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Boneshaker

A Steampunk novel by Cherie Priest.

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Digging up Jules Verne

  • Nov 10, 2009
  • by
Rating:
+3
I guess this was my first experience with the steampunk genre (not realizing it was a separate genre until I wikipedia'd), and it was a nice ride. Basically steampunk brings Jules Verne to the future he helped envision and turns him around to report on the past he might have lived--if that past included zombies, toxic chemicals, airships (in 1880) and the Civil War (yes, also in 1880--Stonewall Jackson survived and kept the South in the war a long, long time).

The Boneshaker of the title is a drilling rig invented in then-frontier Seattle to help the Russians mine Klondike gold under the ice and permafrost. When the rig goes awry, the aforementioned toxic chemicals are released, one side effect of which is the aforementioned zombies. Survivors move to the Outskirts and build a 200-foot high wall around the chemicals and zombies and scratch out a meager existence.

That's the setup, all covered quickly in the novel's opening pages. We then meet the characters who will propel us through the story (and back inside the walls)--Briar Wilkes, the wife of the inventor, and her son Ezekiel, who was born on the day the wall was finished. Zeke is a curious young man, whose curiosity about his past drives the rest of the story.

The novel moves slowly and methodically, sometimes letting the reader think ahead of the plot, sometimes keeping just ahead. I found myself sometimes skimming paragraphs ahead on the page to see if things would move faster, but while the action rises to a fitting climax, Priest reveals her even-keeled temperament as a writer to tell the story as it flows, not in exuberant overdrawn prose.

One could find political (the wall) or environmental (untested technology unleashing unknown toxic terror) subplots here, but if they are intended, the author lets the reader find them, to her credit never pointing us to allegories that would detract or distract from the story at hand. The wall, the technology, the toxic wastes, and the zombies all have a part to play and they play it honestly.

Steampunk, if Boneshaker is a good gauge, is a genre that would appeal to the Jules Verne audience of young adult readers, adventure lovers, and (today) RPG gamers. Not great literature, just good clean fun.

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More Boneshaker reviews
review by . December 10, 2010
   Two years ago, I had never heard of Steampunk (and if pressed, I would have guessed it had something to do with music).  Three months ago, I’d heard of it, and I could even name a few books in the genre, but I still had no idea what it actually was.  Two weeks ago, I read Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker and got thoroughly schooled in the matter. (NB for the uninitiated: Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction/speculative fiction that is set in an era or world …
Quick Tip by . February 19, 2011
posted in SF Signal
A quick, fun read. I enjoy steampunk, but not being a zombie story fan, I liked Boneshaker a lot more than I thought I would. I'm trying to decide whether this would make a good gateway novel for certain friends.
review by . February 11, 2010
Guilty pleasures -- we all have them. Once in a blue moon I crave Kraft macaroni and cheese out of a box, or a huge heaping pile of homemade mashed potatoes with chicken gravy made from fried chicken.  Or a Marie Callender's pot pie, even though they're like 600 calories and almost as many grams of fat. Well, I have them in books, too, and my favorite guilty pleasures are steampunk and pulp.  I just finished Boneshaker and it is the equivalent of hot comfort food between two covers.   …
review by . December 06, 2009
Back in the Civil War era in Seattle, before Washington was even a state, ambitious inventor Leviticus Blue created a massive tunneling engine, intended to unearth gold buried beneath the Alaskan ice. Only problem is when he first used it he undermined several city blocks and unleashed a stream of viscous, zombifying gas that eventually turned the whole of the central city into a walled-in wasteland. It also turned the young wife of the inventor, Briar Wilkes, into a pariah among hopeless people, …
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Todd Stockslager ()
Ranked #37
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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Starred Review. Maternal love faces formidable challenges in this stellar steampunk tale. In an alternate 1880s America, mad inventor Leviticus Blue is blamed for destroying Civil War–era Seattle. When Zeke Wilkes, Blue's son, goes into the walled wreck of a city to clear his father's name, Zeke's mother, Briar Wilkes, follows him in an airship, determined to rescue her son from the toxic gas that turns people into zombies (called rotters and described in gut-churning detail). When Briar learns that Seattle still has a mad inventor, Dr. Minnericht, who eerily resembles her dead husband, a simple rescue quickly turns into a thrilling race to save Zeke from the man who may be his father. Intelligent, exceptionally well written and showcasing a phenomenal strong female protagonist who embodies the complexities inherent in motherhood, this yarn is a must-read for the discerning steampunk fan.(Oct.)
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Details

ISBN-10: 0765318415
ISBN-13: 978-0765318411
Author: Cherie Priest
Publisher: Tor Books

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