I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from Boneshaker. Victorian dandies in anachronistic airships? Coal-fired robots? Huckleberry Finn with zombies?
I admit that when I read the back cover and saw that zombies were mentioned, I was a bit skeptical. Zombies have become somehwat ubiquitous lately. Certainly, they symbolize the problems with our modern society quite well. It’s just a bit unfortunate that they seem to have become the secret ingredient du jour, like cilantro, acai berries, pomegranate. However, Boneshaker was published in 2009, so I can overlook this.
Boneshaker is the story of Briar Wilkes, whose son, Zeke Wilkes, has ventured into old Seattle to find answers about his father. The catch is that Seattle is surrounded by a wall, meant to contain both a noxious gas called Blight, and the horde of “rotters” that the Blight created. The Blight was released from beneath the city some fifteen years earlier when a drilling machine called the Boneshaker went out of control. That machine was invented by Briar’s husband, Leviticus Blue, who hasn’t been seen since the incident. This association has caused both Briar and Zeke to become pariahs in the Seattle community. Thus Zeke’s adventure into old Seattle.
I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I was prepared for something really over-the-top in terms of suspension of disbelief, such as The Difference Engine or even The Age of Unreason. Fortunately, most everything in Boneshaker was within plausibility. Of course, there was a character with a cybernetic arm and another with what had to have been LEDs in his gas mask. And there was the Blight, of course, but that an explanation for that was never offered. I believe that it’s sometimes better to leave a mystery than to offer an unsatisfactory explanation.
I thought the book was fairly well written. The author did something that I thought was interesting. For most of the book, Briar’s story takes place a few hours behind Zeke’s story. This kept the suspense a bit higher than it would have been had the stories been presented synchronously.