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Boneshaker by Cheri Priest

01/03/2010. Contributed by Gareth D Jones

Buy Boneshaker in the USA - or Buy Boneshaker in the UK

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pub: TOR/Forge. 414 page enlarged paperback. Price: $15.99 (US), $20.50 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-1841-1).

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Although I've read a few short steampunk stories over the past couple of years, Cherie Priest's 'Boneshaker' is my first experience of a full-length steampunk novel. An enjoyable experience it was, too. There are steam-powered airships, fabulous mechanical contraptions, a mad scientist in an underground base and clouds of poisonous gas that eat away at anything organic and turn people into walking corpses. In an afterword, the author mentions the historical inaccuracy of certain events, but as my knowledge of the American Civil War and the Klondike Goldrush is pretty vague, I could enjoy the story for what it was - a non-stop delight of invention and adventure.

The heroine of the story is Briar Wilkes, a widow whose family has a chequered past that is intimately tied in with the local history. When her fifteen year-old son heads into the zombie-infested, gas-enshrouded city to learn about his father and grandfather, she sets out to rescue him. Rather than being a stereotyped feisty, butt-kicking heroine, Briar is a realistically-portrayed mother who grits her teeth and dives into the murky world of the city underground to save the only thing she has left of importance to her. Her son Zeke has no idea what he's getting into. He's headstrong, impulsive and curious, but still comes across as sympathetic. Despite his faults, Zeke goes through an emotional adventure, changing and maturing through the course of the novel to display a well-thought-out personality.

The city and its underworld are described in vivid detail. Despite numerous cellars, underground passages and tunnels, it never feels like we're being taken through stock scenery. Everything is new and different while maintaining a consistent atmosphere of nineteenth-century steampunkiness. The prose often has an informal quality to it, the way dialogue and thoughts are portrayed in particular. The first couple of times this was a bit odd, but it soon became normal and part of the cosy style. I already have Cherie Priest's next steampunk novel 'Clementine' lined up and I'm looking forward to reading it.

Gareth D. Jones

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