My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
This was much better than I was expecting. I’m tired of dystopias. I was never that into zombies and I’m really over them at this point. I admit it, I read it because it was steampunk written by a woman with at least one female character. It started a tad slowly but once they got into the walled city this took off but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The prologue opens in 1880 Seattle, and being steampunk, history is AU. It’s goldrush time and Leviticus Blue has been contracted by the Russians to create a machine to help extract gold. His young wife, Briar Blue, has run away from her law man father, Maynard, to marry Levi. It should be a good and wealthy life in her lavender mansion on the hill. Something goes wrong. His drill, boneshaker, causes massive cave ins and releases this yellow gas, the Blight, from deep within the earth. Those who breathe it in become Rotters, the shambling, flesh-craving undead.
Fast forward about 16 years. Seattle has been walled off though airships sneak in to harvest the gas to process it into a drug called Lemon Sap which will turn the users into Rotters eventually. Briar Wilkes is eking out a living. Her father died trying to rescue people from the Seattle prison and is now something of a folk hero. That’s cold comfort to a woman who is blamed for Levi Blue’s mistakes. Even changing her name has done nothing to save her and her son, Ezekiel, from being shunned by the town that has sprung up around Seattle. Out East, America has been all but cut off from the western frontier by a long running Civil War.
Zeke, like most fifteen year old boys, has become a rebellious teen. He thinks he can clear his father’s name and restore the family honor. His mother and he barely talk. She has told him next to nothing and knows she will probably lose him to the east and to the war as soon as he is old enough. Zeke, on the other hand, isn’t waiting that long. He sneaks into Seattle’s walls to prove his father wasn’t a bad man armed only with his gas mask, some maps and grandpappy Maynard’s good name and an old pistol he doesn’t know how to use.
Briar goes to the underground tunnel to wait for his return since he only has a few hours worth of filters for his mask but an earthquake seals him and the story ramps up. Briar hires an airship to drop her, literally, inside. Once inside the story flip flops between mother and son as they struggle to stay alive with Blight gas and rotters all around. Astonishingly there are people living in the city. Zeke meets Rudy a desert and an Indian princess. Briar meets Swakhammer and Lucy, a woman with a prosthetic arm. No one is really who they seem to be, especially the overlord of the city, Dr. Minnericht who creates amazing things but is also a cruel man.
Briar slowly realizes that these people think Minnericht is actually Leviticus Blue. Whether he is or not, he as a vested interest in herding her and her son into his domain. Briar has no idea if she’ll live long enough to find her son, let alone get them both out alive.
In spite of a few niggling issues, I loved this book. I DO have trouble with people living in such conditions as described inside the bowl of the city. They waved it off as there are a lot of freedoms and opportunities inside the city. I didn’t see it (nor why was a ground-issuing gas not worse deep down as opposed to up top) and I really don’t see why Briar stuck around at all when she could have gone anywhere and not have to live under the stigma. That aside, this was good. Each character is in this are strong and flawed. While mother and son usually took every other chapter, it felt more like Briar’s story than Zeke’s coming of age. How exciting was it to see a strong and mature female character in steampunk/fantasy. And without Briar being a bitch. All too often strong and bitch monster on wheels are interchangeable as far as female characters are concerned and while she is a tad snarky here and there she is not the constant snark machine too many fantasy/urban fantasy females have become. The ending surprised me then annoyed me. This is why I think mystery will always be my number one favorite genre and fantasy second. I hate open endings and this was as open as you’re going to get.
View all my reviews