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.
– From the Back Cover
If ever a cover has made me want to read a book, without even checking out the synopsis, then this was definitely it! Thankfully I liked the sound of it too.
It took me a while to pick up a copy, but I’m really glad I did when I visited Scarborough back in December.
For all the fantastic atmosphere and steampunk world that Priest creates, even one populated by zombies, it and they aren’t the most important elements. Boneshaker, is a story about the relationship between a mother and her teenager son. Everything else is just the ‘clothing’ this particular story happens to wear.
Zeke is a typical fifteen-year-old boy. Searching desperately for his sense of self. And with a belief he knows more than he actually does. (Or at least enough to put the facts he does have into an order that best fits what he wants to believe. But still a pretty decent lad at heart, who would do anything for his mum.
Briar Wilkes, works hard to provide for her and Zeke, and wants nothing more than for the past to stay buried, where it can do no more harm.
The story alternates between Briar and Zeke’s narration, and as well as slowly unravelling the past, though Zeke’s discoveries and Briar’s memories, we (and they) also get to see the strong bond that exists between them.
An odd thing also becomes apparent is that despite the constant danger they face, from the blight gas, rotters, and just the difficulties of moving, breathing and eating, they are both ‘fuller’ people, behind the wall, than they ever were in their reasonably comfortable lives outside it.
For me it was the most satisfying part of the book. One I’m pleased that Priest chose to focus on. It allowed the steampunk/sci-fi bits to fade in to the background and just ‘be there.’ – A bit like a really good soundtrack to a movie, it adds the colour and depth, yet, you shouldn’t notice it’s there for the most part. (Although you’d certainly notice it’s absence). And yet, when needed it’s given more prominence.
My only slight complaint with the book, was I never quite got the heart-pounding sense of fear from the ‘rotters’ (zombies) that I needed to. I was never in any doubt that they could be evaded. But that’s likely just me. I tend to derive more fear for a character’s existence from a ‘human’ monster doing bad things to good people, than a faceless ‘monster’ monster chasing them across town. I guess I need something to connect with.
Still, that aside I really liked this one, and I really look forward to reading about more of Cherie Preist’s Clockwork Century world in future books.