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was sold to gypsies as a small child for half a tank of gas and a kitten. She was quickly, if not easily, retrieved by her mother after the kitten was revealed to be an Eldrich horror looking for a ride into the nearest metropolitan area to begin wreaking havoc. It's been a bone of contention between Maria and her family ever since, whether the Horror-kitten would've been more or less trouble than she grew up to be.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Book Review: Boneshaker

GOGGLES AND AIRSHIPS! WIN! Ooo, and a quote from Scott Westerfeld. Shiny!
 From Barnes and Noble:

In the early days of the Civil War, rumors of gold in the frozen Klondike brought hordes of newcomers to the Pacific Northwest. Anxious to compete, Russian prospectors commissioned inventor Leviticus Blue to create a great machine that could mine through Alaska’s ice. Thus was Dr. Blue’s Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine born.
But on its first test run the Boneshaker went terribly awry, destroying several blocks of downtown Seattle and unearthing a subterranean vein of blight gas that turned anyone who breathed it into the living dead.

Now it is sixteen years later, and a wall has been built to enclose the devastated and toxic city. Just beyond it lives Blue’s widow, Briar Wilkes. Life is hard with a ruined reputation and a teenaged boy to support, but she and Ezekiel are managing. Until Ezekiel undertakes a secret crusade to rewrite history.

His quest will take him under the wall and into a city teeming with ravenous undead, air pirates, criminal overlords, and heavily armed refugees. And only Briar can bring him out alive.

All I can say is that it was a good thing I waited until my Thanksgiving break to read this book because once I picked it up, it was impossible for me to put down.

The Good:

Where do I start? I'm not used to reviewing books I love this much. Compliments are anathema to my being.

This book is like an action-adventure movie on paper. By which I mean, we get all the thrills, danger, and edge of your seat tension that we love about movies, plus the detailed exposition and character insights that we can only get via books. Plus, mad science.

Let me make it clear that I am not a fan of the zombie-zeitgeist that's taken media by storm over the past years. They're a metaphor which has been played out and overused by people seeking to criticize our capitalistic and apathetic society. However, in Boneshaker, there's no metaphor beating us over the head to be heard. (Okay, well, yes, you can probably find meaning in the sap-drug that's made from the same gas that causes people to become zombies, but Priest doesn't let social commentary get in the way of the story. It's like an optional side dish; you can examine the book for hidden meaning and symbols, or you can choose to enjoy people living in a walled-off city. Your choice. Much like whether or not to eat the carton of rice with your Chinese take-out. Where was I again?) These zombies are only monsters that were created by a disaster that's half man-made/half natural and they want to eat you. All of you. Every last tasty limb. Watching your weight by eating only brains is such a waste of time when you're already dead. I digress.

My point is that Priest has made zombies fun again. I kind of want to hug her for it.

The cast of characters is typical of adventure novels, but still fun. I never had to stop and reread a previous chapter to remind myself who someone was. We never get too deep into who they are, so they remain in this in between space - more filled out than cardboard, but not quite individuals. The main narrators, Briar and Zeke, provide contrasting narratives: Briar's maturity, her world-weariness, and her mama-bear-like focus and determination to rescue her son versus Zeke's youthful exuberance, then faltering confidence in his meticulously planned escapade as it all goes to hell.  There isn't exactly anything new about them except the situation they're in. But still, fun.

The plot is also fairly familiar. Parent has to rescue child from stupid adventure, gets sucked into larger drama that invariably prompts protagonists to save the day, after which parent and child become closer and understand one another better. But this plot takes place a walled off city filled with blighted gas, shambling horrors, and a mad man living in a train station. Like I said. Really fun.

Also, mad science.

The Bad:

Briar has a secret. It's supposed to be a doozy. Unfortunately, I figured it out about halfway through the book. Maybe sooner.

Furthermore, while I enjoyed the premise of the Civil War having lasted for decades longer than it really did, I wish the author had done more with it. I understand that the author probably had her hands full with main plot of the novel, but a bit more focus on the politics, on what else is happening in the world, the factors that have kept the war going on like this, etc, would have been really, really nice filler for world-building.

For that matter, the alternative history of it in general, while enjoyable to me, is a factor that other readers may not enjoy. Suspension of disbelief allows us the understand and accept that things are different in this world, but we're expected to just accept this without ever getting a full or satisfying explanation. I was able to overlook that and enjoy the book despite this (I've been programmed to accept these things by a lifetime of reading Stephen King), but I can understand how other readers may not be get past that.

The Rest:

The writing is not the greatest in the world. My rhapsodizing about Laini Taylor a post or so back? Not gonna happen here. However, that doesn't mean that the writing is bad. As my mother said when I gave her the book, Priest's writing is innocuous; it gets out of the way of the story. And what a story it is.

While this book isn't marketed as YA, I could easily young adult readers enjoying this book, despite the lack of romance and the middle-aged heroine. Teenage girls should be reassured that they can still rock in their old(er) age, in my opinion.

Boneshaker also marks the beginning of the Clockwork Century series. While I normally gripe about book series - so long, more books to buy, what will I do with my dashed hopes if the series starts to suck - Boneshaker and its sequels have so far been immune to those issues. Despite being over 400 pages long, I read this book in less than a day, and since they're all first released in paperback I've been able to easily afford the sequels on my college student budget.

Final Thoughts:

Before it is anything else, I think that this book is fun. It's quick, it's exciting, it has equally quick, fun, and exciting sequels. It takes a bunch of pop-culture curiosities, like zombies and steampunk, and throws them in a pot, and gives us some tasty book-chili. Not everyone likes chili. Not everyone likes the same type of chili. Few people want to eat chili every day. If you like zombies, walled-off secret cities, mad science, and fierce heroines, don't mind liberties being taken with history, and just want to read something slightly mindless without being stupid or crude, give Boneshaker a ride. And even if you don't like the book, go follow Cherie Priest on twitter anyway. She posts pictures of cats.

My Rating: 4/5 Mushrooms

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