Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
Ezekiel Blue’s father committed a crime, unleashing a deadly menace into steampowered Seattle. And his bereaved family has paid the price. Now, Ezekiel is determined to clear his father’s name, risking death and the undead in the attempt. Sixteen years ago, as the American Civil War dawned, gold brought hordes to the frozen Klondike. Fanatical in their greed, Russian prospectors commissioned Dr Leviticus Blue to create a great machine, to mine through Alaska’s ice. Thus the Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine was born. But the Boneshaker went awry, destroying downtown Seattle and unearthing a subterranean vein of blight gas. Anyone who breathed its fumes turning into the living dead. The devastated city is now walled in to contain the blight. But unknown to Briar, his widowed mother, Ezekiel is going in. His quest will take him into a city teeming with ravenous undead, air pirates, criminal overlords, and heavily armed refugees. And only Briar can bring him out alive
If I’m being one hundred percent honest, I have to hold up my hands and say initially, I found Boneshaker by Cherie Priest a difficult book to read. Now before all you Priest fans form a steam-powered lynch mob and head toward my house with burning torches, let me take a moment to explain and hopefully this will calm your anger.
This situation doesn’t happen often, in fact I can remember exactly the last time this issue did occur. When I started reading Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh, I often had to read pages four or five times before I understood what was going on. (That admission is made all the more embarrassing by the fact I’m Scottish, but I digress.)
I stress that the fault is most definitely with the reader, in both cases, not the writer. Like Welsh, Priest has written something that delivers on many levels but in order to get the most from the story, the reader must allow the novel to command their full attention.
Once I had the opportunity to sit down and properly concentrate on the novel, I was blown away by how gripping it was. Over the last couple of years I have read a fair amount of ‘steampunk’ and I enjoy the genre, it always seems to offer endless possibilities. Boneshaker is a fantastic example and very effectively captures the pioneering spirit of America in the 19th century. I have to admit I was also pleased that there were zombies or in this case rotters thrown into the mix as well.
Set fifteen years after a man-made disaster, Seattle has become a no go area surrounded by a huge wall. The city has suffered at the hands of the Boneshaker, a huge drill that destroyed buildings and released a toxic Blight upon the unsuspecting citizenry. This deadly gas kills and then re-animates those that suffer prolonged exposure. Eeking out a meagre living, widow Briar Wilkies and her son Zeke live just outside the city in an area that has come to be known as The Outskirts. Both are ostracised by the community, as many hold Brair’s husband, Leviticus Blue – the man who built the Boneshaker – responsible for the calamity that has befallen them. Zeke is driven by the need to find out the truth about his father, and the events that occurred before his birth.
I liked the way the narrative splits between the two characters when Zeke heads into the city looking for answers and Briar follows. He travels under the wall while his mother travels above. This gives the author the opportunity to establish the details of the different communities that exist in and around Seattle. Both meet many colourful characters and there are lot of twists and turns on the way to the novels conclusion.
This era of American history lends itself well to the steampunk genre, and the author’s descriptions of people and places are very vivid. Though initially, I had some difficulty with the novel, I persevered and I’m glad that I did as the story was ultimately rewarding.