Due to the uncountable amounts of rave reviews and multiple award nominations/wins that Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker garnered it was on my watch list for a very long time. Having finally given it a go I can only express disappointment. Despite a creative and exciting premise, Boneshaker was not the fun and original novel I expected, being bogged down by inconsistent pacing and poor characterization. This steampunk adventure does have its strengths, but it somehow failed to get me to invest in its characters and stories.
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 lives Blue’s widow, Briar Wilkes. Life is hard with a ruined reputation and a teenage 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.
When a book is too highly praised there is always the danger than when you pick it up you will be disappointed either because the praise was misplaced, or more likely because though the book probably is good or at least is popular, it just doesn’t fit your tastes. In the case of experience with Boneshaker I think it was a bit of both.
There’s no denying that Boneshaker has one interesting premise. Zombies, airships, steampunk and weapons are all mentioned in the blurb and the geek inside of me cannot help but be excited at the prospect of having all these elements brought together in a single novel. And, truthfully, Priest does of good job of setting the scene, creating an appropriate atmosphere but it is the manner in which she handles all these elements, along with characters and plot, that is to blame.
It’s all nice in good to say that you will have air pirates, undead, etc. in your novel but it’s not good enough to just throw them in there without giving them any actual significance. As it was in Boneshaker, the reader is treated to capricious appearances from these elements which were often just unnecessary. Priest’s characterization also had its troubles, at least where the main characters, Briar and Zeke, were concerned. This, perhaps more than anything else, is what hampered any connection I could have had with the novel. The characterization is uneven, much of the mother-son relationship doesn’t ring true and the characters in no way encourage readers to invest in them, choosing to wallow in the walled-up city instead of actually doing something and, you know, grow as characters.
On the other hand, Boneshaker’s complement of secondary characters are one of the best things about the book. They are richer and more colorful than the protagonist and spice up the dialogue and the action. Lucy, Swakhammer and Captain Cly shine in almost every scene they appear. By not trying to add too much depth to their personalities, Priest seems to have kept them as fun and entertaining as possible and in some cases they almost, almost make up for the weakness of the main characters.
Boneshaker wasn’t an all-around disappointment. And in fact one could hardly say it was a bad book, but when compared to the praise heaped upon it by other reviewers, my reading experience simply did not hold up - there wasn’t the necessary connection between the plot and I for me to recommend this in good conscience. That’s not to say that I don’t think some will enjoy it. Most people probably will if the majority of other critics are anything to go by, but from what I read it certainly wouldn’t be the first recommendation I would make. The promise this book held though is enough for me to consider giving the second book in this series, Dreadnought, a try seeing as it will focus on new characters and a different setting.
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Reading Age: 14 and up
Cherie Priest's Website: http://www.cheriepriest.com/