Monday, October 05, 2009

"Boneshaker" by Cherie Priest

"Get off me, boy. I'm walking all right. It stings a little, but it won't be the end of me." "Good," Briar said. "Because we've got problems." From inside the lift, a mournful groan came echoing. Pounding hands beat at the roof above, or from other spot around the lift's basket. Then there was a splintering, breaking smash...and they came tumbling inside. One or two blazed the trail, and then they poured in greater numbers through whatever passage they'd forced. The first three rotters off the lift and into the corridor were once a soldier, a barber and a Chinaman. Briar pumped the rifle and aimed it fast, catching the first two in the eyes and blowing off the third one's ear. "Mother!" Zeke shouted, "Behind me, both of you!" she commanded, but Angeline wasn't having any of it and she used her own shotgun to take down the third. Scrambling hungrily over those three bodies came another round of rotters, half a dozen bodies wide and at least that deep. "Back!" Angeline cried. "Back this way!" she said, even as she continued shooting. The noise in the corridor was deafening, and both Zeke and Briar had heads that were already throbbing. But it was either shoot and aim high or sit down and die; so the women kept firing as Zeke blazed a backward path, acting as scout and lookout while he tried to follow Angeline's directions. "To your right! I mean, to your other right," she corrected herself. "There ought to be a door there, at the end of the way. Beside the office!" "It's locked!" Zeke shouted. The second word was drowned out by the calamity of his mother's Spencer, but Angeline got the general idea. ~Excerpt from Boneshaker by Cherie Priest I am very, very lucky in that I get a lot of books for review-- you won't hear me complain about that. But there are times when all I really want is a book to read for my own enjoyment; something I don't have to review. One book that has been getting a lot of attention is "Boneshaker" by Cherie Priest so I decided to buy this one as a birthday present to myself-- and all I have to say is wow! This is, hands down, the best book I've read all year. In short, "Boneshaker" is one heck of a creation; a steampunk novel with zombies. Set in an alternative American history, "Boneshaker" takes place during a drawn out Civil War. Rumors of gold in the frozen Klondike have drawn prospectors in an Alaskan gold rush. Russian investors have sponsored a contest for a machine that can dig through the ice and Leviticus Blue wins the contest with his plans for the Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine. But something goes horribly wrong when Levi tries to test the engine and it rips through the ground beneath Seattle, destroying whole blocks, killing untold numbers of people and somehow releasing a horrible gas that turns anyone who comes into contact with it into the living dead. Sixteen years after the Boneshaker tore through downtown Seattle, the affected blocks have been walled off to contain the blight that has contaminated the city. Living just outside the walls of the blight zone Levi's widow, Briar Wilkes, ekes a living working at a water purifying plant while raising her son Zeke under the cloud of suspicion that has hovered over her ever since the incident. Growing up as the son of the man who destroyed the city has been hard for Zeke Wilkes. Hoping to prove that his father didn't set the Boneshaker through the city's bank vaults on purpose, Zeke decides to enter the walled-in portion of the city and find his parent's old home in hopes of finding some proof that will clear his father's name. But the city is full of dangers, not the least of which are the rotters who seek human flesh. A man in mask, rumored to be Leviticus Blue, has become a powerful force in the strange underground city that has developed inside the walls. And Briar, who has entered the city in search of her son, will have to face her past in order to save Zeke. "Boneshaker" is primarily a steampunk novel, though Cherie Priest herself questions what precisely qualifies as steampunk in a humorous guest post over at Tor.com, even repeating a joke that steampunk is what happens when goths discover brown. But all kidding aside, Priest does a fantastic job of finding a steampunk sensibility and bringing it to life. She said that she was going for a character driven story with steampunk elements, but I have to contend that she has excelled at every aspect. A lot of traditional steampunk inventions, like goggles and airships are included; but the addition of items like the Boneshaker, blight masks and an ingenious mechanical arm, wonderfully described, add great detail and depth. And the zombies. Let's not forget the zombies. I don't know whether it's coincidence that "Boneshaker" arrives, zombies and all, just as zombies seem to be the newest rage in fantasy fiction. And, frankly, I don't care because the zombie element works. I don't know how Priest came up with a steampunk/zombie combo, but darned if it doesn't fit. But what I liked most about "Boneshaker" is that the story has a great villain. Dr. Minnericht, the man who may or may not be Leviticus Blue, doesn't actually appear until about two-thirds of the way into the book, but his presence is felt almost from the very beginning. Brilliant and deranged, Minnericht is an excellent mask-wearing mad-scientist who controls the Seattle underground through fear, and the safety his inventions provide from the roaming zombies. I almost never give 5 stars to any book, but "Boneshaker" tickles my fancy in every way possible. It's a stand-out among the piles of books I read every year and is sure to become known as a steampunk masterpiece. Maybe I gush, but "Boneshaker" is uniquely entertaining. It's inventive, strong on character development, full of action and I can't think of a single thing I would change. Loved it.

6 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

That sounds wonderful. It goes on my list.

SQT said...

I'm always a little afraid when I gush over a book that someone will buy it and be disappointed. But something tells me that won't happen with this one. It's too darned entertaining.

Cara Powers said...

Oh lord, I think I'm going to have to give steampunk and zombies a try. Thanks a lot. *sarcasm* (not about having to give it a try)

Chris Patrick said...

Wow. Definately a worthwhile read, if not only for the novel steampunk/zombie mashup.

And no offense, Cara Powers, but you gotta work on your Sarcasm, cus it really seems abrasive.

SQT said...

Chris-- Thanks for stopping by. But I have to give Cara a quick defense. I didn't find her abrasive.

Steve Malley said...

Oddly enough (well, coincidentally anyway), I just *loaded* my Amazon cart up with Cherie Priest's work!