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Monday, September 21, 2009

“Boneshaker” by Cherie Priest (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Official Cherie Priest Website
Official The Clockwork Century Website
Order “BoneshakerHERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Cherie Priest is the author of six novels including the Blooker Award-winning “Four and Twenty Blackbirds”, “Fathom”, “Wings to the Kingdom”, and the Endeavour Award-nominated “Not Flesh Nor Feathers”. She is also the author of the novellas “Dreadful Skin” and “Those Who Went Remain There Still” published by Subterranean Press, as well as numerous short stories and nonfiction articles that have appeared in Weird Tales, Publishers Weekly, and the Stoker-nominated anthology Aegri Somnia from Apex Book Company. Forthcoming releases include “Dreadnought” (Tor), “Clementine” (Subterranean Press), and the urban fantasy novels “Bloodshot” and “Hellbent” (Bantam).

PLOT SUMMARY: 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 gas—dubbed the Blight—that turned anyone who breathed it into the living dead.

Sixteen years later, a massive wall has been built to enclose the devastated and toxic city. Just beyond it in what is known as the Outskirts, 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.

Zeke’s 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...

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 twenty-eight numbered chapters, an Epilogue, and an excerpt from Unlikely Episodes in Western History which serves as the prologue. 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, Dreadnought) scheduled for release in 2010. Much more information about the books and setting can be found HERE including the free short story “Tanglefoot”.

September 29, 2009 marks the North American Trade Paperback publication of “Boneshaker” via Tor. The gorgeous cover art is provided by Jon Foster.

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 who found a way to live in the unlivable city. It is into 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 enters the city hoping to discover evidence proving 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) including 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?”.

Negatively, I didn’t really have any major issues with the book. I thought Zeke was a bit annoying at times and felt the characterization could have been a little bit deeper with a few of the secondary players, 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 :)


cherie_priest said...

Wow - thank you so much! I'm really, really glad you like it -- and I totally appreciate that you took the time to say so.

Thanks again!
You guys are *awesome.*

Mihai A. said...

This is one of the books I am looking forward to read since I found out about it. And your great review proved me that I should go for it :)

Robert said...

"Boneshaker" was a pleasure to read and review, so you're more than welcome Cherie :) I hope the book is very successful for you!

Anonymous said...

Wow. My To Be Read pile is long enough that I don't usually just add to it on a whim, but this review has me so curious that now I have to!

I must admit, I'm mostly intrigued by the thought of a noxious fume that can turn people into zombies. On the surface it seems a little cartoonish or cliche that one breath can morph you into a different sort of creature, but I'm guessing from the review that this is not the case. Yet another reason to read the book and find out.

Rachel Heston Davis
Up and Writing

bascule said...

Sounds perfect.

Went straight to Amazon and ordered a copy, can't wait.

Harry Markov said...

I was introduced to Priest through "Four and Twenty Blackbirds", which was amazing and I believe that this will be even better. :)

ediFanoB said...

Great review! Even I didn't need to be convinced to buy the book. I sent my pre-order in July 2009! I can't wait to receive my copy.

Robert said...

I'm glad you liked the review Mihai :)

Rachel, the book doesn't really explore the Blight indepth. I mean their are speculations about where the gas came from and why it affects people so, but Cherie never gives us a definitive answer about it, which was fine to me. In this regard, it's similar to a lot of zombie fiction that doesn't explain why people are turning into zombies, but the aftereffects...

Bascule, I hope you enjoy the book!

Harry, Cherie's other books sound interesting, and I'll definitely be checking them out sooner than later :)

vvb32 reads said...

whoa! this sounds super cool! i'm gonna have to get myself a copy.

Anonymous said...

I was already excited about this book, but now I'm even more twitchy-impatient for my copy to arrive. Thanks for the review!

Michael Erle said...

I generally liked the book, but I couldn't shake the feeling that the "Chinamen" were portrayed a bit un-PC. Through the eyes of Zeke or Briar that's understandable, but the author's?


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