Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest, grabs the reader from page one and refuses to let go. The characters stand out, the setting is fantastic, and the situation dire. What better way to start a horror story?
Set in the late 1800’s during the Civil War, the scientist Leviticus Blue invents an incredible drilling machine called the Boneshaker which ravages the city of Seattle. In its wake, a yellow gas known as the Blight sickens residents, transforming the dead into ‘rotters’ that prey on the living. Survivors flee the city, protecting themselves by surrounding their former home with a huge wall that contains the heavy gas like an enormous bowl.
Sixteen years later, Briar Wilkes, widow of the infamous Leviticus Blue, must follow her teen son back into the hellish city when he seeks a way to regain his family’s honor. Donning gas masks, both must face the very real terrors of a past where the dead no longer remain at peace and simply breathing unfiltered air means worse than death.
Her son’s attempt to penetrate the city is bolstered partly by the reputation of his grandfather – who is also Briar’s father – Maynard Wilkes. That reputation condemns them outside the walls of Seattle, while within the blighted city Maynard has become a hero. Throughout Zeke Wilke’s life, he’s been tormented by being both son and grandson to the ruin of the city; yet as the Civil War rages on, Briar and Zeke hope for a peace so they may begin anew in the East.
The characters of both Briar and Zeke come alive as they wage a constant battle against the undead and other dangers simply to stay alive. Zeke seeks his mother’s old home for evidence to prove his family’s innocence, and Briar’s fierce devotion to the son keeps her determined to survive in order to save him. Though she blames herself for his recklessness, accusing herself of bad motherhood, she asserts, “But for all the things she’d bothed, screwed up, lost, forgotten, lied about, or misled him on… she was going in there after him.” Nothing would keep her from protecting her son.
The fact that everything throughout the book is told in the present tense gives the story an immediacy that adds to the tension. During my reading, when Briar or Zeke would turn a corner and discover lurking monsters, I would jump with them.
Add to the mix dirigibles, air pirates, the walking dead, fabulous inventions, ingenious devices, and a mysterious mad scientist known only as Doctor Minnerecht, and you have the recipe for an incredibly engaging tale. I couldn’t put this book down.