Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

Hey there team!

So this one took a little longer to read, and a lot longer to review, than I was expecting. There’s two reasons for that:

The first and foremost is that when I was about halfway through this book my grandmother passed away. She’d been suffering from bone cancer, so it was as much of a relief as these things ever are, but it was still hard. As a result, over the holidays I spent a lot more time with my family and a lot less time alone reading.

The second reason has more to do with what I want this blog to be about. As a writer myself, I know how hard it is to create something, how much of yourself you put into everything you create, and how vulnerable you become when you put it out into the world. Because of that, I don’t want to be the kind of person who shits on somebody for making their art, for being committed enough to create a complete piece and brave enough to put it out there. I’d really prefer to just talk about the things that I love and that make me happy, rather than complain about the pieces that didn’t quite work for me.

At the same time, how interesting can it be if all you ever have to say about something is, “It was great!” So, I think I’m going to work against my natural instinct and review things no matter how well they worked for me. Having said that, I still think that if I don’t have anything positive at all to say about something, I’ll probably skip it. But then again, it’s been a really, really long time since I’ve read a book with nothing of value in it at all, and who knows what I’ll do when that happens. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

So you’ve probably guessed by this point that Boneshaker wasn’t my favourite. It’s not as if the book doesn’t have value. It’s chock full of imagination, and Cherie Priest can definitely turn a phrase. Not only that, but Briar, one half of the books two main POV characters, is great. She’s tough, resourceful, smart, complicated, driven. She’s everything I want and need in a protagonist. In fact, the first quarter of the book, where we spend most of our time in Briar’s POV, is pretty good. It’s after that things kind of start to wobble a bit, and eventually fall apart.

Most of my problems with the second half of this book are things that I can usually just whistle past. One of my bigger complaints is that Boneshaker sets up a couple of interesting conflicts that simply fizzle out. The main one (spoilers!) is the reveal of Dr. Minnericht as just some random guy, who we know next to nothing about and don’t care about at all. Another is the fate of a character who starts out pretty interesting. He’s ambiguous and somewhat menacing and clearly just using the book’s other main protagonist, Zeke, as a means to his own end, but halfway through the novel he disappears, and at the end they find his body after he’s died of an overdose. What does that add to the story? What was the point in having the character introduced in the first place?

And here we come to my main problem with the book: Zeke. He’s…a mess. He starts out Boneshaker with agency and pluck, heading into the walled off part of Seattle in order to find out the truth about his father, but he quickly devolves into a plot device. He’s bounced from situation to situation through no fault or choice of his own. The only real purpose that he serves is to provide motivation for Briar, and to serve as the eyes through which we can view the (admittedly pretty awesome) world that Cherie created. And it’s not just his passivity that makes him seem more plot device than character, it’s his inconsistency. Cherie can never quite seem to nail down how old he is. His characterization swings from small child to capable adult and back again. And his voice! Most of the time he talks completely normally, but randomly he’ll just slip into this weird, uneducated sounding patois that’s really heavy handed and overdone.

I guess I’m just a little disappointed. This book has so many good things in it! A steampunk zombie novel with a smart female protagonist? That is crazily within my wheelhouse. It practically is my wheelhouse. But the dead weight of Zeke, and a few mismanaged conflicts and other minor characters, prevents this book from really following through on its promise.

All in all this is a pretty mixed bag for me. I haven’t given up on Cherie Priest just yet, but I won’t be running out to grab another of her novels any time soon either. If you’ve read any of her other stuff and you think it’s worth giving it a try, let me know in the comments.



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