Reviewed by Tansy Rayner Roberts, syndicated May 2010
This is one I have taken a while to read; I think because it’s so unlike what I normally do that I have had to wait between stints to be in the right mood again. I finished the last third at a fine lick today and enjoyed it greatly. This is the first steampunk novel I’ve read that was aimed at adults rather than children/YA and I enjoyed the extra crunchy levels of relationship drama that this entailed. (It’s also, incidentally, the first steampunk novel I have read which is written by a woman.)
In short, this is the story about Briar Wilkes, a widow who lives a hard life in the area outside late 19th century Seattle, a city no longer habitable because of an environmental crisis called the Blight that has poisoned the city’s air and turned a good chunk of its population into zombies. Briar keeps her head down, working hard and protecting her teenage son Zeke as much as she can from the truth about his father Leviticus Blue, the most hated man in the history of Seattle, whose grand digging machine brought the Blight into the city.
When Zeke disappears into the ruined city, supposedly to find out more about his grandfather the hero (though Briar suspects he is following rumours about his father), Briar has no choice but to chase after him, into a world of gas masks, air-pumping machines, zeppelin pilots, armoured warriors, amputees with mechanical limbs, mad scientists and, you know, zombies. Lots and lots of zombies. Will Briar find Zeke before he gets himself killed? Is Leviticus Blue really still alive in the bowels of the destroyed city?
I’m sure the fun action adventure aspects of the story are what has made this book so popular, especially I think amongst male readers, but for me the thing that kept me coming back was the relationship between Briar and her son, and the secret history of Briar and her husband. A simple personal story in between all the steampunky goodness – and how often do we get to see a Mum front and centre in a speculative fiction novel? Not enough, I say! Briar kicks arse, like a slightly saner version of Sarah Connor v. the Terminator, with nothing but the safety of her son spurring her on. I liked how real and sensible she seemed, though, at the heart of it – ordinary people doing extraordinary deeds are far more interesting to me than those with superpowers.
There is a sequel, Clementine, coming along at some point, but Boneshaker is nicely contained with a satisfying finale.