Review: Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

Book: Boneshaker
Author: Cherie Priest
Publisher: Tor Books
Release date: September 29, 2009
Source: Borrowed from local library

Summary: (from jacket copy) In the early days of the Civil War, rumors of gold in the frozen Klondike brought hordes of newcomers to the Pacific Northwest. Anxious to compete, Russian prospectors commissioned inventor Leviticus Blue to create a great machine that could mine through Alaskaâ??s ice. Thus was Dr. Blueâ??s Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine born.

But on its first test run the Boneshaker went terribly awry, destroying several blocks of downtown Seattle and unearthing a subterranean vein of blight gas that turned anyone who breathed it into the living dead.

Now it is sixteen years later, and a wall has been built to enclose the devastated and toxic city. Just beyond it lives Blueâ??s widow, Briar Wilkes. Life is hard with a ruined reputation and a teenaged boy to support, but she and Ezekiel are managing. Until Ezekiel undertakes a secret crusade to rewrite history.

His quest will take him under the wall and into a city teeming with ravenous undead, air pirates, criminal overlords, and heavily armed refugees. And only Briar can bring him out alive.

First impressions: This book had me hooked straight through to Chapter Four. We are introduced to Briar Wilkes and her son, Zeke, both of whom are captivating. They live a hard life in 1880s Seattle, and there is some controversy around Briar’s father and her ex-husband. Cherie Priest drew me into this world right away and I was totally absorbed…

Lasting impressions: …and then it screeched to a halt. It took me 10 days to get through this book, because there was no urgency to the plot whatsoever. The characters have no internal conflict or growth. Every element of the story seemed held at a distance, so I could never invest in any of it. I don’t remember the last time reading a book was so painful.

Negative impressions: Beyond the aforementioned pacing problems, this book had too many characters that served no function. Once Briar and Zeke enter the walled-off portion of the city, where zombies (here called “rotters”) roam hungrily about, you expect some action. Instead, we get lots of scenes where they stumble across interesting and colorful characters, who help them get from one place to the next, and then disappear–only to then jump out at you in surprise later on, when you have already forgotten about them because you’ve met 14,527 new people since then. It was maddening.

Overall impressions: The only reason I finished this book was so I could give it a proper review. Though the process was like pulling teeth, there were portions of this book that were quite entertaining. The world was interesting, and I loved the idea of the rotters developing after a mysterious gas leak. The hidden society that Briar and Zeke stumble upon behind the wall is mildly interesting, but the ongoing is-he-or-isn’t-he surrounding Dr. Minnericht as possibly being Briar’s dead husband was more annoying than intriguing.

There is a big reveal at the end, but by the time the plot meandered its way to that point, I was so beyond caring that it hit me about as forcefully as a shrug. You ever see a movie where each scene is kind of exciting, and just enough happens that you don’t turn it off because you’re curious what will happen next, but when it’s over you realize that every scene had exactly the same intensity? That’s how this book was for me. Flat as a pancake, straight through. No real rise or fall to the action. Zero heartbeat. Flatlined.

The book is saved from one-star doom because there were flashes of light hidden away from time to time. I just wish overall there had been more of them, and they had been a thousand watts brighter.

Rating: 2/5 stars

Want a different perspective? Check out this Boneshaker review by Day to Day. It’s also worth mentioning that this book was named Steampunk Book of the Year 2010 by and won a Locus Award for Best Sci-Fi Novel 2010. Perhaps steampunk isn’t my thing after all?

Get Steampunked!

7 thoughts on “Review: Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

  1. So you're saying I can feel free to judge this book by it's cover? Because I am so not feeling that cover. That sucks that this book was so painful for you to read. It really is an excruciating experience forcing yourself to read a book you're just not into. Thanks for the warning.

  2. That stinks. I'm glad for the warning and @smallreview, I totally agree on that cover. It is not all that. But, Logan, I think you'd really be into YA steampunk. Have you read Cassandra Clare's Clockwork Angel? If you haven't, try it, and let me know if the genre redeemed itself. Oh, and I'm glad your lovin' the HoN series. What book are you on? This series is pretty great. It's kinda one of my favorites. I have to read the eighth one soon. Okay, enough with the long comment. *lol*Asher K. (Paranormal Indulgence)

  3. Awww this is so upsetting! I just bought this book a few weeks ago because of that same initial hook. That's a shame; steampunk is generally great (though I can see why those authors have a hard containing their characters). Heh, I like the cover, as original illustration goes.

  4. Have you read the Larklight series by Philip Reeve? It's more MG than YA but it is some awesome steampunky goodness. Don't give up yet!

  5. My husband liked Boneshaker but he did say that it was slow at times. I've tried a few steampunk novels with mixed results. I never really care about the "steampunk" elements but if there are good characters then I'm fine. I guess the same as any book genre.

  6. @Small Review – You know, I still can't figure out why I finished it. I guess because in general I hate to abandon books. I practically never quit on a fiction book (nonfiction is a different story). But I dreaded picking this one up. Then when I would get a few pages in, I would be interested enough to keep reading, but if anything distracted me it was game over. Such an odd reading experience. And yes, judge away on the cover. ;)@Asher – I'm definitely not giving up on the genre, but maybe I'll stick to the YA stuff. I read The Alchemy of Stone and adored it. Clockwork Angel is on my list. It may have nothing to do with the genre, and maybe this book just didn't click for me.I'm just on the first HoN book – Marked. 70% done and I just love it. I actually resisted this series for a long time and now I wish I hadn't!@Alyson – It's possible you'll love it. Plenty of other people really enjoyed this book, so take my review with a grain of salt. (Or is it "as" a grain of salt?)@Carrie – I haven't heard of that yet, so thanks! I'll add it to my list!

  7. Sounds like you had a miserable experience reading this book. Bummer. I would really like to try some steampunk sometime but I have no idea what's good or where to start. Not with this one clearly.

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