Saturday, September 18, 2010


Book review: 2010.12

Author: Cherie Priest

I bought Boneshaker, plain and simply, because I wanted to read a steampunk novel. As steampunk, Boneshaker satisfies. There are goggles, in this case, full-on gas masks, airships, and steam-powered air generators. And it takes place around the turn of the century. So steampunk requirements satisfied.

I'd also categorize the book's setting as dystopian. It's dark, grimy, and a bit depressing. I tend to envision my steampunk as more fun, frolicky, and, well, quaint. Wild, Wild West; Girl Genius; The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

This book is more akin to Brave New World or Make Room! Make Room! (that's the Harry Harrison novel that the movie Soylent Green was based on - if you can read it and NOT attempt suicide, then you're doing something right). Or Romero's Dawn of the Dead. It's a bit depressing.

But that's just the setting. The story takes place in a post-Civil War era Seattle. It's a dark and dismal setting that brings forth connotations of real-world coal mining country and stories like that of Matewan, West Virginia. It's grimy, and in more ways than one.

The story at its base is a mother-son redemption story. Not just redemption of their relationship, but also of their identities. The mother is the central character and, while at first seeming like the stereotypical failure as a single parent, she is quickly driven to levels of badassery as she forays into the wasteland to rescue her wayward teenage son.

Mother and son both suffer from a tainted past, borne on the coattails of the long lost husband/father. One of the central plot points revolves around his past actions and apparent demise. Heck, the current and future state of the world is a direct result of his past actions. Did I mention the zombies? The wayward teenage son sets out to determine the truth about his father. Meanwhile, the mother takes on the mantle of her father and tries to rescue the son.

This book is a great read - I read it over the course of about four days. For me, that's the equivalent of other people saying they read the latest Harry Potter book over the weekend. I read slowly and I'm a critical reader, very conscious of style and word choice, which means I read slower still. This book held my attention as Priest immersed me in her world of steam and toxic gas. I loved every minute of it.

If my praise leaves you unsure, then consider that both Warren Ellis and Cory Doctorow liked it. But then, that might not mean much to you either. In that case, go read whatever the hell everyone else is reading. I'm just trying to show you something different.

The author has a follow-up book, Dreadnought, coming out soon. It's not a sequel, but it's set in the same world. For that reason alone, I'll be reading it too.

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