Boneshaker: 1 (The Clockwork Century) Paperback – 8 Nov 2012
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"I suspect the majority of readers will be hooked by the first of Priest's Clockwork Century series."
"A steampunk-zombie-airship adventure of rollicking pace and sweeping proportions . . . This book is made of irresistible" Scott WesterfeldSee all Product description
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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.
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.
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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