A steampunk, Civil War era woman with equal parts toughness and common sense seeks her son in the ravaged walls of a blighted city while kicking zombie butt with a motley crew of underbelly characters.
I mean really, what else do you need to know?
I grabbed Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker in an ebook Humble Bundle a while back (Humble Bundle usually offers a selection of games at discounted prices where you choose how much money goes to the artists or charities, but this time they did it with books). I was intrigued at first because steampunk can lead to some very creative and fun worlds, and I happen to be a fan of zombie lit.
The story follows a woman and her son who are living fifteen years after a Civil War era Seattle was crushed under the wake of a blight gas leaking up from the Earth and turning those unfortunate enough to get near it into rotters (zombies, in this world). The woman, Briar, has an unfortunate connection to the blight, and decides that her son would be better off not knowing the details. Unfortunately, as fifteen year old boys are wont to do, Zeke decides to figure it out himself in the walls of the city. The only problem other than the rotters and the blight gas is that the city isn’t completely abandoned.
I really enjoyed this book. It felt fresh and had a great story. The characters were well rounded, though the plot drove the book more than they did. I didn’t get extremely close to any of the characters, but it actually worked in this novel because it made it harder to guess what would happen next. Most books you read are predictable in some way, and this one was as well. This had the fortunate problem, though, of having multiple scenarios to pick from that could all possibly be true. There was also a nice twist at the end that was satisfying and true to Briar’s character.
The steampunk in this world was not overdone, so it had a feeling of authenticity. It was simply part of the world, rather than each scene having a corset wearing, cog-bedecked woman bearing a sign with whirring gears that said “STEAMPUNK! HERE!” It was also interesting to read about the Civil War in an era where airships were common and the war had gone on for over a decade. There isn’t much direct information about the war, but you hear about how it can affect the lives of even those on the opposite coast.
I also liked the matter-of-fact talents of the characters. The book is centered around what many would tout as a “strong female protagonist,” yet I found her refreshing in the sense that she wasn’t the cookie cutter variety. Yes, she was a great shot, could hold her own in situations, and would do anything for her son; however, there was no sob backstory about how she had to prove herself. There was no admiration for how she was such a good shot for a woman. There was simply the fact that she was a good shot, and that people appreciated this in the rotter-infested world. There was simply the fact that she cared for her son and you shouldn’t screw with her chances of finding him (but she would still listen to reason).
I’d recommend this to any lover of speculative fiction, steampunk, zombies, or just those that want a good book to read. The pace is just right and it kept me turning pages until the end.