Alternative History, 19th century, Steam, Gasmasks, Blight gas, Goggles, Airships, Zombies, Pirates and Crazy inventors. How can you go wrong with that?!
Well of course, you can’t!
This was my first encounter with Cherie Priest works and in Boneshaker she serves us an proper Steampunk novel, with the right amount of strange inventions, alternative history and supernatural element (in this case zombies), all wrapped up in a gloomy and somewhat depressing reality.
The story is set in Seattle, during the Civil war around the end of the 19th century. I haven’t been reading up on the civil war in general or Seattle in particular, but it feels genuine, the authors do take some liberties on some historical facts, but well I don’t mind, that’s what steampunk is all about, right.
This is a world that’s almost like ours as it was at the turn of the century, almost but not quite. It’s gray, bleak and hard for most folk. Sixteen years ago Russian prospectors hired the inventor Leviticus Blue to create a machine that could go through the Alaskan ice, he called his devise the Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine. On its test run something went terribly wrong, resulting in destroying several blocks of Seattle and unearthing the Blight gas.
In the surviving part of Seattle, people try to cope and make a new life for themselves, a life forever changed by the Boneshaker. On the other side of the wall, the wall that was build just after the big disaster to save them all, there is just destruction, ruins and the Blight, the poisonous gas that transform the living to a form of living dead. That’s at least what most citizens believe, but it’s not the entire truth. The reader soon enough gets thrown into a world filled with air pirates, crazy inventions, the undead and fighting refugees. Priest builds up and delivers a world that I can believe in, there isn’t anything negative I can say about her vision.
There is a selection of characters that you gradually get introduced to, but most of the time the story just resolve around Briar Wilkes and her son Ezekiel. The later is rather annoying, makes some terrible and stupid decision and as a reader you just want to skip into the next chapter (so you can catch up with what is happening to Briar). But then again, he is just a teenager so sometimes his not so smart decisions and adolescent reactions sort of make sense. He are trying to find some evidence that could clear his fathers name (who died before Ezekiel was born) and ventures in under the wall to the other side.
Then there is Briar, the widow of Dr Blue, single mother, nowadays not so ladylike and with a tough as nails attitude. When she gets her bearing, she really kicks some serious ass. I actually like her a lot, her more vulnerable side as a mother, a woman born in a different time, her iron will, to against all odds find her son or die trying. She is not too much of an über hero, you actually believe in her strength.
Of course there are a bunch of bad/ evil character as well, I have to be honest, they are not that interesting, this is Briar’s story and it feels like they just are there to spice the story up a bit. Then off course there are the rotter’s, always there in the background, always a threat, fast and deadly. Highly enjoyably!
The only negative thing I can think of, it’s the other character we get introduced to, some could have been quite colorful and interesting, but unfortunately they feels more like wallpaper, not really properly developed . I would have liked to know more of for example Mr Swakhammer and Lucy O’Gunning, oh well I guess this story isn’t about them.
This book actually reminded me of a Doctor Who episodes, The Empty Child, (Ninth doctor, series 1), which is some of my all time favorite episodes. Even if it’s not set in the same time period and presented in a totally different media, it is a different take on history, eerie and dark and somewhat disturbing and then again, it’s entertaining and leaves you with wanting to know more of that world. The scene at the hospital when that mask erupted from the doctors face (not our Doctor luckily), it’s horrific and still oh so lovely.
But I’m getting side tracked, over to the Boneshaker, as this story goes I’m impressed, found myself reading it at every brake at work, on whatever spare time I had, always having the book near at hand, so I could read a couple of more lines, a couple of more pages. Can’t wait to set my teeth in one of Ms Priest’s other books.
So there you have it, Steampunk, is all about alternatives, an alternative twist on our history, answering the question – what if…
By Cherie Priest
Published 2009 by Tor Books
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