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.
Winner of the Locus Award in 2010 for Best Science Fiction Novel, Boneshaker and the rest of the Clockwork Century books are a series I’ve wanted to read for some time now. With it just being published in the UK by Tor at long last, I jumped at the chance to review it! After all, you can’t really go wrong with steampunk and zombies, can you?
For the first 100 pages or so, I absolutely loved this book. I was completely sucked into this world Priest had created; one absolutely decimated by a machine called the Boneshaker which unearthed a deadly gas across Seattle. After a giant wall was built to contain the gas, the people are now left living on the outskirts, including Ezekiel and his mother Briar; the son and wife of the man who created the Boneshaker. But Ezekiel is on a mission to prove his innocence and he begins an adventure inside the walled town to find their old house where the machine was made in the first place. I have to admit, Ezekiel quickly became a bit of an annoying and slightly tame character who I slowly lost patience with. The best character for me was without a doubt his mother, Briar, who goes on a hunt to find him and bring him home. The book is split into alternating chapters between the two characters, and although it’s obviously a good tactic to keep up with both characters on their separate journeys, sometimes it felt a little too repetitive, and you never really get enough time to get hooked into either with the constant going back and forth.
As I read on, I began to feel that Priest had created a fantastic world here, with some really great characters; particularly those who Briar meets along the way, and she has designed all the tropes here for a really great adventure story. The sad fact is, it somehow lacks the adventure part. For most of the novel you’re either following Ezekiel through the underground passages with the constant worry that he will run out of air with his mask on, and be forced to breathe in the deadly gas, and then watch him as he runs from one pack of zombies to the next, or you’re following Briar doing pretty much the exact same thing. There wasn’t enough going on to make it a really great read for my liking, and I began to wonder exactly why it was nominated for so many awards.
So to sum up, I found Boneshaker to be a good read, but not a great one. I expected much more from a Locus Award Winner, and with such an exciting premise I expected a lot more adventure! However, I did enjoy the world Priest created and I will be reading the second in the Clockwork Century series, but I have to say this is only because I know it follows a completely different set of characters. If it was continuing with Ezekiel and Briar, I probably wouldn’t continue with it. I really do have high hopes for the second novel, and I only hope Priest delivers as much as she promises.
Boneshaker is out now, published by Tor, and a big thank you goes to the publisher for sending me a copy for review.