cherie priest

Boneshaker

Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest, was one of the best-reviewed sci-fi titles of 2009, and it was even nominated for the Hugo and Nebula awards. It has become a much-beloved title in such a short time, and a gateway book into steampunk for a large number of people who would never have considered the genre before. When it finally came out in a low-priced paperback, I was very excited to read it.

However, I just can't say I was as thrilled with it as I expected to be. After reading a few reviews by others, I really thought this book was going to be something revolutionary, so maybe I was cursed with the weight of unreasonable expectations.

Boneshaker is the story of a family on the edge of ruin, haunted by a past that has left them pariahs in the worst sense, a mother and son living in the unforgiving world of the Seattle area in the late 19th century. In an effort to clear his family name, Zeke Wilkes, or Zeke Blue, depending on who you ask, embarks on an adventure into the most dangerous area imaginable -- the desolate walled city that was sealed because of his father's alleged crimes; a place where even the air brings death and despair.

His loving mother Briar, a woman of considerable grit, must save him from a world of peril, including ruthless mercenaries, poisonous yellow fog, the zombie-like rotters, and, maybe most importantly, the truth about his birth and lineage.

I found the book quite enjoyable, but I felt the middle was almost unbearably long. Priest's prose is perfect for a certain type of reader who loves vivid, lengthy descriptions of items as meaningless as the patterns in the wallpaper and the texture of a cavern wall. But, for me, that kind of writing acts as little more than a tease, pushing back the meat of the plot further and further. It builds tension without contributing to story, and feels like unnecessary padding.

I'm sure that some people will call me a Philistine for even saying that, but, to each his own, I guess. I felt the book started well, with a fully-realized world that is both strange and familiar, and it ended with well-developed characters, interesting plot development, and memorable action sequences. I just wish it had been a little tighter, and more quickly paced.