|Series||The clockwork century|
|Genre||Science fiction novel|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover & Paperback)|
Boneshaker is a science fiction novel by Cherie Priest which combines the steampunk genre with zombies in an alternate history version of Seattle, Washington. It was nominated for the 2009 Nebula Award for Best Novel and the 2010 Hugo Award for Best Novel. It won the 2010 Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.
Early in the American Civil War, rumors of gold in the Klondike have brought would-be prospectors to North America's Pacific Northwest. Anxious Russian investors commission American inventor Leviticus Blue to create a machine which can mine through the ice of Russian-owned Alaska. Blue's "Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine" (or "Boneshaker" for short, named after boneshaker bicycles of the era), instead destroys several blocks of downtown Seattle and releases a subterranean vein of "blight gas" that kills anyone who breathes it and turns some of the corpses into rotters (non-supernatural zombies). A wall is erected to contain the gas within the affected part of the city. Leviticus Blue is nowhere to be found.
Sixteen years later, Leviticus's wife and son, Briar and Zeke (Ezekiel) Wilkes, live in the impoverished outskirts of the former metropolis. Life is difficult, but Briar manages to support herself and Zeke by working a physically demanding blue collar job cleaning water. One day, Zeke enters the toxic city in search of evidence proving his father is innocent of the intentional destruction. Briar intends on following, but the drainage hole collapses in an earthquake. She then hitches a ride over the wall by a captain of an airship, the unnaturally tall Captain Cly. Meanwhile Zeke meets Rudy, a man who claims to be a highly decorated lieutenant. Rudy tells Zeke that he can lead him to his parent's former house. The pair of them encounter a Native American woman named Princess Angeline who lightly wounds Rudy, but they manage to elude her.
Briar is attacked by rotters, which causes her to flee to the roof of a building, where she is rescued by Jeremiah Swakhammer and his Doozy Dazer. He takes her to a bar named in honor of her deceased father to meet people including the barkeeper, Lucy O'Gunning. Rotters attack the bar, forcing the occupants to retreat. It is later revealed that a man named Minnericht caused the rotter attack. Lucy takes Briar to see Minnericht, believed by some to be Leviticus Blue. Briar, however, doubts this. Unbeknownst to her, Minnericht has taken Zeke hostage. A battle breaks out between Minnericht's men and Swakhammer, Lucy, and the Indian princess. This battle attracts the rotters, complicating Briar's efforts to reunite with her son and exit the dangerous area of Seattle.
Swakhammer is found unconscious and in critical condition by Briar. She tries to make Minnericht help him, leading to a heated argument in which Briar renounces that he is Leviticus, and mocks him. Unbeknownst to Minnericht, the Indian Princess is behind him, and while Briar distracts him she comes, slits his throat, and kills him.
Everyone reunites and escapes to the surface. Eventually Briar leads Zeke to her and Leviticus' old home and tells Zeke that she killed Leviticus Blue years ago, as he tried to escape Seattle with his Boneshaker. Briar shows her son Blue's mummified body, still inside Boneshaker. Zeke claims he doesn't hold any grudge against his mother for killing her husband, and they embrace, before leaving to loot what is left of the former Blue residence.
Boneshaker is the first novel in Priest's "Clockwork Century" setting. She has affirmed that with Boneshaker she sought to create a literary magnum opus for the steampunk movement, stating "Steampunk, I think, has been hunting for that for a while."
Priest, 34, is a well-spoken Capitol Hill resident whose idea of fun is a stroll in Seattle's Lakeview Cemetery, gathering 19th-century names for her characters. She has spent time and thought constructing the internal logic of the steampunk world of "Boneshaker." ...I think I was born 30 years too soon for steampunk, but I get it. Machinery you can understand. Cool Victorian threads. And villains cloaked in steam, lots of steam.
Given the current craze for the shambling undead, Boneshaker could easily have become just another zombie thriller. But while the "rotters", as they are known in Seattle, are an ever-present threat, they're never in danger of intruding into the superb world-building and characterisation. Which means that the thrilling Boneshaker will survive the ebb and flow of fashions and subgenres within the broad church of science fiction.
The Clockwork Century stories are notable for their strong female characters...Priest's language on the other hand feels completely right for the American Civil War setting and I found "Fiddlehead" and the other Clockwork Century stories to be completely immersive.
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- Boneshaker at GraphicAudio
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- "Seattle author Cherie Priest is high priestess of steampunk", Seattle Times
- Interzone 251, March/April 2014, page 80