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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 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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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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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 25 January 2017
I'm can't understand how this uninspired, thrill-free collage of other people's idea was nominated for some of science fiction's biggest accolades.

In a tougher challenge than anything that happens in the book I ground through the wasteland of recycled ideas, hoping that at some point I'd stumble into the magic. All I could find was a clunking adventure on rails that sails very close to hard-core writing to market.

It's a portmanteau of everything that was hot around 2010.

It has a retro-future steampunk setting, basically a grab-bag of goggles and airships and steam-driven prosthetics, transposed from Victorian London to the Wickedy Wickedy Wild Wild West. The writer shows no great affection for this wide but shallow pool of cartoon possibilities, just a technician's functional appreciation for flat-pack world-building. She ends up with something like the DC superhero movie universe, taking familiar landmarks and draining them of their original charm, colour and appeal. Which makes it a bigger mystery why she pushed on with a series set in the same world.

Heroine Briar Wilkes is very last decade's on-trend. She is a plain, blue-collar Amirkin single mom, who abandons her water-smelting day-job and pulls on her daddy's law-keepin' finery to go grab herself some adventurin'. Her all-purpose YA disaffected son isn't much more than a clueless secondary McGuffin, whose teen-angst "life ain't fair!" quest to clear his daddy's name puts him in peril and drags his mom into what passes for the plot.

And, of course, there's zombies. 28 Days Later, high-speed, flesh-eating zombies. The reason for the zombies is the book's central McGuffin, justifying the confined physical setting of the bulk of the story and defining the setting's two major threads of physical jeopardy. The premise is so weak it undermines the credibility of everything around it, holding the lack of original world-building up to far too strong a light.

The writing makes everything tough going. Actions are described in minute detail, so everything happens at the same deathly pace. A sit-down conference over dried fruit has the same level of energy and peril as a chase down the street followed by a pack of ... sigh ... zombies - which is to say, almost none. Theres also no real consistency. Nearly three quarters of the way through there's a shark-jump to introduce a basic Bond villain and his underground lair, whose sudden intrusion of colour and (relative) glamour doesn't sit well in contrast to the rest of the book.

Needless to say, short of a one-book, desert island scenario, I'm unlikely to double-dip the Clockwork Century-verse.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 3 January 2011
I bought this because I heard it described as 'the perfect steampunk novel'.

Well, OK, it has a lot of the expected steampunk elements. If this were a movie it would certainly have the appropriate 'look'.

Unfortunately, what it's lacking is a decent STORY. Long before I came to the last of its 400-odd pages, I realised that the entire book could be summarised in a couple of pages and still leave out very little of what actually happens. Actually I think it could be summed up in a few lines, but I won't do that, because I hate spoilers in reviews.

If I didn't know that Ms Priest had already written other novels, I would have sworn that this must be a first novel by someone who was still feeling their way at how to construct a plot.

I was hugely disappointed by this book, and don't expect to be reading anything else by this writer.
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on 24 July 2016
There's a lot going on in this American steampunk adventure, but also not much at all. A boy gets lost in a terrible place looking for the truth about his dead father, and his mother has to follow to save him. There are ruined cities, catacombs, zeppelins, anachronistic weaponry, zombies, masked overlords, and more.

For all of that, the story doesn't really do very much with any of them, save wheel the main characters (and a ragged supporting cast) past them for the occasional look, and for what is supposed to be a rollicking adventure it takes its time doing so. The characters aren't quite complex enough, and the elements that the author includes aren't quite novel enough to ever surprise, but they do fuse well. The backdrop is solid, the action when it comes is well paced, and I enjoyed a look at steampunk adventuring US-style. It's not without its problems, but this is a diverting enough book if you're okay with its very straightforward plotting.
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on 16 February 2011
I was so excited to read this novel. Steampunk, zombies and airships. The package looked great, awesome front cover art and even the font colour indicated that this novel could be something different and special.

How wrong was i? The characters are sketchy with no discernible personality traits that a reader can identify with. I felt lost throughout the story with the constant changing of personalities and the rash and confusing dialogue that made no sense. I tried to suspend my disbelief but even in a fantasy world, you expect characters to say certain things and take certain courses of action, but every course of action that the characters pursue within the book have no real justification. Secondary characters seem to be portrayed with an overwhelming sense of ambiguity which we are never given any satisfaction over. Characters are brought into the book and dispelled all to quickly without ever helping the narrative.

The world in which Priest has created is too whimsical, details aren't explained clearly enough and i felt constantly lost. One minute we're below ground, the next minute we're on top of a building. When did this happen, and how come we jumped from day to night all within the space of one conversation?

So frustrated i was at reading this book that i had to restrain myself from throwing it.

Cherie Priest: if you are reading this; please stop writing.
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