Jul 26, 2014
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Book Nook: Boneshaker

Book Nook: Boneshaker
Never having been that interested in zombie stories, the few times I've run across Boneshaker I always put it back on the shelf. Now that I'm teaching the staff at my library about alternate history and steampunk fiction I got a chance to actually take Boneshaker home with me. There's something about zombies that just make me cringe. I'm even sure what it is exactly, but it probably has something to do with the complete dehumanization of people. Sure when vampires or werewolves are involved there is dehumanization too, but oftentimes those characters can pass throughout the normal human world with little scrutiny, but zombies, man, you always know someone's a zombie. Rotting flesh, insatiable craving for brains, and pack mentality are everything that is not normal. Even well behaved zombies in phone commercials stand out a mile away as a zombie.

With my bias against zombies out there in the open, I actually enjoyed Boneshaker quite a bit and the reason I only gave this book 3 stars is actually because I felt like a lot of the actual interactions with the "rotters" (aka zombies) were very similar to The Walking Dead (which came out first). Especially since there is a character who is dressed up in her father's lawman gear: Long coat, hat, badge, and rifle...the only thing missing is the horse. While I felt that the rotters were just getting by with tropes, the story really isn't about them. Like The Walking Dead, its about the people who have survived and actually thrived in this otherworldly situation.

Briar Wilkes and her son Ezekiel are outcasts because of their connection to Leviticus Blue, inventor of the terrible Boneshaker that unleashed a deadly gas on the frontier town of Seattle turning people in shambling undead monsters. Most people think that the gas was contained when they closed off Seattle, but there are sky privateers making a killing by collecting the gas. If people can fly into the city, could they stay and survive? That's what Ezekiel has been led to believe and undertakes a teenage angst driven adventure to try to clear Leviticus Blue's name. The story follows Ezekiel and his mother, Briar, in alternating chapters. Some libraries have this as YA and others as general adult fiction. I think that having both a 16 year old narrator and an adult narrator helps reach a much broader audience than if it was just labeled as a book for teens. And personally, I think Briar is much more central to the whole story than her son is anyway. Briar was there in Seattle when it collapsed, she was married to the man who created the vehicle of destruction, and she carried a heavy secret out of Seattle when she fled.

Cherie Priest is very good at building sympathetic characters, Briar's story really grips the reader. However, the pitfall that I think Priest fell into was creating too many interesting characters. If this series continued in Seattle with the same cast of characters I think she would have been able to explore more of their personalities rather than trying to shove it all into one book. Yes, I know the sequels will pick up with some other characters, but I don't know if Briar or any of the Seattle Survivors will be mentioned centrally again. She's also very good with villains. The faceoff between Dr. Minnericht and Briar was the best part of the whole story because its not a typical good guy/bad guy meeting. Both people are damaged by the past and Briar's quiet insistence triumphs over brutality and calculating rage.

I find steampunk hard to recommend because you really really really have to be ok with bizarre things occuring. The steampunk in this book actually takes a back seat to the alternate history that I felt was pretty believable, minus mechanical zeppelins zipping around in 1870s America, but Priest has a good background in the Civil War that she can alter small things and have a pretty familiar setting for readers. For reads of the Rot and Ruin series or The Walking Dead you might want to check this one out. It doesn't seem like all the of the series is going to focus on the zombies, so I'd still give it a shot if, like me, you don't really like zombie stories.

*This blog is part of a grant Medfield has been awarded through the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Library and Services Technology Act administered by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.

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