|I finished reading BONESHAKER, a steam punk novel by American science fiction writer Cherie Priest the other day. It's the first volume in a series entitlled' "The Clockwork Century". Published in 2009, BONESHAKER was nominated for a 2010 Hugo Award for Best Novel.|
Set in Seattle in the mid-1880s, BONESHAKER depicts a world in which the American Civil War has lasted far longer than it did in our reality. While the war between the states continues to rage, in the Pacific Northwest, there's a race afoot to mine gold in the frozen wastes of Alaska. Russia sponsors a contest, offering a sizable monetary reward to the person who can invent a device that will dig through earth and ice to extract the gold.
Leviticus Blue invents such a digging device. The machine, aptly named Boneshaker, gets out of hand on it's trial run and burrows underneath the streets of Seattle causing much damage, destruction and death. During it's mechanical rampage, a poison gas is released from the depths of the earth. This gas has the power to transform people into the living dead. Zombies. Or "rotters" as they're called in the book.
Some people escape from the ruined city. Others are left behind to either fend for themselves or become rotters. To contain the gas, now called Blight, an immense wall is built around the city. Life and industry continue around the outskirts of the community but downtown Seattle proper is now a no-man's land.
That's all set-up for the narrative that Priest unfolds. Briar Wilkes, the widow of Leviticus Blue, the mad inventor, has a young son, Zeke, who is determined to learn the truth about his father. Zeke enters the walled off city through a drainage tunnel that subsequently collapses during an earthquake. Briar must go into the walled city and rescue Zeke. Since the tunnel he used is now blocked off, she has to enter the area from the air. Which she does when she books passage aboard an airship and its' crew of air pirates.
Briar is dropped into the city to begin her search for Zeke. Both mother and son have found allies and enemies among the people who live in the underground passages and chambers that have yet to be infected with the Blight. At the heart of this underground empire is the mysterious Dr. Minnericht, a mad scientist who may or may not be the presumed dead Leviticus Blue.
Priest alternates chapters between Briar and Zeke and does a good job of establishing their parallel quests. There's plenty to like here: gun play, underground chases, dirigible battles, zombie gore, a woman with a bionic arm, an armored giant of a man, incredible devices and a Dr. Doom like madman to be overcome. Briar and Zeke are (of course), finally reunited and the secret of what really happened on Boneshaker's inaugural (and devastating) test drive is revealed.
Movie rights to BONESHAKER have been optioned by the newly resurgent Hammer Film Productions and the material is ready made for the big screen. BONESHAKER has a cinematic sweep, strong female characters, an interesting supporting cast and a great villain. I sincerely hope a film version of BONESHAKER is in our future. I know I'd pay to see it. I'd also pay to read the other novels in Priest's "Clockwork Century" series.
BONESHAKER is a winner. Recommended.