Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest

This book is billed on the back cover as, basically, a steampunk story with zombies, and it’s the ‘with zombies’ part that has stopped me reading it before now. Feed by Mira Grant aside, I’m not really a zombie kind of girl.

Still, the whole steampunk side of it intrigued me enough that I put it on my to-read list. And I was pleased to discover that the zombies were mostly incidental. As with Feed, the zombies rose more than a decade ago, and this is how life goes on around them. Sort of.

Rather than reinventing the wheel and summarizing the book myself, the Goodreads description (which I believe matches the back cover blurb) reads as follows:

In the early days of the Civil War, rumors of gold in the frozen Klondike brought hordes of newcomers to the Pacific Northwest. Anxious to compete, Russian prospectors commissioned inventor Leviticus Blue to create a great machine that could mine through Alaska’s ice. Thus was Dr. Blue’s Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine born.

But on its first test run the Boneshaker went terribly awry, destroying several blocks of downtown Seattle and unearthing a subterranean vein of blight gas that turned anyone who breathed it into the living dead.

Now it is sixteen years later, and a wall has been built to enclose the devastated and toxic city. Just beyond it lives Blue’s widow, Briar Wilkes. Life is hard with a ruined reputation and a teenaged boy to support, but she and Ezekiel are managing. Until Ezekiel undertakes a secret crusade to rewrite history.

His quest will take him under the wall and into a city teeming with ravenous undead, air pirates, criminal overlords, and heavily armed refugees. And only Briar can bring him out alive.

I was more than halfway through this book before it really sucked me in. I found the first half dragged quite a lot as the characters meandered through the plots and bumped up against various obstacles that didn’t seem to have much of a point. I think part of the problem is that I never understood what Ezekiel’s “secret crusade to rewrite history” actually was, what it was about. Or how and why he came up with it and what exactly it meant to him. I didn’t know what he wanted. So it felt like he just… went into the walled up city. Briar seemed to have a very firm idea of where he was going and why, but as the reader it kind of felt like she was making it up out of thin air.

In the back half of the book the threads of the plot began to interweave more smoothly and hold more tension. I finally felt engaged with the story and the characters. Zeke finally *became* a character and not just a bumbling idiot boy. And I really enjoyed the secondary characters of Swakhammer and Lucy.

I think if this book had been shorter and more tightly focused, if it had more beginning and less middle, it could have been really great. It was good enough by the end, though, that I might go on to read the next one. So that’s something.

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