I wanted to read this novel because I enjoy Steampunk and Boneshaker comes up in almost every Steampunk discussion. The Steampunk elements are present in abundance, from airships to goggles to crazy contraptions with scary purposes, but the heart of this book is the people. Cherie Priest takes us on a wild ride through sewer tunnels and breathing tubes, places masks over our faces to keep out poisonous gases that turn the dead into rotters, zombie like creatures with incredible speed and agility, and sets us in situations where ambiguity reigns as far as the “good guys” but we know who is right and wrong.
This is a complex novel about loyalty and choices, about secrets that eat the heart out but at the same time could be much worse when revealed. Nothing is simple. There are those on the side of the law, those clearly having taken things into their own hands, and a large number of folks looking after their own best interests, something that might benefit Briar and Zeke, or could harm them, and often times, it’s not clear which is which until the events play out.
If you’re looking for a firefight, Wild West with contraptions, Boneshaker touches on that aspect, but this novel focuses more on the relationships between people, the way stories become truth, and how perception can create its own reality until something happens to break the cycle.
Amid the sociological exploration of a post-apocalyptic (if on a small scale) society functions and makes its own gods and devils, there’s a simple tale of a single mother with a burdensome history trying to do her best for her boy without dragging him further into her past than she has to. Of course there’s nothing simple about the wife or widow (depending on whom you ask) of the man singlehandedly responsible for making Seattle into a poisoned land full of decent people transformed into monsters, nor about her son, a resourceful young man who wants nothing more than the chance to prove his father isn’t who everyone says he is.
While I saw the answer to the twist early on, Priest kept me guessing until the very end, when my supposition was confirmed. It takes a lot of talent to offer enough clues for the reader to guess correctly and yet not enough to make a close reader like me confident I’ve figured it all out. That’s just one element of the skill with which this story unfolds. It’s not fast-paced (though it is at times), and it’s not a thrill ride (though it has those elements as well). This book asks you to walk a mile in Briar boots, and trust me, that’s not an easy task either physically or emotionally. Still, the journey was worth it. I encourage any of you who have not given this novel a try to do so. It’s worth your while.