Boneshaker - Cherie Priest
Christmas 2010: I realised that I had got stuck in a rut. I was re-reading old favourites again and again, waiting for a few trusted authors to release new works. Something had to be done.

On the spur of the moment I set myself a challenge, to read every book to have won the Locus Sci-Fi award. That’s 35 books, 6 of which I’d previously read, leaving 29 titles by 14 authors who were new to me.

While working through this reading list I got married, went on my honeymoon, switched career and became a father. As such these stories became imprinted on my memory as the soundtrack to the happiest period in my life (so far).


I don’t know about you, but sometimes I save the best part of my dinner until last – savouring the anticipation as much as the taste. Boneshaker (the 2010 winner of the Locus Sci-Fi Award) had the look, to me, of a tasty little treat, so I kept putting it off for as long as I could resist.

Steampunk, zombies and air-pirates. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it?
When I saw that the text inside is printed in sepia-brown, I thought it was a delightful touch of icing on the cake!

Gushing reviews like this one, from the usually more reserved Jason, didn’t dampen my growing expectations.

We all read a lot of books, hoping to find 'A BOOK'.
Sadly, for me, Boneshaker is just ‘a book’.

Before I start my grumbling, I’d like to acknowledge the many things that Priest does well here:
- The original concept is brilliant
- The book tumbles along at a good pace
- Much of the imagery is strong and memorable
- Several of the supporting characters stand out brightly
(I'm thinking of Swakhammer, Lucy O'Gunning and Fang)

So far, so good?

My first big issue comes with the Mother/Son protagonists (Briar & Zeke). I can’t think of many (any?) YA protagonists blander than Zeke. His original decision to go into the city seems poorly motivated and once he gets there the only memorable character trait he demonstrates is his resilient politeness (and lack of initiative). As for Briar, she’s got a touch more depth (stubborn, reticent, can shoot well, etc) but is still a long way from sparkling characterisation.

My second issue is the lack of control either of them have over their grand adventure. From the moment they get inside Zombieburg they’re either kidnapped or rescued – led from pillar to post, following behind like meek little lambkins. The most difficult choices they make are ( if / when / in which direction / how fast ) to run away!

My final gripe made me so mad that when I saw my cats had knocked the book into a bathtub full of water shortly after I’d finished it, I didn’t think “Oh no, my treasured novel has been soaked!” – I thought “Hah! You deserved that!”

There are two major hooks and two minor hooks to pull us towards the climax.
1) MAJOR: Will Briar find and rescue her son?
2) MAJOR: Is evil Dr Minnerich really Briar’s long-lost hubby, Levi Blue?
3) MINOR: Did Blue go on the rampage which released the blight deliberately?
4) MINOR: Why has Briar stuck around Zombieburg outskirts ever since?

Number 1) is never really in doubt. The books not got enough edge to risk killing either of the protags.

2, 3 & 4 all implode like a slug in a pressure chamber.

YES – Blue went on the rampage that released the blight!
NO – Minnericht is not Blue, Briar shot Blue years ago!
Briar has in fact known this all along and could have cleared up the mystery by simply telling… anyone at any point…
But she didn’t tell because… I’m not sure?

We’re bludgeoned with the fact that she’s despised in the Outskirts because she was married to Blue who was thought to have released the blight. Surely confirming this, and that she killed him for it, would have gone a long way to restoring her reputation?

Maybe she was keeping schtum because of the stolen money she squirreled away?
Oh no, wait – she seems to have forgotten all about that until right at the end.

We never get a decent reason for why she never left the outskirts.

Frankly, by the end I didn’t care.

I enjoyed the ride – it was a kind of 2.5 for me, and I’m a generous soul so I rounded it up to a 3 – but as I was hoping for a 4, I left Boneshaker sorely disappointed.

ps - I just remembered that the Princess knew all along who evil Dr M really was, and just didn't fancy telling anyone and also that we never get a good (any?) explanation for why the Chinamen stay to run the bellows - gah!

After this I read: Elantris