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Review: Cherie Priest's Boneshaker

I'm torn on how to classify this; it's clearly steampunk (though without the punk edge of the original genre), but whether it's a book aimed at adults or "young adults" I'm not sure - perhaps it straddles the divide.  Set in a slightly alternative 1880s Seattle (slightly alternative and getting more so), it's dark but without grit to go with it although the grit occasionally threatens to intrude (there are mentions of working girls, good people die, zombies exist).

The characters are a little two-dimensional - there's no really credible fear to any of them, or other emotions (although fear should be the strongest given what happens to them); they react unrealistically to horrific situations, and don't react consistently within themselves or consistently for their characters.  The other major problem is their motivation; their actions don't seem motivated enough to get them to go to the extremes they go to, in most cases - they just don't make sense.

The plot is a telegraphed and obvious, being set up and knocked down point by point, what'll happen being made clear well in advance to even the slightly astute or genre-savvy reader; it isn't original, although this version of it is at least well-executed, and the twist in the end was pretty obvious.

However, Priest has a writing style that draws one in and keeps one's attention regardless of the flaws of her work; the prose is reminiscent of a Western, and her mannerisms for the period (and the racism, from some characters) is perfect.  The book is well-paced and moves, drawing one in and keeping one reading even when one can perfectly accurately predict what one will read next.

Perhaps the high-point of the book is the setting generally; Priest has clearly researched it well - and where she's fiddled with things, the impact of it is well-analysed, and the changes are not huge sweeping things but rather more subtle and more simple tricks.  Seattle, both inside the wall and out, is wonderfully rendered, and here's where the grit might just have been ushered in a little - there's parts here which aren't nearly so simple as the rest of the novel, which is very black-and-white, and the setting is realised and pictured well for the reader.

Overall, the book is not so brilliant a read as has been made out by some, but certainly something to keep one going.

The Big Idea behind the novel, from Whatever.


reading, books
Daniel Franklin


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