Review: Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Author: Cherie Priest
Publisher: Tor Books
Release date: September 29, 2009
Source: Borrowed from local library
Summary: (from jacket copy) In the early days of the Civil War, rumors of gold in the frozen Klondike brought hordes of newcomers to the Pacific Northwest. Anxious to compete, Russian prospectors commissioned inventor Leviticus Blue to create a great machine that could mine through Alaska’s ice. Thus was Dr. Blue’s Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine born.
But on its first test run the Boneshaker went terribly awry, destroying several blocks of downtown Seattle and unearthing a subterranean vein of blight gas that turned anyone who breathed it into the living dead.
Now it is sixteen years later, and a wall has been built to enclose the devastated and toxic city. Just beyond it lives Blue’s widow, Briar Wilkes. Life is hard with a ruined reputation and a teenaged boy to support, but she and Ezekiel are managing. Until Ezekiel undertakes a secret crusade to rewrite history.
His quest will take him under the wall and into a city teeming with ravenous undead, air pirates, criminal overlords, and heavily armed refugees. And only Briar can bring him out alive.
First impressions: This book had me hooked straight through to Chapter Four. We are introduced to Briar Wilkes and her son, Zeke, both of whom are captivating. They live a hard life in 1880s Seattle, and there is some controversy around Briar's father and her ex-husband. Cherie Priest drew me into this world right away and I was totally absorbed...
Lasting impressions: ...and then it screeched to a halt. It took me 10 days to get through this book, because there was no urgency to the plot whatsoever. The characters have no internal conflict or growth. Every element of the story seemed held at a distance, so I could never invest in any of it. I don't remember the last time reading a book was so painful.
Negative impressions: Beyond the aforementioned pacing problems, this book had too many characters that served no function. Once Briar and Zeke enter the walled-off portion of the city, where zombies (here called "rotters") roam hungrily about, you expect some action. Instead, we get lots of scenes where they stumble across interesting and colorful characters, who help them get from one place to the next, and then disappear--only to then jump out at you in surprise later on, when you have already forgotten about them because you've met 14,527 new people since then. It was maddening.
Overall impressions: The only reason I finished this book was so I could give it a proper review. Though the process was like pulling teeth, there were portions of this book that were quite entertaining. The world was interesting, and I loved the idea of the rotters developing after a mysterious gas leak. The hidden society that Briar and Zeke stumble upon behind the wall is mildly interesting, but the ongoing is-he-or-isn't-he surrounding Dr. Minnericht as possibly being Briar's dead husband was more annoying than intriguing.
There is a big reveal at the end, but by the time the plot meandered its way to that point, I was so beyond caring that it hit me about as forcefully as a shrug. You ever see a movie where each scene is kind of exciting, and just enough happens that you don't turn it off because you're curious what will happen next, but when it's over you realize that every scene had exactly the same intensity? That's how this book was for me. Flat as a pancake, straight through. No real rise or fall to the action. Zero heartbeat. Flatlined.
The book is saved from one-star doom because there were flashes of light hidden away from time to time. I just wish overall there had been more of them, and they had been a thousand watts brighter.
Rating: 2/5 stars
Want a different perspective? Check out this Boneshaker review by Day to Day. It's also worth mentioning that this book was named Steampunk Book of the Year 2010 by Steampunk.com and won a Locus Award for Best Sci-Fi Novel 2010. Perhaps steampunk isn't my thing after all?