Review of Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker.

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

416 pages

Tor

Steampunk isn’t just for England anymore.

Set in Seattle in an alternative history where the civil war has lasted into the late 1800s, and where Seattle has been walled up to keep out a yellow zombie making gas, Boneshaker has a cinematic quality and stands as a fun book right from the get-go.

All the fun steampunk madness is there, with a Western patina and zombies, too. The story centers around Briar Wilkes and her son, Zeke. Briar is the widow of mad scientist Leviticus Blue, the one who built the device which plunged Seattle into a zombie infested hell-hole.  She’s forced to chase after her son when he goes on a quest for family history into zombie territory.

Briar and Zeke are compelling enough, but it’s the minor characters that really won me over. Knight Errant in Steampunk armor Swakhammer, deadly and decrepit Indian Princess Evangeline, and most of all the enigmatic and sinister Dr. Minnerect, who may or may not be the missing Leviticus Blue – Briar’s husband and Zeke’s father. (The scenes with Minnerect are subtle and creepy, easily my favorite parts of the book.)

Filled with mechanic-handed barmaids, swaggering pirates, Chinese immigrants, thugs and bandits, the background cast was a vast delight.

The plot was compelling, avoiding  any of the static pitfalls that fantasy (or gaslight fantasy, if you well) can fall prey to. It’s just fun and action under a constant cloud of yellowed blight and zombie danger. Without dropping spoilers, lets just say the story never goes quite where you’re expecting—a very good thing.

I read the electronic version, which might be a shame, since the book packaging is quite lovely. But steampunk or not, I’m very much looking forward to another from this author.

— Christian Klaver

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