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May 5

Boneshaker

Category: Opinions

I’ll be honest, I’ve never read any genuinely great zombie fiction. There are plenty of fun zombie movies, but books about zombies, they’re not particularly compelling. I’ve never picked up a “zombie page turner,” that is, until I picked up Boneshaker by Cherie Priest.

Boneshaker takes place in an alt-history Seattle during the 1870s gold rush. Russia puts out a call for inventors, they’re looking for a drill capable of breaking through the deepest layers of Alaskan ice in search of gold. Enter Leviticus Blue and his Boneshaker, the most powerful drill ever created, and soon enough, the most infamous drill ever created. During the Boneshaker’s first test run, something goes horribly wrong, the drill takes off, supposedly a malfunction, buildings collapse in its wake. The Boneshaker also just so happens to cruise by the Financial District, emptying every bank vault in Seattle. Blue turns up missing, possibly a thief, possibly killed by his own greed. Before an investigation can be mounted, a strange yellowish fog begins to seep from the city’s gashes. This fog is lethal upon inhalation, but after death the victim awakens, mindless, violent, and hungry for the taste of human flesh. These walking dead are dubbed, “Rotters,” and they quickly decimate the city. A massive wall is constructed around Seattle, but with the rest of America embroiled in civil-war, this raveged city is left to the Rotters trapped within.

Sixteen years later, Briar Wilkes, Blue’s widow, struggles to raise their teenage son in the world outside the wall. Briar doesn’t dare go by her married name, it isn’t particularly popular, given the wall, and the Rotters, and the death. Briar would just as soon let the past go, but her son, well, he can’t. Zeke wants to clear the family name. His mother’s silence of the past drives Zeke toward something drastic, a crazy journey under the wall in search of proof that the fall of Seattle was just an unfortunate accident. Realizing her son’s misguided plan, Briar does what any loving mother would do, she aims to find her son and bring him home.

Boneshaker falls under the genre of Steampunk, with a zombie twist. There are flying-machines, massive air filtration systems, deadly weapons, all powered by steam. None of the technology should exist, yet it’s entirely believable. The novel is truly a page turner, I absolutely couldn’t put it down. Priest’s pacing is pitch-perfect, switching perspectives between Briar and Zeke. Boneshaker often reminded me of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Inside the Seattle wall, death is always a palpable possibility. Clean air, water, food, ammunition, they’re all vital, and they’re all astonishingly scarce. I was constantly worried for Briar and Zeke, always hoping that their gas mask filters wouldn’t clog before safety could be found, always scared Briar might not have enough bullets to match with the Rotters. I just wanted to get to the next page to make sure everyone was okay. Boneshaker is fraught with a very satisfying sensation of tension and release. The tension exists not just from violence and zombies, but from the fact that Priest manages to create characters that are very real and relatable. We care about Briar and Zeke because they’re just a normal family trapped in an absolutely bizarre and dangerous situation. The book is compelling because it’s ultimately about the push and pull relationships between parent and child, mother and son. It’s about parental protection versus a child’s desire for independence, and finding balance between the two. We all can relate to that on some level.

Boneshaker is definitely a must for any Steampunk fan, but Priest’s spectacular use of story-telling and wonderful prose makes it worthwhile for a wide range of fiction readers.

7 comments

7 Comments so far

  1. Jennifer May 6th, 2010 1:38 pm

    So I have to comment. I am just some random person that started following your blog after seeing the This American Life episode that featured you. I’ve perused for the last while but I had to speak up with this review. Cherie is friend of mine, more a friend of a friend than a really close buddy, but still. I have really enjoyed her other books too and recommend them highly. I haven’t read Boneshaker yet, it’s in the to be read pile. I actually just finished ‘Those who went remain there still’ Which I really enjoyed, more of a longish novella than a novel.

    Anyhow I just wanted to recommend her other writing too and mention that I enjoyed reading your blog.

    All the best to you 🙂
    – Jennifer

  2. dani May 6th, 2010 4:49 pm

    Nice…

  3. Apes May 23rd, 2010 1:50 pm

    I just finished reading Boneshaker myself, and while i have to say i didn’t much enjoy it, I thought you might also enjoy the book I’m diving into now: Perdido Street Station by China Meiville, and i could not resist recommending it to you.

    Its gritty and dark, full of absurdity and hope and menace, populated by the monstrous and the marvelous,

    and

    the writing is jaw droppingly gorgeous.

    more about it here:
    http://www.sfsite.com/07b/ps108.htm

    pls enjoy.

    -A.

  4. Leah Anderson June 10th, 2010 1:41 pm

    I also like to make poems and read lots of books that is related to Poetry.-‘;

  5. Colin Waller June 24th, 2010 1:32 pm

    Hey, I also saw your episode on This American Life. Anyway, I recommend the “Reign of the Dead” books by Len Barnhart. I found them hard to put down…easy reads.

  6. Countessm June 28th, 2010 10:51 am

    I am picky about science fiction,but I LOVE historical fiction. Just finished a 700+ page book called ‘The Crimson Petak and The White’ about a prostitute named Sugar who becomes a mistress to a perfume magnate in the 1870’s.

    Being a clothing historian and Costume Designer, I am a fucking stickler for details, and have great respect for writers have done well in their research.

    I just put the book on my iPad as I am what I call, an ADD reader, and love to skip around a book, reading certain passages that appeal to me.

    Above all, one who reads books is damned attractive.

  7. CountessM June 28th, 2010 10:54 am

    Oh fuck, I meant ‘The Crimson Petal and the White’

    Insomnia, medication and getting accustomed to my iPad are to blame. Oh, and the republicans, just because they like to blame everyone else for shit.

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