CLASSIFICATION: Set in an alternate history Seattle, sometime around the year 1880, Boneshaker is a steampunk-flavored adventure that incorporates elements of zombie horror, pulp fiction and post-apocalyptic retrofuturism. Think The Wild Wild West meets Fallout (a videogame series) meets George Romero…
FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 416 pages divided over 28 numbered chapters, an Epilogue, and an excerpt from Unlikely Episodes in Western History which serves as the prologue. The book also includes a map and an Author’s Note regarding the historical and geographical liberties taken in the novel. Narration is in the third-person, alternating between Briar Wilkes and her son Ezekiel, with biographer Hale Quarter providing the bookends. Boneshaker is self-contained, but is the first volume in the CLOCKWORK CENTURY series which already has two more books (Clementine and Dreadnought) scheduled for release in 2010. Much more information about the books and setting can be found HERE, including the free short story “Tanglefoot.”
ANALYSIS: Despite owning a number of Cherie Priest’s novels including last year’s Fathom, I’ve never actually read anything by the author until now. Boneshaker immediately intrigued me because I’m a huge fan of steampunk and zombie fiction, but what really hooked me was the prologue — an excerpt from Hale Quarter’s Unlikely Episodes in Western History detailing the “Boneshaker incident.” From there, I fell in love with the concept of a walled-in Seattle full of such dangers like the deadly Blight gas, rotters (living dead), and various communities that found a way to live in the unlivable city. It is in this nightmare that the bulk of the novel takes place.
Plot-wise, Boneshaker is pretty straightforward. 15-year-old Ezekiel Wilkes has grown tired of the animosity he’s had to deal with his entire life because of the deeds committed by a father he never knew, and one day he enters the city hoping to discover evidence of his father’s innocence. Briar, Zeke’s mother, learns of this journey and enters the city as well, hoping to save her son’s life before it’s too late. Along the way, the two encounter a diverse and interesting cast of characters: Alistair Mayhem Osterude, Jeremiah Swakhammer, Miss Angeline, Lucy O’Gunning, and the mysterious Dr. Minnericht who may or may not be the infamous Leviticus Blue. The book also features tons of heart-pounding action (zombie attacks, airship battles, etc), inventive gadgets (the Waterworks, fresh air apparatuses, a mechanical arm, the Doozy Dazer, the Sonic Gusting Gun), one or two surprises, and an ending that mostly wraps up the novel’s most pressing questions, like “what really happened during the Boneshaker incident?”
I didn’t really have any major issues with the book. I thought Zeke was a bit annoying at times, and felt the characterization of some of the secondary players could have been a little bit deeper, but overall the writing was top-notch, led by accessible and skillful prose, crisp dialogue, and cinematic-like pacing. On top of that, the story was a lot of fun, the setting was creative, and I cared about the characters, especially Briar. In short, I immensely enjoyed Boneshaker and can’t wait to read more books in the CLOCKWORK CENTURY series. Cherie Priest, congratulations. You’ve just acquired a new fan.