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Boneshaker
Cherie Priest
Tor, 416 pages

Boneshaker
Cherie Priest
Cherie Priest was born in Tampa, Florida in 1975 (the same year that gave us Saturday Night Live and the The Rocky Horror Picture Show). In 2001, she graduated from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with an M.A. in Rhetoric/Professional writing, and she also has a B.A. in English from Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, TN.

Cherie Priest Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Those Who Went Remain There Still

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Katherine Petersen

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Gold prospectors flocked to the Northwest in search of treasure in the late 1800s, and during this frenzy the Russians sought a way to reach a vein of gold hidden below a vast amount of Alaskan ice. To this end, they held a contest for a machine that could manage the task and commissioned Seattle scientist Leviticus Blue to build his Boneshaker. But things went awry, and when he tried out the machine, he carved out much of Seattle's downtown, accidentally releasing blight gas that turned individuals into the living dead or "rotters" as they are known. Survivors built a towering wall around the roughly two miles square of contaminated city and eked out lives as best they could in the "outskirts."

Briar Wilkes, Blue's widow who took back her maiden name, and her son, Ezekiel, are two of these survivors. Ostracized by nearly everyone because of her husband's machine, Briar works in a factory that purifies water, and tries to keep Zeke out of trouble. But she never told him the truth about what happened with Blue and the Boneshaker, so Zeke sets out on a mission to clear his father's name.

Armed with a gas mask, a gun and some mementos of his grandfather Wilkes, who was well-respected for saving many lives during the disaster, Zeke enters the walled city through an underground pipe. And Briar, who loves her son more than anything else in the world, enters the city to find him and bring him home. What follows are Zeke and Briar's adventures, told in alternating chapters. In addition to rotters, the two must face air pirates, a mad doctor who calls himself king and armed mercenaries, some of whom are friendly. We follow both Briar and Zeke through an underground world, elaborately detailed in both its grimness and how the residents have made parts of it liveable. Having grown up in Seattle and taken the underground tour, I can picture much of it although I can safely say I'd prefer not to live there.

The novel combines a mother-son relationship, adventure, history and elements of steampunk. I say elements because my understanding of steampunk is that it combines history and technology, but the only gadget is the Boneshaker, which is only peripherally involved in the story. Cherie Priest also references some other machines, one that temporarily knocks out the rotters, invented by "King" Minnericht. This is a minor quibble or even misunderstanding on my part and doesn't detract from the storyline. Historically, the plot is easily believable, but it's hard to understand why people would stay in the blighted city or even in the outskirts.

In this alternate history, the Civil War rages on for years; add in dismal economic conditions, and you have a good idea of the confining environment of few choices for the people living there. War has a devastating impact on morale even if it's happening across the country.

Boneshaker is Priest's first novel in the Clockwork Universe, and more are anticipated. She has created a moving and entertaining adventure whose fast-moving plot will keep readers turning pages.

Priest has created strong characters in Briar and Zeke as well as an intriguing supporting cast such as Lucy, the good-hearted, one-armed barkeep; Jeremiah Swakhammer, a mercenary/friend who knows how to find his way around and take care of himself; Captain Cly, an air pirate and old friend of Briar's grandfather; the aforementioned Dr. Minnericht, a mechanical whiz and walled city overlord; and Angeline, an Indian princess who helps Zeke out of more than one jam. Overall, Priest has created a terrific story that will please endless science fiction fans in search of a thrill.

Copyright © 2010 Katherine Petersen

Katherine Petersen started reading as a young child and hasn't stopped. She still thinks she can read all the books she wants, but might, at some point, realize the impossibility of this mission. While she enjoys other genres, she thrives on fantasy, science fiction and mysteries.


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