book review: boneshaker

Maybe if I’d read Cherie Priest’s steampunk novel Boneshaker when it first came out I would have been more excited about it. But something about the confluence of time and self and book did not add up to a really great experience even though I can’t pin down anything about the book that might cause this.

It’s an alternate 1880s Seattle where 15 years ago a mad scientist named Leviticus Blue built a giant drilling machine and accidentally unleashed the Blight, a gas that turns people into zombie-like Rotters. This story is about Blue’s son, Zeke, going over the wall into the Blight-ridden parts of Seattle to find some answers about his father. It’s also about Zeke’s mother, Briar, trying to go find her son and bring him back safe.

The storylines don’t exactly alternate chapters, but we see both Zeke and Briar try to navigate the deadly world inside the wall in their different ways. There are airships and grand railway cars and drugs and big suits of armour and mechanical arms and you see a number of characters from both Zeke and Briar’s perspective at different times.

The portrayal of the Chinese people in the city bothered me. They were inscrutable, or scheming viziers, or mindless automatons or “amazingly bright” with technology and language but treated with casual racist condescension by the heroes. I know the 1880s weren’t a wonderful enlightened time, but there’s enough anachronism in steampunk I think you don’t have to reinforce all the racist stereotypes at once.

It’s a well-put-together tale, but I kind of felt like it was all just a chain of scenes to the end. There wasn’t anything that made me think differently about life or technology or mothers and sons or whatever. For something kind of similar that I loved, I’d recommend Mechanique.

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