In the 1860’s, the Russians announce a reward to anyone who would invent a machine to help them drill gold in frozen Alaska. Leviticus Blue, an obscure Seattle inventor convinces them and is asked to build his brainchild: the Boneshaker, a huge underground-drilling machine.
The problems start when the Boneshaker malfunctions and destroys downtown Seattle after bursting out of Blue’s laboratory. To make things worse, it opens a hole on the ground that starts releasing a toxic gas – the Blight – that can either kill you or turn you into a flesh-eating zombie. So you see, if you’re looking for steampunk with a bit of the living-dead, Boneshaker is your book. Unfortunately, it wasn’t mine. I didn’t hate it, just didn’t care enough and became frustrated with all the holes in the plot.
My only disclaimer is that zombies are not my thing. The only zombie story I ever liked was Shaun of the Dead and that’s because it makes fun of them. After so many bad zombie movies and books (yes, P,P and Zombies, I’m looking at you!), I just can’t take them seriously – they’re slow, brainless and utterly predictable.
More than fifteen years after the incident, Blue is missing and his widow and son – Briar and Zeke – still live in the outskirts of Seattle. The damaged area was walled down in an attempt to control the Blight and zombies, although some people still live there, stubbornly surviving in sealed houses and with the help gas masks.
Briar didn’t share a lot of information with her son about the past and Zeke grew up creating a hero myth around his father, which he decides to prove by sneaking into the walled area looking for answers and the chance to clear his Blue’s name. As soon as she finds out, Briar follows him.
What comes next seems to come out of a computer game – those grim ones, full of dangers at every dark corner. The problem is that the idea of the story never really turns into good, dramatic action. Briar and Zeke face several dangers, but inevitably end up going “Whoa! That was close! Luckily [insert saving event over which they had no control]!”. Actually, the two main characters are some of the most passive I’ve seen in an action-full book, which also contributes to just how slow the pace is at times. They think and re-think about their plans and in the end never go ahead with them because the right time has come and gone.
Characterization also suffers with the amount of action scenes. For instance, although Cherie Priest spends a great deal of time building up tension around the villain, we never know what drives him and when we do meet him, he just comes out as a weak Wizard of Oz. While Briar feels 3D, Zeke is that most frustrating of characters: someone we’re always being told is smart, but who never does anything to prove it. Actually, for his 15 years, Zeke could be in his pre- or early-teens. He spends most of his time vomiting, containing vomit or thinking how he wants to vomit (seriously, you have no idea how much the word “vomit” shows up in the Zeke-chapters…)
Those of you who read the book, can you please clarify some point that are bugging me?
- Why aren’t people curious about what exactly is the Blight and where does it come from? Shouldn’t they know more about it after 15 years, especially if they even managed to make a drug out of it?
- The villain lives in downtown Seattle because he wants to control the supply of Blight to the drug market, right? But there’s also Blight (although in less quantity) in the outskirts and later we even find out that the airships can capture it just by hovering over the city. Why does he control the monopoly?
- What exactly did Zeke expect to find in his family’s old house? Very weak and foolish plan.
- When exposed to Blight, what exactly makes some people die and others become zombies?
- Couldn’t the people who stayed get rid of all zombies? There’s only about 1.000 in the walled city and during the book a lot are killed. What task could be more important to the Seattle inhabitants, than to kill creatures who are hungry for their flesh?
- Why does the Chinese community, for no pay or even recognition, continue to painstakingly filter the air of the city? Other characters don’t think much of them and they’re clearly rowing against the tide, so why do it at all?