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Cherie Priest – Boneshaker

Title: Boneshaker
Author: Cherie Priest
Year: 2009

Gas masks, zeppelins, a walled-up Seattle, steam powered infernal machines, deadly gas, mechanical limbs, mad scientists, a Civil War that never ended; can a book with these ingredients be anything other than good?

No, of course it can’t. Boneshaker is not a perfect book and failing to be so will mean that I still favour China Miéville’s The City and the City for this year’s Hugo Award, but that doesn’t stop the book from being a good read in many ways.

Let me return to the setting for a bit, because in my opinion, this is what makes this book really good. I can’t be bothered to actually check dates, but the book takes place some ten years or so after the real American Civil War ended, although in the book it never did.

A mad but brilliant scientist living in Seattle design a machine to mine gold in Alaska, but during a test run of the machine (called the Boneshaker), something went horribly wrong and parts of downtown Seattle were destroyed. A poisonous gas also began to seep out from the tunnels dug by the Boneshaker and the people who didn’t evacuate died. Or so people thought.

When the son of the deceased scientist wants to prove that his father is innocent, he needs to enter the walled-up city and face its horrors. His mother follows shortly after to rescue him from dangers she knows about but which her sun can hardly imagine. Throughout the novel, they both strive to find what they look for in the scattered pockets of civilisation that still remains in the city.

I think Priest does a good job throughout the novel. It’s not brilliantly written, but it has glimmers of brilliance which is good enough considering that the setting is fascinating and the story entertaining enough. It’s perhaps not the kind of story that will merit awards for complexity or creativity, but it works well and manages to present the cool setting in a good light.

In short, this book is well worth reading for its setting and perhaps also for the story and the characters. I would have liked to seen a more interesting plot and more creative language to give this book all five snails, but four and a half is still really good and I will probably read more books by Cherie Priest.

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