Boneshaker has gathered a steady buzz since its publication, positive word of mouth that has helped it garner a Nebula nomination for best novel. A lot of the excitement the book has generated stems from its fantastic premise, a surreal mixture of steampunk, airship pirates, alternate history, and, oh yeah, zombies. It promises the best of many worlds, but does it deliver? Well, if you’re looking for mystery, high-flying adventure, seat-of-your pants escapes, engaging protagonists, and colorful supporting players set against the backdrop of a fascinating alter-world of marvels and horrors – then, yeah, it does.
In an alternate turn-of-the-20th-century Seattle, a young boy, Zeke Wilkes, sets out to learn the truth about his father, the infamous Leviticus Blue, who, according to legend, invented the earth-rattling, underground-burrowing Boneshaker, a contraption designed for mining Alaskan ice fields – that was instead used to stage a brazen bank robbery. The heist was successful, but resulted in devastating consequences. Scores were killed, parts of the city destroyed, and a subterranean gas released that transformed scores more into zombies. Amid the havoc, Blue disappeared, leaving his wife, Briar Wilkes, to fend for herself. Seattle, meanwhile, was left to pick up the pieces and deal with the repercussions of Blue’s actions – which it did by walling up the most dangerous section of the city, along with its unlucky inhabitants.
In a bid to clear his father’s name, Zeke journeys into this long-isolated area peopled by pirates, mercenaries, rotters (those afflicted by the blight), and a mysterious mad inventor who rules the underground and may, just may, be his long lost father. Not far behind, in hot pursuit, is his mother, Briar, willing risk all to ensure his safe return.
Boneshaker boasts a refreshingly atypical protagonist in Briar, a strong and strong-willed woman motivated by sheer maternal instinct – and its this single-minded determination that drives the lean, clean, and nimble narrative. Priest keeps the reader on their toes, bouncing briskly between Zeke and Briar as each negotiates the seedy wonderland of old Seattle, unearthing elements of its dark inner world, some benevolent some bizarre but all very interesting in their own right, from the towering airship commander Captain Cly to the armored Swankhammer, Lucy the mechanical-armed molly to the ubiquitous Yaozou.
Briar’s odyssey is peppered with hair-raising calamities and near disasters as she encounters more than a few exotic inhabitants of the walled city ready to help her on her journey. On the one hand, this makes for some wondrously exciting scenarios as Briar struggles to learn the ground rules of her new environment; on the other hand, there are times when these timely interventions puts too much of the onus on the supporting characters, indirectly undermining the strength of our heroine.
I admired the uniqueness of Priest’s story-telling and while there were a few developments that gave me pause (the revelation tying Captain Cly to Briar’s father felt a little convenient and, ultimately, unnecessary while the threat of the rotters felt more incidental than an essential story element), overall I found Boneshaker to be an enormously enjoyable ride. It moves along at break-neck speed, culminating in a spectacular showdown pitting Briar and her allies against the forces of the enigmatic Minnericht. I loved the mystery surrounding his true identity, loved the pay-off, and loved the big reveal at book’s end. It was unexpected and, when a writer can surprise me, I have to take my hat off to them.
Finally, I should also make mention of something I rarely touch upon over the course of these discussions – the look of the book. It sports a terrific cover design by Jamie Stafford-Hill and artwork by Jon Foster that, along with its sepia tone and light brown print, evokes a sense of a otherworldly nostalgia that adds a whole other layer to the reading experience.
So, those were my initial thoughts. What did everyone else think? Weigh in and start posting your questions for author Cherie Priest.
Well, back at the office today as we continue to gear up for that first day of principal photography. Production Designer James Robbins swung by to show us the latest designs of those new Destiny sections including – wait for it…bathrooms and trash disposal units! Plenty of exterior design work as well. We discussed potential locations for Paul and Brad’s episodes and I got a sneak peek at some pretty fearsome-looking alien creatures – not to be confused with “those other aliens”. Later this afternoon, we re-screened the Ginn auditions, narrowing down our choices, while receiving confirmation that we’ve cast the role of Simeon (Prison Break fans, rejoice!). And, last but not least, watched the latest version of the soon-to-be-released trailer for the back half of season one. It’s awesome and once we’ve incorporated the shot of the alien (not to be confused with the alien creatures or those other aliens or those other alien creatures) it’ll be good to go. No word on a release date.
One of the great things about coming back to the office after a lengthy hiatus is opening up mail. The swag…
On the other hand, I also came back to this…