There are spoilers below – nothing book breaking, but names, places, and events are mentioned which you would not find out about until halfway through the book. You have been warned.
Boneshaker is a steampunk novel. What does that even mean? Cherie Priest, the author of the book, tells us what it means in her own words. And Boneshaker definitely follows her definitions of steampunk very well. I am actually a relatively new forager into the steampunk genre, but am liking what I’m seeing, by Priest and other recent authors. In fact, one could say they are the inspiration for a story I’ve been working on since last year.
In any case, Boneshaker is a strong book, and a great entry to Priest’s “Clockwork Century” setting, which is an alternate historical fantasy setting based on the good ol’ U.S. of A. It has several strong points (each with a weak-point-follow-up) that I would like to talk about.
Firstly, there are some good, strong, and memorable characters in the book. In particular, Jeremiah Swakhammer, Croggon Hainey, and Andan Cly all spring to mind. Hainey isn’t in the story for long (though his reappearance is comical), and Cly also has a short introduction, with humorous (and sometimes dark) follow-ups, but Swawkhammer is in a good chunk of the book once he is introduced. All of these characters have personalities that fit the story and that seem realistic. Even the only-mentioned-but-never-seen Leviticus Blue and Maynard have enough character that you would think you’ve actually met them by the end of the story.
Unfortunately, the two main characters in the story don’t have as depth to them. Half the time, I didn’t really even want to read about Briar and Zeke, so much as I wanted to read about the people they were interacting with, whether they be Rudy, the Princess, the Maynard group, or even Minnericht. The other half of the time, I was frustrated at the stupid things those two characters said and did. I have a big pet peeve when reading or watching any sort of fiction, and that is this: if the plot is only advanced because the main characters are saying and doing things that real, normal, flesh-and-blood human beings would not say and do, then there is a flaw in the story. And I felt that Zeke, the 16-year-old acting like a 10-year-old, and Briar, responding to people in ways that are surely not to help her, just were not very realistic. Maybe Priest has met people like them, but I have not. There you go.
Secondly, the setting was very awesome. I really like the Clockwork Century setting so far, and am very intrigued to read more. The alternate history of the USA, with the extended Civil War, Seattle’s disaster, and rumors of happenings back east, was very well thought out, and I was glad to see logical reasons being put in the story for things like masks, goggles, and crazy machinery.
However, I would have liked to read a bit more explanation about things. Such as the history of the dirigibles, which are all over the place, as well as some sort of actual information about what the Blight is, where it comes from, and why there is so much of it. Some world-building opportunities were seemingly skimmed over in favor of the action.
Speaking of which, there was action, and there was a lot of it. Every other chapter had explosions, drops from incredible heights, in-air collisions with airships, zombies, zombies, and more zombies. This would normally be a good thing in a book that is meant to keep you on the edge of your seat. But a lot of the action (as I mentioned before) seemed to stem from stupid decisions the main characters made, so it was hard for me to immerse myself in it. Also, the pacing was overly-frantic. It reminded me of watching the old 90’s Spiderman cartoon, where you get a 30 second opener of Peter minding his own business, and then BAM!, explosions rock the place, villains come out to play, and the next 29 minutes rush by in a frenzy. I would watch 30 minutes of Spiderman and feel like I had had seven shots of espresso because of all the adrenaline. And this can be a good thing, used in small doses, but I found it to be too much. A lot of the action happened in ways that seemed like it was just there to rush the plot along as well (such as the Rotter attack on Maynards), and in doing so, we didn’t even get a chance to get to know the people at the old bar.
Anyway, all that being said, I found the book enjoyable, and will certainly reading more. Dreadnaught is next on my list (since Clementine is so hard to come by), and I’m really looking forward to reading something about the Republic of Texas and their Mexican imperialist enemies soon!