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3.4 out of 5 stars46
3.4 out of 5 stars
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If I'm being one hundred percent honest, I have to hold up my hands and say initially, I found Boneshaker by Cherie Priest a difficult book to read. Now before all you Priest fans form a steam-powered lynch mob and head toward my house with burning torches, let me take a moment to explain and hopefully this will calm your anger.

This situation doesn't happen often, in fact I can remember exactly the last time this issue did occur. When I started reading Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh, I often had to read pages four or five times before I understood what was going on. (That admission is made all the more embarrassing by the fact I'm Scottish, but I digress.)

I stress that the fault is most definitely with the reader, in both cases, not the writer. Like Welsh, Priest has written something that delivers on many levels but in order to get the most from the story, the reader must allow the novel to command their full attention.

Once I had the opportunity to sit down and properly concentrate on the novel, I was blown away by how gripping it was. Over the last couple of years I have read a fair amount of `steampunk' and I enjoy the genre, it always seems to offer endless possibilities. Boneshaker is a fantastic example and very effectively captures the pioneering spirit of America in the 19th century. I have to admit I was also pleased that there were zombies or in this case rotters thrown into the mix as well.

Set fifteen years after a man-made disaster, Seattle has become a no go area surrounded by a huge wall. The city has suffered at the hands of the Boneshaker, a huge drill that destroyed buildings and released a toxic Blight upon the unsuspecting citizenry. This deadly gas kills and then re-animates those that suffer prolonged exposure. Eeking out a meagre living, widow Briar Wilkies and her son Zeke live just outside the city in an area that has come to be known as The Outskirts. Both are ostracised by the community, as many hold Brair's husband, Leviticus Blue - the man who built the Boneshaker - responsible for the calamity that has befallen them. Zeke is driven by the need to find out the truth about his father, and the events that occurred before his birth.

I liked the way the narrative splits between the two characters when Zeke heads into the city looking for answers and Briar follows. He travels under the wall while his mother travels above. This gives the author the opportunity to establish the details of the different communities that exist in and around Seattle. Both meet many colourful characters and there are lot of twists and turns on the way to the novels conclusion.

This era of American history lends itself well to the steampunk genre, and the author's descriptions of people and places are very vivid. Though initially, I had some difficulty with the novel, I persevered and I'm glad that I did as the story was ultimately rewarding.
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on 25 November 2010
Surprisingly, the detailed blurb for this book doesn't give much away. Most of that background info is crammed into the first couple of pages. It is presented as an extract from a historical novel, which one of the characters is writing.

This character, Hale Quarter, is one of the first people we come across in chapter one. We see the world from a mixture of his and Briar's point-of-view. Then, Quarter disappears, and doesn't reappear again in the novel. Not a particularly smooth introduction to the story.

The novel is structured with two dominant view points: Briar and Zeke. Each have their own chapters. Briar's chapters are illustrated with a pair of goggles at the beginning, and Zeke's chapters with a gas lamp. A nice touch.

I felt Priest painted Briar's character quite well. Her history, her flaws, made her more human. However, she boarded on the stereotypical 'mother who will stop at nothing' to save her child.

Zeke, on the other hand, was an incredibly annoying character. He is meant to be an older teenager, but acts more like a ten or eleven year old. He lacks a sense of maturity, and his thoughts are simple. Often, he comes across as rather dumb, and I felt almost completely unsympathetic towards him.

Whereas Briar has a much more active stance in moving the plot forward, Zeke is lead around by others, making him passive and quite boring.

All four-hundred pages of the book take place within a few days. And this slow pace often takes its toll. The action scenes are well executed and exciting, but the spaces between them are often bogged down with unnecessary description, bantering, and time-fillers. It seems to me that there is no real control over the contours of action and suspense.

I commend Priest's original zombie ideas. The term 'rotter' is both apt and phonetically pleasing, and I liked the idea that these zombies were created by a poisonous gas. However, there is no attempt to explain why this 'blight' created the undead, or why or how it was being formed beneath the city. The characters don't even wonder about this, which I found strange. The role of the zombies in the plot is quite unoriginal. They are just there to loom, chase and destroy.

The steampunk elements are largely aesthetic. There are copious amounts of goggles, airships, weird weapons and strange devices. Nothing seems superficial in the sense that all the steampunk objects are important to the narrative. However, there is no real sense of rebellion in this text, no real sense of the 'punk'. This book doesn't really try to hold up a mirror to anything, to reveal any ugly truth.

The book itself bears a sepia text (as opposed to traditional black) which I personally found a little hard on the eyes. However, I adore the cover art and design.

Overall, I did enjoy reading Boneshaker, despite its flaws. Priest's imagined world is rich and dark. Perhaps with a little more editing and fine tuning, this book could have been even better.
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I bought this book some while back and it has been sitting on my TBR pile for quite some time. Deciding that I wanted to put my feet up with something entertaining and enjoyable I decided to give this a go. Ultimately though I found this was just an okay book, the kind of thing that you may read over a weekend and then promptly forget about as you dump it in the bag for the charity shop.

I thought that there would be more action in places than there really was and this just really turned into a story of a mother looking for her son who had gone into the walled city mentioned in the blurb on the back cover. Obviously this is an alternative history novel and Seattle has been changed to write this, and I had no problem with that, it is just that this seemed rather clichéd and similar to many another tale, although not as good as some.

So on the whole if you are looking for just some average escapism then this will fit the bill, but if you are looking for something that will make you sit up and want to tell others about the great book you have just read, then this isn't it. There are much better Steampunk books on the market, but by the same token, there are also much worse.
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on 3 August 2015
Story starts of promising - at least what I expect from steampunk. Big fantastical machines driven by gears and steam, airships, furnaces. Oh, and zombie hoard thrown in for good measure. However, it all too rapidly degenerates into a series of isolated adventures which together form a loose story with a minor plot twist at the end. Some characters are really well developed while others are more two dimensional and seem to be there just to make up the numbers. Some totally unbelievable teenage behaviour (goes from calling his mother by name to Mom) - I understand what the author was signifying but it does not ring true with any teenage boys I know. Overall, the story lacks excitement and pace. Perhaps this will sound sexist, but in this case I would say the novel is obviously written by a woman with too much emphasis on relationships and emotions and not enough given to adventure and technology. Not a bad book - just not what I would recommend to a friend. Wont be reading the rest of the series.
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on 11 October 2013
Review - Boneshaker by Cherie Priest - 5/5 stars

I received this book as a gift. I wanted to try a bit of steampunk again, and this was happily waiting on my bookshelf.

The beginning was a bit slow, I confess. The author starts us from the ground up, which is a good way to start, and teaches us about the two main characters: Briar Wilkes and her son Zeke, who have a bit of history in the story. Briar tended to procrastinate a few times, clearly avoiding discussing some sensitive family matters with her son.

It turns out the main characters have a direct connection to the Boneshaker machine. The Boneshaker machine caused quite an incident in Seattle, unleashing a gas called the Blight, which turns humans into the undead. Seattle is walled off from the rest of civilization.

I must say the author did a very good job introducing steampunk technologies to the reader, and ensured there was a very good reason for their presence. For example, gas masks are worn to ensure people are not infected by the Blight gas, and the subsequent isolation in Seattle and the scavenging of a local inventor leads to new/steampunk technologies.

There was a lot happening in this book. There were many interesting characters and the main two characters sped through a lot of non-stop action.

I'd recommend this book to anybody who likes steampunk. The ending was good, and although unexpected, it didn't really overawe me. However the gradual build-up of the truth between mother and son is definitely enjoyable and makes the rest of the story an intriguing read.
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on 22 October 2011
In an alternate 1860s Seattle, Briar Wilkes and her son Zeke are living hand to mouth on the outskirts of a once bustling city of the gold rush. Sixteen years previous, the city was literally torn asunder by the Boneshaker, a great drill-engine built by Briar's then husband, Dr. Blue, to mine through Alaska's ice in search of gold. This terrible disaster not only caused many deaths and ruined livelihoods but unearthed a blight gas that turns anybody who breathes it into the living dead. Now Zeke wants answers. Was his father really to blame? He heads off to the other side of the wall with an old gas mask and an antique rifle and only Briar can bring him back.

Last but not least in Discovering Steampunk: Boneshaker by Cherie Priest. Boneshaker is a cleverly weaved nail-biting story full of intricacies and hidden history. Beginning with a catastrophic event that shakes the very foundations of Seattle and its' people, causing them to have to wall off the main part of the town to remove the possibility of blight contamination from the strange gas that was unearthed all those years ago, it reminded me a lot of an action-horror film.

It is a fantastically written piece of fiction. It's atmospheric, chilling, and dark. The entire story has layers and hidden depths that I can only hope are explored in later books and the rich description paints such a clear picture of the environment that it is just the story and you. It is told from two perspectives, those of Briar and Zeke, and their stories are so tightly connected yet distant with entirely different voices that it really keeps the narrative ever-changing and fresh.

The relationship between Briar Wilkes, and her son Ezekial is explored in depth as he runs off to recredit his family name from beyond the wall, and Briar strives to rescue him from a world of `rotters' (zombies), blight gas which turns people into rotters if breathed, and the criminals who have made a life for themselves there. It is heart-rending and gripping to the very end.

Briar might actually be one of my favourite heroines in modern fiction. She reminds me of a Ripleyesque 80's action heroine, kicking arse and not just for the sake of it but because she has to. There is no romance, just a grim fight for survival of herself and her son and she is willing to do anything to save him. The strong female heroine is a very difficult trope to manage because very often it is taken too far and you know it's been used just to make a statement, or they aren't that strong at all, however, Briar is neither and I love that about her character.

I would recommend Boneshaker for folk who enjoy a good adult novel. There's no sexual content but if you don't enjoy adult fiction, you won't enjoy this as it can be quite slow-going in parts. However, if that doesn't bother you, then it comes highly recommended from me as a steampunk staple. There's a bit of a horror element to it, though nothing that will have you hiding under the covers if you read it at night, there are a few zombies, a strong criminal underground, and everything fits together so well. It's easy to lose yourself in the story and forget that you're reading a work of fiction.
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on 11 July 2012
I liked the premise of 'Boneshaker' and Priest's portrayal of post-apocolyptic 19th-century Seattle and the characters who dwell there. It's a lovingly crafted book and you can tell Priest has a real fondness for the period - I just felt that it took a bit too much time to hit it's stride (as her subsequent novels have done also) which left the end feeling a little rushed. Also be warned: it's not really a zombie novel - although a zombie-type scurge does inhabit much of the city where the action occurs, but this is not the novel's central theme.
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To be honest with you this is a book that left me confused and I feel that the book was in part an experiment as to what could be achieved within a title without having to do too much. Yes it has a great concept, yes I love the fact that its Steampunk with Zombies but some of the characters telling the story left me not only annoyed but had me wishing that they'd turn into a Happy meal on legs (yes Zeke I mean you.)

Whilst the other protagonist Briar really brought it across, the whole thing seemed to be more of an extensive set up for future outings rather than a real story for the reader to get behind. It lacked pace in places, the characters felt a little flat and whilst the imagery within was wonderfully imaginable all round it felt like it really didn't take me anywhere.

All in if you want to read Cherie Priest I would advise starting with her Four and Twenty Blackbirds, that really is top notch value for money otherwise you may be put off an author that really does hit the spot on quite a few occasions.
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on 31 October 2009
After enjoying Four and Twenty Blackbirds, I've been meaning to read more of Cherie Priest's work but my reading pile has simply been to large and diverse to come back. However, when Boneshaker came out, I simply had to get it and bump it up on top of the pile. I have no regrets doing so.

Determined to clear his father's name, Zeke runs away from home and finds a way into the city. His worried mother soon follows him and the narrative switches back and forth between them and their desperate struggle to find what they are looking for. They make friends and enemies alike until they are finally confronted with the the ruler of the inner city who might hold all the answers...

There have been few books in recent years that have captivated me as much as Boneshaker, it is simply unputdownable. The plot chucks along nicely, constantly little bits of the background are revealed but never too much so the reader is always left guessing at the truth until it is finally revealed in the end.
The setting isn't classic steampunk in that it isn't Victorian England or the Empire but it has all the elements. Belching furnaces, wonderful and horrible machines and gadets made from brass and wood, dirigibles and airships and of course goggles in all kinds of shapes and sizes, creating an interesting world away from the stereotype. Also unlike the stereotype it is a dark and depressing world, everyone is fighting for survival or making ends meet.
Both plot and characters are very well written and vividly described so it's easy for the reader's mental eye to imagine what's going on.

Well done Cherie, I can't wait for the next book in this universe.
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As the first novel in Cherie Priest's "Clockwork Century" series I was really looking forward to reading this, having previously read her intriguing short story "Reluctance" which is set in the same world.

I think my anticipation was a little too high; it`s not a bad novel by any means, it just didn't quite live up to the high praise it has received in all the Steampunk reference books.
As it is, the characterisations are fairly good, with a strong female leading character and her wayward son - Briar and Zeke (Ezekiel) Wilkes - and a host of interesting - if, in some cases, underdeveloped - supporting characters. The plot sags somewhat in places though, rescued mainly by set-piece scenes. There are many good ideas presented within the alternative world Priest has constructed - the Civil War, airship technology, zombies etc., but I was left feeling that the sum of parts was somewhat greater than the whole.
There is a strong idea at work here - this alternative-world setting is too good to give up on - and Priest certainly shows flashes of quality in her writing which will lead me to read the next volume.

"Boneshaker", however, was regrettably less earth trembling than hoped for by this reader. 3 ½ stars.
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