Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
At its heart, Boneshaker, set in 1880, is the story of Briar Wilkes and her son, Ezekiel, estranged from society and from one another by the mysterious and fateful actions of Briar’s husband (Zeke’s father), Leviticus Blue, and Zeke’s desperate attempt to rewrite history to try and clear his father’s name (along with the threat of zombies thrown in for good measure).
As genre goes, Boneshaker falls under the growing genre of steampunk. Boneshaker was my first real experience with steampunk; it was definitely a worthwhile introduction. What makes Boneshaker unique within that genre (zombie infestation aside) is that it’s set in North America rather than the traditional Victorian setting of London, England. The zombie aspect provides an element of danger and even a touch of horror, but never pushes the horror envelope very far, lacking the overly-gratuitous descriptions of zombie carnage that might turn off slightly more sensitive readers, like me.
Ms. Priest takes nice advantage of the classic scary movie technique where moviegoers can more often hear the monster, without actually seeing it. Throughout the story, thundering hoards of zombies (“rotters”) can been heard shambling with hunting intent behind closed doors, in outer hallways, on upper floors and outside just beyond the range visibility thanks to the fog of Blight gas filling the streets of downtown Seattle.
It’s clear from reading Boneshaker that Ms. Priest has done her homework on Seattle history. However, unlike some stories where the author’s research ends up written into the story as lots of unnecessary, albeit sometimes interesting, descriptive information, Ms. Priest uses a light touch so the story flows quite naturally without giving the impression she’s trying hard to squeeze in her research so it doesn’t go to waste. Additionally, Ms. Priest has intentionally crafted her setting as an *alternate* history, taking liberties where necessary to tell the story she wants to tell the way she wants to tell it. The result is that the story’s history comes off quite believably (again, zombie infestation aside) although I’d be curious to know what Seattle area readers might have to say after reading it.
In addition to its two main characters, Briar and Ezekiel, Boneshaker hosts a number of memorable characters (both likeable and unlikeable) which further bring the story to life; although it hardly seems appropriate to refer to them as secondary both because they are complexly written and because they are so essential to the integrity of the story. By the end I found myself caring as much about what happens to each of them as I did about Briar and Zeke.
I definitely have Boneshaker on my list of books to read again.
NOTE: At the time of this review Boneshaker has been nominated for a Hugo Award.
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