It’s 1863 and we’re in Seattle. The Russians wanted a machine that could dig through the ice in order to get to the Klondike gold in those parts and Leviticus Blue designed that machine. He also drove that machine through the foundations of Seattle and what was left was a ruin of a prospering city and a mysterious gas – the Blight – that turns people into zombies. 16 years later, his son Zeke decides to go into the walled-up remains of the city’s core to search for the truth of what happened, and it’s up to Briar, his mother, to find him and bring him back to safety.
Boneshaker was a bit of a rollercoaster for me. A bit. Specifically the bit where it goes down. I feel bad for the low rating but I cannot in all honesty give it more than two teacups. But let’s start with the good things.
The plot was interesting. If it hadn’t been for that and wanting to know the details of what had happened in the Boneshaker incident of 1863, I probably would’ve quit the book. It wasn’t majorly exciting and not much was actually happening, but I did want to find out how it ended.
A fair amount of the secondary characters were delightful. Miss Angeline and Lucy and Cly and Jeremiah were extremely interesting to me and also extremely likeable.
The zombies weren’t off-putting. I’m not a huge fan of zombies and I literally groaned when I realised that there were zombies – they’re called rotters – in this (note to self: read the flipping summary on goodreads next time), but all in all they weren’t annoying at all as a literary theme in this book. The whole story about the Blight and the rotters was actually one of the things that kept me hooked.
However… and this is a big however, woe.
Maybe I am suffering from my different cultural upbringing and a lack of knowledge of America during the 1800s (aside from having studied the Civil War in secondary school) and a general prevalence of language barriers and cultural differences, but the book did not read at all like it was set in 1879. At all. I don’t expect miracles and really, I do prefer more language that doesn’t make me want to stab myself in the face even in historical settings, but if it hadn’t been for the occasional mention of the Civil War going on, I sure wouldn’t have noticed what time we were in. In fact, whenever the Civil War was mentioned, it was pretty jarring because it didn’t feel like we were in that time at all. Nobody is perfect and no book is perfect, but really I feel like there could’ve been done more with attempting to capture the spirit of the time.
Then there were the alternating POVs. I’m not the biggest fan of them, though I will suffer through them; it’s not like they’re the worst thing on the planet. They weren’t the worst thing in this book either, in fact I appreciate the information I got from both POVs, but I was also confused a lot. I assume that the POVs were going on alongside each other, but it didn’t always read that way. Only a couple of days passed in the story but it sounded like much more. Sometimes it felt as though Zeke was ahead of his mother by days, sometimes the other way around. It wasn’t very clear to me, at least.
What also wasn’t very clear were the characters motivations. Oh, it says so every now and then, but I didn’t really feel it. Does being an obnoxious brat count as motivation? Zeke’s reasons for going into the city are explained but they’re just so fishy and once he’s there, it’s just a muddle of confusing fragments. In fact, Zeke’s entire existence in this book is all over the place. On the one hand, I have to hand it to Cherie Priest for making him the most realistic teenager ever. Never have I been so pissed off by a book version of a teenager as I have been by Zeke. He’s a spoiled brat (except, of course, he’s not spoiled at all, so he’s really just a brat) who always does the opposite of what people tell him – unless they’re evil, in which case he believes their every word. I’m not saying to trust just whomever he meets but, boy, this kid is actually stupid. He and his mother may protest that that is not the case, but yeah. You can’t fool me. Most stupid teenager I have ever encountered and I have a 15-year-old brother with somewhat dubious friends.
Zeke is just so infuriating. I understand that he’s rebellious and why and really, Briar has been something of a craptastic mother from what we’ve seen, but he meets all these strangers and he is told not to believe anything that one character says, and then he goes and decides to believe every word that comes out of their mouth and to distrust the person who basically rescued him and has given him no reason to act this way. There’s a line between rebellious and mistrusting and downright ridiculous and stupid, and Zeke crossed that line with seven-league boots. And as if that’s not ridiculous enough, he either acts like a five-year-old or like some wise old man, and while I understand the former at least a little bit, it is the latter that bothered me more. It made my reading experience very discontinuous indeed.
And then of course, we have Briar, who doesn’t let the reader in on her emotions and thoughts at all. I’ve never read a book with such a non-transparent protagonist. Presumably she goes after her son because she cares about him, but really, I didn’t feel that at all. Again. I got more from the peripheral characters than from the two main protagonists, and yet I’m supposed to root for them. It didn’t really work and if I hadn’t wanted some of the questions answered (spoiler: they weren’t, not really) I would’ve given up on the book. Briar certainly has her reasons to do as she does, but she never actually expounds them. Fact is, I don’t know anything about Briar aside from the orange streaks in her hair; that’s all I got from the book, maybe we were given more descriptors but then my eyes must’ve glazed over and I missed them. So she’s Maynard’s daughter; that bit I’m told twenty times, but I cannot picture her at all, neither physically nor emotionally. She says she’s not a bad mother, but from what I saw, I have to disagree. Sure she goes into the city because she worries, but that’s not the entirety of what makes a good mother. Being told that she never once told her son about his father or his grandfather is just a prime example of her own foolish selfishness. I didn’t expect her to explain the full truth, but she could’ve avoided all the trouble by at least telling him that she is absolutely sure about certain things because she saw them. Except then we wouldn’t even have a story for the book, would we? It was all rather flimsy, in my opinion and the entire book is mostly just a good example of how not to do “show, don’t tell.”
The steampunk aspect of it all was barely there, except occasionally when mentioning machines and the like, which was rather disappointing after being spoiled by Gail Carriger and her novels, but I can’t have it all, can I? Still, as I said above, the plot was somewhat interesting and I did keep reading because of it. It wasn’t perfect by far and the resolution of it was anticlimactic, but the plot and the secondary characters kept me going.