21 October, 2009

Review: Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

BoneshakerThis is the prelude to my steampunk review days. That sounds pretentious because I will present you two reviews related to steampunk within this week.

A new voice entered the world of steampunk novels like a hurricane: Cherie Priest and her Boneshaker (2009) [US][UK]. You may know her Eden Moore series, which has been classified as Southern Gothic.
Normally I don't talk about the getup of the book but in this case it is necessary to do it. There are some things to mention beside the stunning cover. The paper used has a touch of yellowish tint. You will recognize it when you compare Boneshaker with other books. Even more remarkable is the color of the font. It is not black as usual. It is brown and fits perfectly to the paper.
All together the book looks a bit like a kind of diary which you sometimes find on attics in old houses.
That means the regalement starts in the moment you take the book in your hands.....

The Setup

Before we dive in the story it is necessary and worth to make some words about the world where Boneshaker is settled in. A lot of steampunk stories are settled in an alternate version of Victorian London. Cherie Priest left the old world and created a new world based on her native country but back in time. I think I can't top the depiction of Cherie Priest. So let her explain the basics of her world:

"Stonewall Jackson survived Chancellorsville. England broke the Union’s naval blockade, and formally recognized the Confederate States of America. Atlanta never burned. It is 1880. The American Civil War has raged for nearly two decades, driving technology in strange and terrible directions. Combat dirigibles skulk across the sky and armored vehicles crawl along the land. Military scientists twist the laws of man and nature, and barter their souls for weapons powered by light, fire, and steam.

But life struggles forward for soldiers and ordinary citizens. The fractured nation is dotted with stricken towns and epic scenes of devastation—some man made, and some more mysterious. In the western territories cities are swallowed by gas and walled away to rot while the frontiers are strip-mined for resources. On the borders between North and South, spies scour and scheme, and smugglers build economies more stable than their governments.

This is the Clockwork Century. It is dark here, and different."[Source]

And now to the premises of Boneshaker. This will be a rough introduction because you get everything delivered in the superb prologue in form of an excerpt from a history work in progress.

1850, Klondike, Goldrush. Russia supposed more Gold in the depths of the ice in Alaska. 1860, Russia started a contest for the invention of a machine that could mine through ice. Dr. Leviticus Blue, resided in a house on Denny Hill, Seattle, takes part. In six months he build his Incredible Bone-shaking Drill Engine. In the afternoon of January 2, 1863, Dr. Blue drilled through the earth from his home to central business district and back. Beside other buildings four banks are destroyed and people died. But the worst has been the release of a toxic gas called blight. This gas turned everyone who inhaled it into a rotter - a being which we would call a zombie. In order to secure the rest of the town, two square miles of the city have been surrounded by a two hundred feet high wall.
Sixteen years later, Briar Wilkes, widow of Leviticus Blue and her son Ezekiel - alias Zeke - barely manage their lives outside the wall. 15-year-old Ezekiel wants to know the truth about his father. Therefore he must visit their old house on Denny Hill inside the wall.

My Take in Brief

On one hand this is is the story of - Zeke's search of the truth about his father, - Briar's search of Zeke, - a other/son relationship, - their experiences inside the walled city.
On the other hand this is - a cracking, devastating adventure settled in a well created world mixed with history of our world, - it is a steampunk adventure with wacky gadgets and dirigibles which doesn't take place in London which is one of the most used locations for steampunk, - zombies (in the story named as "rotters") who inhabit an eerie part of Seattle.
That sounds impressive. Does this work together? Is the result readable? My answer is a simply YES!

Let me explain why.
Cherie Priest has the knack to throw all these ingredients plus some more spices into her writing melting pot and to mold a story that hooks you from the first page. Within a few pages she depicts all the premises which need to get a basic understanding of her world - The Clockwork Century.

First of all there are two main characters with whom you can easily connect and you feel with.
There is the tough and strong Briar Wilkes who has to copy with the hostilities against her dead husband husband and steeled in the daily battle of existence.
And there is her 15-year-old son Ezekiel, affected by the rough environment and in search of the truth about his father. And he will take riks for getting answers. Don't expect an average teen.
The characterization of Briar and Zeke and their conflict is vivid. You take part. It is worthy of believe.
But she also takes care on the supporting cast. You will be fascinated - I don't say you will love them - by the mysterious and accurate Dr Minnericht, the leader of the walled part of Seattle. What is his secret?
The warmhearted Lucy O'Gunning, a barkeeper with a very special arm. Not to forget the mercenary and user of wacky gadgets: Jeremiah Swakhammer. And finally Captain Cly who takes us with him in his dirigible.
The description of the world which is detailed where needed is impressive.
You will get goose bumps when you follow Briar and Zeke into the walled city. You will check your gas mask constantly which is mandatory. Or do you want to turn into a rotter?
I must admit I don't like zombies. Kudos! Cherie Priest. The integration of the zombies is marvelous. I can't imagine Boneshaker without zombies.
If you like dirigibles you will enjoy what will happen around and inside the airships. Not to forget the other technical ingredients (weapons, apparatuses, mechanical devices).
The story is narrated in third person and alternates between Ezekiel and Briar. You can't wait for the next chapter because you gasp for the next part of the straightforward going story which is full of action. The dialogues are crackling and the prose is skillful and fresh.
The getup of the book and the compelling content build a strong unit. I could not find a thing which troubled me.

I was a steampunk fan before. But now I'm a steampunk fan AND a Cherie Priest fan. From my point of view she found her calling.

Viva La Steampunk! Viva Cherie Priest!

Bona Fide's Book Oracle

What is Bona Fide's Book Oracle? To keep it short. It is a palaver about the reviewed book held by ediFanoB and his alter ego Bona Fide. And I am the keeper of the minutes. Now read my minutes.

Bona: "You are back. Got more lemon sap for me?" Edi: "You know it will kill your brain." Bona: "Yep. But it is definitely good stuff." Edi: " If you don't stop consuming lemon sap we can not talk about books any longer." Bona: "OK. Just one more sip. Yum yum! Excellent. So you survived the last rotter attack." Edi: "I got help from Jeremiah Swakhammer. The effect of Boneshaker for the brain is incredible. I have been inside the wall. What an eerie ambience. The elastics of the mask chafed my skin. And these rotters are terribly fast. Jeremiah showed me the way to Dr. Blue's Incredible Bone-shaking Drill Engine which is still in good order. I was tempted to start the engine..." Bona: "Blast you! You didn't do that! You would stop the blight and no blight means no lemon sap!" Edi: "You addict!" Bona: "My sap addiction is nothing compared to you Boneshaker addiction." Edi: "But how can I escape such a compelling story? And don't forget as soon as I leave the story the effect of lemon sap will disappear immediately!" Bona: "OK. Stop it. We need to tell our impressions to the reader." Edi: "OK. Three, two, one, snap ...!" Bona: "Eeek! There is a laptop in front of us. We must be back in reality." Edi: "And Bona, what shall we write?" Bona: "The truth!" Edi: "Remember what Rudy said?"
"Life's hard. Death's easy." [Page 160]
Bona: "Ask them why they don't want to read a cracking, devastating adventure mixed with a sense of history and a knack for details, with vivid characters and even spunkier rotters (zombies), eerie ambience inside the wall, anxieties causing masks, mysterious weapons, wacky gadgets and steamy dirigibles, written down in a fluently prose."

Edi: "Hey, you are still reading? Yes, I mean you, the being (are there similarities to rotter?) in front of the screen. Why don't you follow Bona's recommendation? Bona, I think they don't believe us."

Bona: "OK, our last try. Together, one, two three:
Believe it, believe it,
you must read it, you must read it,
if you don't do, if you don't do,
rotters eat you, rotters eat you ..."

More Cherie Priest

For more information about the author you can use following links: Cherie Priest website, Cherie Priest LiveJournal, Cherry Priest twitter, Cherie Priest facebook, Cherie Priest YouTube channel, Cherie Priest flickr.

More Cherie Priest steampunk

For more and detailed information about the world created by Cherie Priest visit the official website of The Clockwork Century.

And of course I like to make your mouth water:. There will be more stories settled in The Clockwork Century:
Tanglewood – Available now, for free, at Subterranean Press Online.
Clementine – Coming in 2010 from Subterranean Press.
Dreadnought – Coming from Tor in the fall of 2010
For more information about each story click here.

Origin of the copy

The copy of Boneshaker which I read and used for this review has been purchased by me.


logankstewart said...

I've read little to no steampunk fiction, but I've seen a few great reviews of Boneshaker. This definitely sounds like an entertaining and interesting story. Thanks for sharing.

ediFanoB said...


it is really an entertaining and interesting story. It is more than steampunk fiction because of the setting and the addition of zombies.

If you still hesitate why don't you try to read Tanglewood. It is a short story settled in the same world and you can read it for free. So you can check whether you like the style of Cherie Priest or not.

Viva La Steampunk!

Unknown said...

I am not sure who to address Edi or Bon....
I liked this dual personality conversation....very creative, and slightly psychotic.

I just started a Cherie Priest novel a couple of days ago. Wings to the Kingdom. Its a good start. So its funny that you would post this....

I think that this Boneshaker will be my first steam punk.. not unless you suggest otherwise - you being the fanatic/expert.

ediFanoB said...


forget Edi and forget Bona. If you want serious information just speak with the taker of the notes :-)

Edi and Bona are both lunatic - book lunatic. It is a burden to keep them under control :-)

But they are both very pleased that you liked their conversation.

Boneshaker must be your first steampunk novel. Edi and Bona forced me to repeat:

Believe it, believe it,
you must read it, you must read it,
if you don't do, if you don't do,
rotters eat you, rotters eat you ..."

You see there is no way out. Hope you enjoy Boneshaker and please let us know your impressions.

And please tell us about Wings to the Kingdom because we don't know it.

Viva La Steampunk!

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