If you can imagine civil-war-era Seattle, run amok with zombies and surrounded by a huge wall to keep them from eating all of human-kind, you’ll begin to see the highly creative ideas in Cherie Priest’s book, Boneshaker. Add in a Steampunk element with renegade zeppelins and clockwork limbs, and you have a rollicking tale that is entertaining in both its layered plot and unusual storyline.
This book was so well written in its deceptive simplicity. The basic story is that a son sets off to prove his dead father’s innocence for a crime he committed, and his mother follows after him. But what makes Priest’s version of this common tale unique is that the father’s crime was creating a huge, destructive drilling machine that wreaked havoc on downtown Seattle circa 1850’s, releasing a gas from the earth, which once inhaled turns humans into zombies. The writing alternates between the son Ezekiel‘s point of view and the mom’s (Briar). Zeke, as he’s known, has never seen the Rotters, as the walking undead are called. A wall has been erected around the city to keep the gas and those poisoned away from the rest of the world. He’d heard stories, but nothing could have prepared him for reality. The same goes with Briar. She remembered the first sad souls affected by the blight, as the heavy yellow gas is called, when the city was first evacuated fifteen years prior. But those Rotters were mild kittens compared to the ravenous lions they had turned into. Why? They didn’t die all over again once food ran out. They survived, starving, so that after fifteen years of isolation they were famished and ready to devour any human that crossed their path.
Zeke set out to visit his parents’ old home, where his father’s lab was, to find proof that the story of the disaster and his death wasn’t in fact how people assumed it was. Briar followed-suit, trying desperately to find her son before he became lost to her forever. For not only was there the danger of inhaling the blight itself, but it also could be turned into a highly addictive drug , so crooks and thieves risked being both contaminated and eaten to turn a profit. And ruling over all of them in his own self-made fiefdom was a man called Dr. Minnericht, a man who hid his face with a mask at all times and whose intelligence and ingenuity were scarily familiar… familiar like Leviticus Blue, Briar’s supposedly dead husband and Zekes’ dad, who started all of this mess in the first place. With the help of some unexpected friends Zeke journeys into the heart of the ravaged city. Briar, close on his heels, is under constant pressure to check out the tyrannical Doctor and prove once and for all if it is her husband or not—all the while trying to get to her son before the blight (or worse, the Doctor) gets to him first.
I had heard a lot about this book and I was excited to read it. So when the beginning didn’t grab me and catapult me away like I was hoping and expecting it would, I started to worry that I had picked up a dud. Luckily though, those fears were short-lived. Once the main characters venture into the city the book was almost impossible to put down. These old ideas had new life breathed into them, and that uniqueness had me always wondering what was next.
Cherie Priest wrote the zombies well. There were a couple of scenes that seriously gave me the creeps, with a large dish of tense anxiety on the side. The reason it worked so well is that you are in the heads of both naive protagonists, so you are experiencing these fears fresh with them. Needless to say, it definitely got the heart racing a bit. Also present throughout the book was a great Steampunk element, which I really enjoyed. There were the standard advanced machines and Zeppelins that often seem to make an appearance in these types of stories, but the best was the clockwork arm of Lucy, a woman who ran a bar on the inside and assisted Briar in her quest. However, my favorite part of the whole story was wondering if Dr. Minnericht was actually Levi Blue. Briar swears he’s dead, but as she ventures deeper into this world, there are signs of her husband’s presence that become too hard to ignore.
I could keep going; this book left me with so much to say. I want to leave something to the imagination, though, so I’ll stop here. What I will say is that this was a great read. Well-worth my time and something a little different than the standard sci-fi or fantasy I’d been consuming as of late. And sometimes I just need a little gore and creepiness in my life, which this book provided via the zombies—albeit with some turn-of-the-century style. Style and zombies aren’t something you’d normally think of putting together, but that’s exactly what Cherie Priest has done—and done with excellence.