Reviewed by Joe Sherry
Cherie Priest’s latest novel, Boneshaker, begins in an alternate 1880: the Civil War continues, technology has taken different paths than in our world, and walled-off Seattle is full of zombie-like “rotters.” Briar Wilkes Blue, the daughter of a legendary lawman and wife to Dr. Leviticus Blue—whose invention of the Boneshaker, a drilling device for extracting gold, is blamed for releasing the Blight gas that ruined Seattle—is living on the outskirts of Seattle with her son, Ezekiel (Zeke). It’s a hardscrabble life, but she manages to provide for herself and her 15-year-old son.
The story alternates points of view as it follows both Zeke and Briar as they search Blighted Seattle. Zeke searches for his parents’ house hoping to find evidence that can clear the name of his father. Briar searches for Zeke. Separately they enter a world for which they have no true understanding or preparation, a Seattle populated not only with the rotters, but with tough men and women, people living on the fringe of the fringe of the West.
Boneshaker is Cherie Priest’s sixth novel and it is her best. With a keen eye for detail and description, Priest quickly draws readers into her alternate world. She conveys the danger of the Blight, the walking undead, and the claustrophobic atmosphere of underground Seattle with confidence. By using slightly formal dialogue appropriate to the setting, Priest places the story in a particular, if imaginary, time and place.
A sense of place has long been important in the fiction of Cherie Priest and this alternate Seattle is just as real and vivid as the modern Chattanooga in her earlier Eden Moore novels. This sense of place allows Priest to give her richly defined characters a real world to inhabit, no matter how fantastic the story. Add excellent characterization and a concept second to none, and Boneshaker proves to be one of 2009’s best novels and is not to be missed.
$15.99 | tpb | 416 pages