Briar and Zeke go for what amounts to two or three days without eating or drinking anything beyond a bit of water and a fig (or was it a date?)? Or sleeping? Or toilet breaks for that matter? These questions are some of the ones that bothered me, and the map didn't actually helped because it seemed like the characters were going all over the place for no real reason.

On the other, more positive hand, the Seattle of Boneshaker is pretty fleshed out, solid and tangible (the walled-off part, anyway). The writing is clear, clean, and the plot is headed is a firm direction, even if it does take forever to get there. The truth of Leviticus Blue is a tad predictable, but Minnericht was the scariest thing about the story. The typeface is a lovely dirty brown colour on off-white paper that ties in perfectly, and there are some really nice details. I liked some of the minor characters better than the two main protagonists. And it was refreshing reading a steampunk novel not set in Victorian London.

By the end, though, I was just relieved to have finished it. The sequels are already out, Clementine and Dreadnought, but I'm not planning on reading it. The characters, the city, the problem of the gas and the zombies, just didn't engage me enough to care about them and want to hear how the larger story is resolved. I'm probably the only person who didn't love this book, and no doubt my complaints don't make sense or seem ludicrous; the truth is, I haven't been looking forward to writing this review and it's been weeks since I finished it, but this is what stands out for me. It might be more enjoyable for people who haven't read a lot of pulp fiction, or those who love that style.
Profile Image for Dav.
250 reviews20 followers
July 17, 2010
I almost stopped reading this book 20 pages in when I realized there was going to be zombies. It was bad enough that it was a steam punk novel, but OMG zombies? Um, the Bandwagon came by, and it wants its memes back. Steam punk (which is "what happens when goths discover brown") has been strangely annoying to me since it exploded a couple of years ago. Strange because I should be into it as I do dig the aesthetic, but I just can't enjoy it because it turned into such a mindless hipster thing so quickly. But zombies? Give me a break. That was something that was over before it started. There was exactly one zombie meme that didn't suck, and it was the first one I heard of, when zombies attacked SCA practitioners at some park in Montreal like 7 years ago.

But enough about me and me being a curmudgeonly hater. This book didn't totally suck. If I were a teenage boy still, I think I would have dug it. I couldn't help feeling the entire time it would have made an awesome graphic novel. But it is not an awesome book. I don't read a lot of fiction these days, and when I do it tends to be things from literary greats like DeLillo, Pynchon, Eggers, Moore, etc. The author of Boneshaker was spinning a decent yarn, but without any sign of literary skill. I was constantly thinking in the back of my mind I should just stop reading it, but finally pulled the plug this weekend when I was telling some friends about it and just could not make any justification for why I should keep reading it.

Avoid unless you're a teenagr, or really into steampunk and zombies.
Profile Image for Cathy.
1,597 reviews238 followers
August 26, 2017
Well, I like the world building. The walled city with the rotters, the airships, the guys flying them... and I have a beautiful paperback, large size, great cover, with maroon coloured lettering.

But the execution of the story was just not very interesting. I did not enjoy the writing, the story lacked tension for me.

I skimmed a lot, to see where the plot takes me. And I liked the ending and the resolution of how it all came to pass, who did what and who was to blame. I liked some of the characters, for example Cly. But mostly they stayed flat and not very likeable.

I am glad I made it to the end. It is very unlikely I will pick up the next book in this series.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,149 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.