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First there was the legend of Leviticus Blue, his Boneshaker and the terrible legacy of the Blight unleashed when his infernal machine drilled deep into the earth. The two people who are left to pick up the pieces are Briar, Levi's wife and their son, Zeke. Briar wants to lay the legend to rest, forget about Levi and the terrible events of sixteen years before but Zeke wants justice for the two men he feels have been unjustly labelled villains: his father and his grandfather, Maynard Wilkes.
Steampunk is rapidly becoming my new favourite genre and for me, a natural reading progression given my love of urban fantasy. Although the label Steampunk may be a recent invention, this isn't a particularly new genre having its origins in the works of such luminaries as Jules Verne and H G Wells. Steampunk is best described as a marriage between high adventure, science fiction and alternative history. One thing is certain, Steampunk makes for a highly entertaining read.
After my first forays into the genre, I checked out what books were regarded as Steampunk must-reads by those in the know and Boneshaker appeared high on every list. Unlike the usual scenario of an alternative Victorian world with added steam or mechanically driven machinery, Cherie Priest sets her story in an America where the Civil War has been raging for 10 years though the action takes place in Seattle, a territory which hasn't been impacted by the conflict. Seattle has its own unique problems, however, which began with Leviticus Blue driving his Boneshaker machine into the earth and releasing the Blight, a toxic fog which not only kills but can also render some into a zombie-like state. In order to contain the Blight, the inhabitants of Seattle have enclosed the city with a wall, leaving those who couldn't or wouldn't leave to fend for themselves, and a new settlement has grown up outside the wall known as the Outskirts.
When young Zeke goes into the city to try to find evidence to exonerate his father, Briar has no choice but to go after him and what follows is a page-turner of a yarn which is full of originality.
Briar has learned to be tough and resourceful having had to protect both herself and her son from those who blame her husband and father for all the ills which have befallen Seattle. She is totally disillusioned with her men-folk and life in general and in this new world brought about by the actions of her husband, she and Zeke live a hand-to-mouth existence barely keeping body and soul together. Her journey into the city brings out hidden depths in her character which she never knew she possessed and she's driven on in the hopes that she'll be able to find Zeke and bring him out of the city in one piece.
Zeke, on the other hand, is fifteen years old and despite having grown up in the shadow of the Blight and the awful legacy left by Levi, he is still idealistic enough to want to prove his father's innocence and that of his grandfather.
The story which unfolds is high adventure in an historical setting; it's not necessarily an accurate one although it has a few recognisable elements. In this world, mechanical and steam-driven machines make life slightly easier and airships are an accepted means of transport but along with these inventions come sky pirates, smugglers and various other dangerous characters all of whom both Zeke and Briar run into during the course of their adventure.
My first experience of Steampunk was reading the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger which is written in an altogether lighter vein and is much more tongue-in-cheek. Boneshaker, on the other hand, is a far darker tale. It's a rip-roaring adventure story in the best traditions of Jules Verne and H G Wells but with added cinematic elements taken from movies such as Mad Max and the Indiana Jones series. Though it probably won't appeal to those who prefer their reading matter to be firmly set in the real world, those who enjoy dark fantasy, science fiction or horror will love it. It's easy to fall into this horrific world of a post-apocalyptic Seattle existing in isolation from the rest of America.
Cherie Priest's writing style is wonderfully descriptive; not in a flowery way though as the author uses her adjectives very sparingly but to great effect, painting a picture of a totally alien and horrific world developed in a familiar city landscape. The plot is fast paced and her characters are all well rounded and I found it easy to understand their motivations. They all behave exactly as they should given their extraordinary circumstances.
Briar and Zeke weren't alone in this horrifically changed landscape, however, and there are others living in the city, besides the terrifying Rotters, those creatures who died and rose again to feed on human and animal flesh. The other characters are a truly diverse group, some good, some bad and just like Briar and Zeke, the reader is often left unsure of just which side these people are on. This adds an extra white-knuckle dimension to the story.
This is the first book by Cherie Priest that I've read but it definitely won't be the last. It gets the full 5 stars from me. It's a story which is well conceived and executed and one that remains with the reader after the final chapter has been read and the book is closed. I measure a good book by my eagerness to turn the pages to find out what happens next and by my reluctance to put it down. This book scores highly in that respect. It was simply unputdownable and I found myself reading far into the night. I owed it to Briar and Zeke to stay with them and their adventure to the bitter end.
Paperback copies of Boneshaker are available for around £5.50 or in Kindle format for £3.74.