Boneshaker: A Review


Normally Jim is not interested in the stack of books I bring home from the library. I don't know if he assumes they're all girly books, or if he's just used to seeing a book permanently attached to my arm, but whatever the case...this book caught his eye the moment I walked out of the library door and plopped into the passenger seat.

Mostly because on the cover it said this:

"A steampunk-zombie-airship adventure of rollicking pace and sweeping proportions, full of wonderfully gnarly details, this book is made of irresistible."

I mean come on... who could possibly resist that? Steampunk, zombies and airships in the same breath. I dropped everything else in my reading list and dove straight in... ready and willing to be swept off my feet in a tidal wave of Victorian skirts, big, zombie killing guns and gutzy heroes/heroines.

And I wasn't the only one who felt this way. The book started hitting all the lists for best Sci Fi of the year and was nominated for the 2010 Hugo Award for Best Novel.

The hype even got to me. My appreciation for steampunk is not limited to but definitely leaning toward the frivolous (Neo-victorian fashion? Beautiful laptops? Sign me up!), and the extent of my zombie knowledge is pretty much contained in Zombieland, World War Z, and Jonathan Coulton's Re: Your Brains. But everyone was talking about Boneshaker as if it was the book of the century, and besides.... it was about a mom! Ok, seriously, how often do moms get to be the heroes of novels? I checked out the book as soon as it was available, and dived into it eagerly.

I'm not sure when it was I started wondering if something was wrong with my reading ability. The beginning of the book was fascinating, the introduction to the premise of the book. Cherie Priest's reinvention of Seattle is a feast for the imagination. But the story itself just did not grip me.

I don't know what Bethany's smoking (actually, I do...but whatever). Boneshaker follows the story in the eyes of two protaganists. Briar, the young widow of Leviticus Blue, the man who invented the Boneshaker machine, and her adolescent son Zeke who's determined to clear his father's name. If you've ever been to Seattle, or thought Seattle was a cool place, this book is even more interesting because you half recognize everything and the horror of it being filled with zombies (and the yellow gas unleashed by the Boneshaker's subterranean drilling) has you glued to the page. Zeke heads off into the walled portion of the city (where the poisonous gas turns everyone who breathes it into the living dead) and his poor mum goes in after him because...well, that's what moms do. The book was far more literary feeling than I was expecting. Normally genre fiction (and especially Sci Fi) is all about the premise and plot, and they don't really take time to smell the roses (or in this case, sky pirates). The only problem is, I'm not sure you really get "literary" from the cover.

My opinion of the book is very much a matter of personal taste. As much as I like introverted characters in fiction, what I usually like about them is the way you slowly get to know them as they unfold through their thoughts. Briar was so focused, so aloof, so evasive, so completely and utterly internal that at the end of the book I felt I had learned a few things about what she had experienced but very little about what actually made her tick (harhar). Although I also found Zeke and his motivations to be similarly unexplained, the fact that his character is young, hotheaded, and inexperienced smothers a multitude of questions. Briar frustrated me more because I felt that the beginning mysteries hinted so strongly of a depth to her character that was ultimately never touched.

So in a way, It's hard to say whether I thought Boneshaker was brilliant or left much to be desired. Both, I guess. The premise was fascinating and the setting was so real you could practically taste it, feel it, but the main characters eluded me against that landscape.
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