Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Book Review - Cherie Priest's Boneshaker

Boneshaker (The Clockwork Century Book 1) by Cherie Priest
Published by: Tor
Publication Date: September 29th, 2009
Format: Paperback,  416 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Briar Wilkes lives in the shadow of a great wall and all that happened before it was erected. Within that wall she was married to a great inventor, Leviticus Blue. There he created The Boneshaker, a device to aid in the mining of Alaska, which instead devastated Seattle and released a blight gas that would turn people into the walking undead. Behind the wall Briar's father was sheriff and what he did brought further ridicule to Briar's name. The wall was built to keep the gas and the rotters in. On the day the last brick was laid, Briar gave birth to Levi's son, Zeke. Sixteen years later, life just keeps getting harder.

Zeke has questions, yet his mother would just like to leave the past behind. Learning of an entire population of people in the quarantined area, Zeke decides to go beyond the wall. There's two ways in, under or over, he uses the cities drainage system for a quick excursion to relieve his curiosity about his father and the life his parents lived in a quaint Victorian house, before his father destroyed the city. Upon finding Zeke missing, Briar decides that she must go and rescue her boy from his own stupidity. An earthquake stops her from going under, so she must go over the wall. Zeke searches for answers while Briar aligns herself with a rag tag group of folks who hold her father sacred as she looks for her son.

Going into the unknown, their lives are both constantly in danger, from rotters, blight and from a mysterious underworld boss, Minnericht, who it is rumored, might in fact be Leviticus Blue. Briar needs to find her son and face the past that she has been trying to hide from. If her and Zeke can survive this, maybe Zeke can handle the truth.

Being, in it's most basic form, a Zombie story, it does have the Zombie tropes. Small group of people, striving to survive, some will die, but hopefully some will survive. But Boneshaker overcomes this with the infusion of plucky characters and alt history and a purpose other than survival, with the underlying Minnericht mystery. Also, the trope of endangered child is thankfully not harped on, seeing as Zeke is quite capable in his own way. You could, in essence, say that the story is very much the movie Labyrinth, one of Cherie's favorite Steampunk movies. This weird land beyond a wall has taken Briar's child and she is in constant danger, but due to the friends she makes along the way she is able to have her final showdown and escape the Labyrinth. Though the blight is far scarier than the bog of eternal stench.

A story with a very condensed plot and limited characters, like most survival stories, are at the mercy of those characters. If they are not unique, interesting and believable, the whole house of cards would come falling in on you. Taking just the living characters, Cherie has given us unique people with flaws and foibles that makes you root for them. Briar Wilkes is one of those rare instances where I don't waffle about who she is and what she looks like, I just saw her there instantly in my minds eye. The rough life she's led, after being the bell of the ball, the way the blighted rain has streaked her hair and her clothes, and the introspective life she has become accustomed to living in a world where the only person she can rely on is her son, and he might not even do that if she opened up. Kick ass Western heroine alert here!

Zeke is also an interesting character, in that he's a teenager who puts himself in danger who I didn't spend the entire book hoping he'd die. Yeah, I don't really like those too stupid to live, but at least his decisions once beyond the wall, thankfully take him out of the I want him to die camp. But really, my heart belongs to Lucy O'Gunning, the barkeep who has lost both her arms but thankfully has one robotic one left, who is always upbeat and cheerful, I kind of picture her as Clara from The Guild, where she would love all "the clocky windy stuff" down in the blighted city.

Now the alt history really drew me in as well. Being the time of the civil war, but with obvious mechanical advances that didn't exist, I was interested in how things had changed but stayed the same. I have a feeling Cherie will cover it more in later books, this being a series, but I like how she incorporated elements of really history and how those elements would react to this blight. For example, the Chinese immigrant population was very high in the Pacific Northwest during this time period. From railways to mining, these men where imported to the US, leaving their families behind, to do the jobs no American would do, thank you weird literature class I took in college! Obviously, these people would be so used to adapting to changing situations, that the blight arriving and the wall's erection would actually be, in some respects, good for them. They are able to use their skill sets in order to create an empire under the blighted Seattle that rivals that of Minnericht. Just fascinating, I can't wait to see how else history has been altered!

The mystery of Minnericht to me is actually the driving force of the plot. While, yes, Briar is trying to reunite with her son, that's all well and good, and obviously they have to survive as well, mysteries is what makes books tick for me. Minnericht is an enigma. A man who may or may not be whom everyone thinks he is, though he couldn't possibly comment. Briar is a threat to him. She could confirm or deny the fact. Either way, she is a threat to his way of life. Also, the fact that he has so obviously built up, not just a power base, but an opulent little world, he's like the Lex Luthor or Seattle, because real estate underground is where it's at... yeah, so I just watched Superman again recently... maybe I should just read the next book instead of watching that movie yet again, because once that theme song gets in your head, it's their forever.

Moste Importante Steampunkery:
The technology itself is so amazing in this book. The way the characters have to wear masks to keep the blight out gives the book a claustrophobic air. The Boneshaker itself might be considered the moste Steampunk item, because, it is created and then destroys all the city... but personally, I'm going with Minnericht's invention used by Jeremiah Swakhammer, The Doctor Minnericht Doozy Dazer, called Daisy for short. Capable of emitting an extremely powerful auditory blast that renders the rotters immobile for about three minutes. Sadly, it can take up to fifteen minutes to be ready. But anything that can give a short respite from the rotters is good in my book! Go Daisy go!


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