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REVIEW: Boneshaker (2009)

Boneshaker (Sci Fi Essential Books)TITLE: Boneshaker
AUTHOR: Cherie Priest
SYNOPSIS: In an alternate Seattle of the 1800's, an enormous drilling machine (nicknamed the Boneshaker) collapses half the city. As if the destruction wasn't enough, the Boneshaker releases a mysterious gas that transforms anyone who breathes it into a flesh-eating corpse. To prevent the gas from spreading, the city is walled in and abandoned. Sixteen years later, the son of the Boneshaker's inventor journeys into zombie-infested Seattle to find evidence of his father's innocence. His mother, Briar Wilkes, goes in after him to find a community of criminals and outcasts has made the city its home, along with an evil scientist with a mysterious connection to her husband.

A lot of modern sci-fi novelists are more interested with being scientifically accurate than fun, which is why I found Boneshaker so refreshing. Priest really captures the spirit of adventure and delivers great thrills and chills without worrying about science. The novel wears its steampunk setting on its sleeve with crazy steam-powered machines, and of course, airships. My only complaint would be that I thought Boneshaker didn't go far enough in its steampunk technology. No steam-powered computers or robots in this world.

But the reader is drawn into a fully-realized world. Hearing the characters describe the devastation of Seattle, it was hard to imagine anyone surviving inside its walls, much less living there. There was a sense of dread and excitement as Blair enters the walls, wondering what she would find. I won't say too much, because I don't want to spoil it, but Priest has done an excellent job of working out how and why society would survive inside the walls. You also get the feeling that there's more going on than just in Boneshaker. In the end, you're left wanting more, which is why I'm glad that Cherie Priest has written two more novels set in the Clockwork Century universe; Clementine and Dreadnought.

The characters are also very well-written. Briar Wilkes herself is a great heroine, ostracized for her association with her husband and the disaster, but strong and determined. We never really learn the background and motivations for most of the other characters, but they still ring true. The focus is always on the adventure, which is non-stop with gunfights, airship combat, and zombie attacks.

In an industry where readers spend hours analyzing whether an author's fictional planet is the right distance to its fictional sun, I'm amazed a novel like Boneshaker has not only been published, but embraced by the sci-fi community at large. The novel was actually a nominee for a Hugo Award for Best Novel. It gives me comfort that a great novel like this got the attention it deserved, and the sci-fi fiction industry hasn't completely lost its way.

Rating: 4 out of 4 geeks

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