My first steampunk book... or is it? When I look at “Best steampunk books” list they tend to include H.G. Wells' [b:The Time Machine|2493|The Time Machine|H.G. Wells|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1327942880s/2493.jpg|3234863] and China Miéville's [b:Perdido Street Station|68494|Perdido Street Station (Bas-Lag, #1)|China Miéville|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1393537963s/68494.jpg|3221410] both of which I have read but I doubt Mr. Wells had steampunk in mind at the time of writing, and the excellent [b:Perdido Street Station|68494|Perdido Street Station (Bas-Lag, #1)|China Miéville|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1393537963s/68494.jpg|3221410] seems to encompass several subgenres. In any case Boneshaker
is the first consciously steampunk book I ever read. According to Tor.com
Cherie Priest is the Queen of Steampunk, with Boneshaker being her most popular book, and it was nominated for both the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award. A triple steampunk whammy then, seems like an excellent place to sampling this relatively new subgenre.
Unfortunately for Boneshaker it is the book I read immediately after Margaret Atwood's wonderful [b:Oryx and Crake|46756|Oryx and Crake (MaddAddam, #1)|Margaret Atwood|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1327896599s/46756.jpg|3143431], a book it has virtually nothing in common with apart from the author's gender. Comparing the two books would not be "apple to apple", except that Oryx and Crake is a hard act to follow in term of the impact on this reader and just the sheer excellence of it. Having said that Boneshaker is not too shabby. I was looking for a accessible, entertaining sf/f quick-read and this book fits the bill reasonably well. However, I was expecting it to be a little more breezy and the first few chapters turn out to be rather melancholy, and our heroes are introduced in a depressing state of privation. There are two protagonists in this book, a lady called Briar and her teenage son Zeke, their relationship is somewhat tumultuous thanks to the absent father who messed up their city with his Boneshaker super drilling machine, which caused buildings to collapse, several deaths, and worse of all release a noxious gas from underground which turn people into zombies (of the fast moving variety).
The book is fairly welled paced though there is a chapter of Zeke having a long drawn out angst ridden scene with his mom which taxed my patience a bit. Once the adventure gets going however, the book chugs along nicely to the very end. The world building is very nicely done throughout, from the very first chapter which establishes the world vividly and the "poisoned city" and the underground part of the book is are skilfully created. Ms. Priest herself is quite the prose stylist, she often comes up with clever turns of phrase and lyrical descriptions. Her dialogues sometime sparkle and suitably formal or flowery for the 19th century setting. I would say the writing is somewhat above average for sf/f, certainly for a steampunk/zombie mashup.
There are a couple of weaknesses in the book however. The character Zeke is your typical wilful independent rebellious teen archetype. I do not find him very prepossessing, he is a little short on personality, his motivation is not entirely convincing, he seems to be there to drive the plot and appeal to teen readers. Fortunately his mother Briar is a more interesting protagonist who goes on her own separate adventure to find Zeke after he went off on his own into the walled zombie filled city to do his not very convincing motivation thing. Her character is much more successfully developed and she is quite believable, strong, smart and likable, I wonder if this has anything to do with the author's gender and identification with her character? Secondly the plot seems to meander a little, especially when the narrative is switched to Zeke's point of view. I find myself not so invested in Zeke's plight and wish the damn zombies would just make a happy meal out of him. The supporting adult characters are quiet nicely developed also, my favorite being Lucy with her steam driven mechanical arm.
In fact the steampunk aspect of the book may be its best feature, I enjoy the descriptions of weird steam driven machines with oil leaking all over the place. The scientific details are never gone into but the alternative technology is still more believable than the magic found in most fantasy novels.
The book ends satisfactorily though I could have done without the superfluous epilogue. I am not sure whether I will read the other volumes in this Clockwork Century series, but I am likely to read more of Cherie Priest's novels. The lady has skillz.
(3.75 stars or something like that!)