Friday, April 24, 2015

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

A fast-paced steampunk adventure in alternate 19th-century Seattle with zombies: that's Boneshaker by Cherie Priest. My nephew recommended this audiobook [MacMillan: 13 hrs 42 min] which has two excellent narrators: Kate Reading and Wil Wheaton.

A sulky teenager with a chip on his shoulder decides to clear the name of his father, whom he has never met. His father was the inventor of the boneshaker, the machine that was said to have brought about catastrophy in Seattle. It's now a city of toppled buildings that has been made uninhabitable by poisonous gas seeping from the earth. The blight makes people ill first and zombies later.

The boy's mother follows him into the ruined city to rescue him.

The compelling plot and skilled audiobook narration kept me listening, but this book wasn't quite right for me. For one thing, I couldn't wrap my head around poisonous city air that doesn't disperse into the surrounding area--making it safe to live outside the city walls, but requiring breathing apparatus if you were inside the city. The walls were to hold in the zombies, who didn't seem real enough to me. I know, I know... real zombies. But the vampire zombies in Justin Cronin's The Passage were scarier. 

Also, I was bothered by the ethnic stereotyping of a group of characters called the Chinamen: quiet, patient, pigtailed, superstitious and clannish men who can't speak English. "This here is Huojin, but I call him Huey and he doesn't seem to mind." That should be a line from one of the bad guys, not one of the heroic women.

Boneshaker won the Locus Best Science Fiction Novel Award in 2010. It is first in The Clockwork Century series.

Similar stories that I liked better include: Angelmaker (Nick Harkaway) and Airborn (Kenneth Oppel).

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