Boneshaker

By Cherie Priest

Place: Publisher & Year: New York: Tor, 2009

Genres: Fantasy, steampunk, horror, science fiction, adventure

ISBN: 9780765318411

Intended audience: Adult

Number of pages: 416

Setting: Seattle, WA

Time period: 1880

Plot summary: In an alternate history, the Klondike gold rush began a few decades earlier and brought huge numbers of people to Seattle.  Commissioned by the Russians, Leviticus Blue built a giant drill capable of penetrating the thick Klondike ice to reach the gold below.  However, when Levi takes his Incredible Bone Shaking Drill Engine for a test run in Seattle, it has dire consequences.  Not only does the Boneshaker cause massive structural damage to the city of Seattle, it also releases a poisonous gas, later named The Blight, which causes people who breathe it to turn into zombies, or rotters.

Sixteen years later, Levi’s widow, Briar Wilkes lives in the Outskirts of Seattle, which is now surrounded by a thick, massive wall to keep both the Blight and rotters inside.  When Briar’s teenage son, Zeke, decides that he wants to try and clear his father’s name for the history records, he ventures inside the walled city.  When Briar discovers where her missing son went, she also ventures inside the wall to try and find her son.

Appeal factors:

Pacing: The story begins at a moderate pace as the back story is told and characters are introduced.  After the first hundred pages or so the pace picks up considerably and gains momentum; the last half of the book maintains a relentless pace.

Characterization: The story is told in third person with alternating viewpoints between Briar and Zeke (although most of the story is told from Briar’s perspective).  Many interesting characters still live inside the walled city.

Frame: Hard life and tough love are the frames for this story.  Briar and Zeke both live very difficult lives in the Outskirts, but share a bond of love.  It is this bond which helps both characters navigate throughout the perilous city.

Story line: A fun, action packed story filled with airships and pirates, mercenaries and rebels, zombies, a mad scientist, underground tunnels, and steam based technology.

Subject headings:

From PCPL:

Mothers and sons — Fiction.

Zombies — Fiction.

Northwest, Pacific — Fiction.

Alternative histories (Fiction)

Horror fiction.

Similar authors:

Perdido Street Station by China Mieville

Soulless by Gail Carriger

The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt (Jackelian series)

The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling

The Time Ships by Stephen Baxter

Personal notes: I really enjoyed this book.  I first read about it through the Tor newsletter and Cherie Priest’s blog posting on Tor’s website.  The first thing I noticed was it had a very cool cover.  After I read the post, I was very intrigued by the steampunk subgenre.  When I noticed this book on the new titles list at my public library, I just had to check it out.  And I’m very glad I did.

Other (themes, diversity): Diversity – single mother, one armed woman, Chinese immigrants, Native American princess, former slave

Cherie Priest’s website

Winner of 2010 Locus Award for Best Science Fiction novel.

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