Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

I recently found a folder of half-written book reviews I’d forgotten about on my machine. In the spirit of spring-cleaning I’ve spruced them up and ironed things out and I shall proceed to post them, for your delectation.

The cover art for the whole series is tremendous stuff

If you’re going to have an absent character become the star of a story alongside a hulking great mechanical behemoth and a zombification-inducing gas, you really have to call him something like Leviticus Blue. At the start of the US Civil War, he’s the one who wins a contract from the Russians to build a tunnelling machine to quench the growing thirst for gold buried deep beneath Alaskan ice; the machine that, on its first run, causes a massive catastrophe that destroys most of Seattle, ripping apart the ground beneath the city and causing a mysterious, deadly gas to rise. A gas which kills everyone it affects – and some of those it kills don’t stay dead.

And it’s all down to Leviticus Blue. The name that potential villains all around the world wish they’d come up with first, no doubt.

Let’s put aside the fact that this book has airships, pirates, goggle-wearing heroes, zombies, steam-powered technologies galore and a gloriously deserted, dilapidated, dystopic setting. The first thing that struck me about this book wasn’t just the great cover art or that it’s about some of my favourite things in the entire world save cheesecake, tea and llamas – it was that the main character is a mother, and she’s the widow of the man whose machine destroyed Seattle. I can’t remember the last time the main character/protagonist in a fantasy adventure was a mother, let alone one so closely connected with the apparent villain of the piece, and it was a refreshing perspective to read. And let’s face it, her story’s going to be awesome, because her husband’s machine destroyed a city and caused the Blight. It’s obvious straight away that she’s going to have an interesting story behind her – and it takes some coaxing plus one hell of an adventure to find out what that story is.

Briar is a great heroine, focused on rescuing her son from the remnants of Seattle when he storms off trying to clear his father’s name, with just enough secrets to keep reeling the reader in but just enough flashes of character to keep us on her side. She is really not dull. Her simple and uncomplicated purpose – to save her son – masks a complex character that I enjoyed following, moreso than Zeke, whose chapters don’t have the same flair, drive or spark that Briar’s perspective grants.

I loved above all else that this is a steampunk setting that hasn’t defaulted to the usual London or some other Ye Olde Englande perspective; it’s fresh and different and excellent, though the science behind it all is a bit suspect. Though if that bothers you then I don’t know why you’re reading steampunk or zombie fiction or anything in between, the science always ends up a bit suspect. It’s not enough to derail what is a fine adventure, elegantly drawn and shot through with excitement and ingenuity.

Having read the next two books Dreadnought and Ganymede (oh I wish I could read Clementine too!) I strong recommend the series to everyone, whether you’re fans of steampunk and zombies or not. The latter two are straight-up adventure stories that run lighter than Boneshaker for the simple reason that they build on the world Priest created with this first book, so it’s more like reading a fast-moving action film. So much fun, and not even remotely in the guilty pleasure region either.

If you’re not reading these then you and I, we should have words.

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