Boneshaker (The Clockwork Century)
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284 of 332 people found the following review helpful
on February 6, 2010
Now I know by giving 3 stars, many readers will ask "did you hate it?" No, I didn't hate this book, but I must say I was unimpressed by it. Steampunk designs, airships, and zombies...how can one go wrong? Well, the answer is to make the plot wandering and the characters not that interesting.

I won't offer a summary of the book, because nearly every other reviewer has done the same. I'll start by saying that the synopsis on the back cover is kind of misleading, especially about the part regarding "rewrite history." It's a shame that portion is nowhere to be found in the novel. By that token, I was expecting the characters to come to some certain uncovering of secret history, and also come to some inner realization about themselves. Sadly, they don't. Zeke's request to clear his father's name unfortunately falls into a simple tale of "overthrow the bad guy." And as the story ends, the world they inhabit isn't changed in the slightest between the beginning and the end of the story.

The characters of Briar and Zeke aren't that compelling, either. Their only purpose in the story seems to be transitioning the reader from Plot Point A to B to C--which is *part* of the reason characters exist, but it shouldn't be the main portion of who they are. Why do they do what they do? What drives them? We don't get much internal dialogue or conflict, everything they feel is spoken.

In the same vein, they don't affect change within the story at all; everything seems to happen without them doing anything or contributing to the goings-on, like they're part of the scenery as opposed to full-fledged characters. So if they don't really *do* anything except move around as per the author's directions, then are they even really empathetic at all? And as I mentioned above, if they don't have an impact on the world they inhabit, then what's the point of telling the story about them in the first place?

Then there's the Steampunk aesthetic. And I use the word "aesthetic" because that's what Steampunk is...visual. It's an interesting concept, the "retro-futuristic" vision, but I've yet to see it done effectively. I'll begin the comparison to another "punk" style, cyberpunk. Cyberpunk is more than the visual style that we see or imagine. To quote wikipedia on cyberpunk: "It features advanced science, such as information technology and cybernetics, coupled with a degree of breakdown or radical change in the social order...Cyberpunk plots often center on a conflict among hackers, artificial intelligences, and megacorporations, and tend to be set in a near-future Earth."

The story does have steampunk elements, but they are all visual, and unfortunately don't go beyond that in terms of what they're using the style to *try* to say. What is the author trying to use steampunk to reveal about society, and about ourselves? What morality play is in effect that ONLY steampunk can tell? (And also, what morals are we also to question by using the Steampunk genre?) It's not like "The Difference Engine," wherein the style reaches to the conclusion that the rapid development of technology is a bad thing. Steampunk shouldn't just be there for its own sake, it needs to DO something and serve a deeper purpose than just as what we see.

I would chalk this up to the notion that there is no "originator" steampunk title that "Neuromancer" serves as for cyberpunk, nothing that first sets the frame of reference and "rules" for how that world works. But that's not necessarily a fault with Boneshaker, but it doesn't help its case.

This is by no means a bad book. If you're a sci-fi and/or steampunk afficionado, this is probably for you. It's not laden with a lot of exposition or heavy sci-fi gibberish. While it didn't pull me in and hit me over the head with an Awesome Stick, your experience may vary. It's kind of a popcorn book, or a Saturday afternoon movie. If you're looking for lighter faire, you could do worse than Boneshaker.
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121 of 145 people found the following review helpful
on January 30, 2010
Pros:

Compelling setup and central mysteries. Thought the story between the lead protagonists was reasonably well done.

Cons: Author did not care to develop her world.

Example - Head villain has a scary right hand man, as is typical of adventure stories. He strikes fear into the hearts of the locals. Yet in the final battle, he appears briefly and avoids the final confrontation. Why introduce him? The secondary characters are compelling, until they're abandoned. The lead fighter amongst the good guys appears to be dying, yet we're led to believe he might be saved by 19th century medicine?

Additonally, the central threat within the town (the zombies dubbed rotters) are never well developed. Minnericht can send them at his enemies, but loses control of them in the end. Why? They run the streets of the city, forcing the human residents into a subterranean existence, yet they can be repelled by bonfires? Moving a block or two in the city calls up hordes of rotters, yet the leads can linger in a house for nearly an hour? And what of the citadel like fort within the walls? Everyone agrees it's safe from the rotters, yet it's abandoned.

But the biggest problem with the story: it hints early on that living within the city walls is near suicidal (and even life in the outskirts is pretty illogical), yet no compelling reason is ever provided for why the residents stay. It's apparently not too difficult for humans to leave the city. Yet many reasonably upright citizens have spent a decade or more running for their lives from the rotters while being manipulated by a mad professor. Say what? I know the setting is an alternate history where the civil war rages on, but America is a big and open country in the late 19th century. People set out for the plains and southwest on a regular basis. Yet cleaning contaminated water all day or relying on filter masks to step outside is the best existence these people can imagine?

The beauty of sci-fi/fantasy as a genre is the ability of authors to create worlds that operate on their terms. But there need to be terms. The whole project feels adrift.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on February 28, 2010
This is an adventure story told from the varying point of views of a mother and son. The son, Zeke, goes into a walled in city of toxic gas, zombies, and dangerous people to learn more about his scientist father. The mother, Briar, goes in after him to save him. Both wander through the city (a post-apocalyptic 1800's Seattle) encountering the many dangers while making some new friends.

At a thick 414 pages, you would think the story would be pretty complex. It isn't. It's really a pretty basic story about a mother and son trying to survive a dangerous world and make it out alive. Any questions the reader has are answered in a couple pages at the very end, a quick wrap up, and then it's over.

This is the first "steampunk" novel I have read, and it's not as out there as I anticipated. Priest alters history for her own purposes, moving events like the civil war and the invention of electricty around to suit her purposes, which is no problem in my opinion. Fiction is fiction, do what you need to.

Generally this novel was just alright. A warning to zombie novel lovers: it's not really a zombie novel. Zombies play a role but they function as background scenery more than anything else.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on July 7, 2010
As a native Seattlite I really wanted to like Boneshaker, but it's a frustrating book. It starts very strong, then drags as the narrative restrictions of the environment become clear, then ends with a whimper, and is punctuated by a defensive author's note that comes off as a whine (put your disclaimers at the beginning!) The world Priest imagines is rich and intriguing and seemingly primed for a terrific alt-history adventure/mystery, but it feels like that world was much easier to construct than to set into motion. The writing itself is solid but, after the initial novelty, the story ends up being really conventional, and there are so many plot points left dangling that this feels like a deliberate effort to kickstart a series. That's fine, but a series for whom? Sometimes it feels like an adult-oriented genre thriller, other times a basic adventure for teens (Zeke is a big reason for this vibe.) Or, ahem, a sketch for a video game world. Someone here said this book needed another year to cook and another hundred pages. I agree with that.

Edit: Per Wikipedia this is part of a planned three-book series in this particular alternative-history setting. That could explain some of the danglers, especially in re the war.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Highly underwhelming, and a timely reminder of why I find most steampunk to be a stimulus for self-indulgent laziness rather than an effective subgenre of science fiction. There are positive things in this book, but in no small part this was one of those works where such elements deepen my frustration. It's clear that Priest is not without some significant talent, but here it's applied in a book that on the whole is low quality. The strengths lie partly in the opening and the way it plunges in a sense of an exhilarating and distant world, and partly in characterization, which feels fully authentic and with a nice preponderance of detail. I'm particularly found of the little indications of imperfect perception that come across--a character in anxiety overlooks a letter lying in plain sight, and this element is portrayed not as a critical failure but a realistic moment of emotions. Similarly, the main relationship of the piece, a mother-son antagonism and ultimately love, feels fairly well actualized.

The bigger problem, though, is the utter arbitrariness of the plot, setting and pace. The ultimate plot, as it develops with all its gas-created zombies, mad scientists and weird environment is highly contrived, and feels manipulated by the author to produce a situation of episodic conflict with an eventual ostensibly unified story. I have no objection per say to a thoroughly absurd situation--reference the Manual of Detection above--but here it's unattached to real comedy or an effective satire, and the whole tone is far too serious to make the story work. The larger incoherence becomes problematic as the story emerges with no inherent spark or thematic connection beyond the story, the point of the book is to spin its wheels showing a contrived plot and shadowy backstory of a mad scientist, and we're supposed to take this layout at face value.

There's a sense across the novel, first emerging in prominent sparks around page forty and becoming overwhelming by the end, that it features well realized, three-dimensional characters inhabiting a cardboard world. What makes this contrast dispiriting is that it feels over-tailered to a subset of science fiction that wants to see weird nineteenth century mutations and crazy science, and isn't particularly demanding with anything meaningful with these elements. It's a book that sacrifices coherence, ambition and effectiveness as science fiction for the sake of a fun thrill ride. And, at least for my reading, it doesn't achieve that measure of fun in result.

I was partly hampered by my expectations of this book--after hearing exultant reviews it probably gave more disappointment than I would have otherwise felt. Beyond that, since reading it, Boneshaker has been shortlisted for both a Hugo and Nebulas, which I can't help feel represents fandom siding with style over substance to a large degree.
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81 of 105 people found the following review helpful
Cherie Priest is one of those authors I've been hearing good things about for years. However, I've never tried her books previously as I'm not into horror or ghost related tales much, but when I heard she was doing a Steampunk book I immediately added it to my watch list. It did not disappoint at all. Boneshaker is full of Steampunk awesomeness. The setting is unbelievable detailed with its decrepitness yet infused with a ragamuffin lifestyle of people getting by in the most unexpected ways. You've got mad scientists, steampowered tech, ravenous zombies, air ships, and air pirates all in an eerie apocalyptic landscape. Yet this is a story with heart.

Set in Seattle circa 19th century, but in an alternative history where the civil war is on going and the gold rush made it to Seattle a little earlier. Boneshaker refers to a machine that wrecked the downtown of Seattle about 15 years prior, which released a gas that turned people to zombies. The ruined portion of the city has been walled-up since and most people live in what is called "The Outskirts." Zeke is looking to redeem the Father and Grand Father he never knew for their involvement surrounding the events of the boneshaker so he travels into the walled-off city looking for proof. His mother predictably goes in after him, but what ensues is a rollicking look into a vivid world. The point of view switches between mother and son as they stumble through the city and meet allies and enemies.

One thing that may bother some hardcore Steampunkers is this isn't much real Victorian-ness going on, but the other elements of Steampunk are here. Boneshaker has more of a greasy soot covered Wild West feel to it, but it does make it refreshing to leave England. The characters start off a bit standoffish, but grow quickly endearing. Briar is especially a tough nut to crack as she has built-up so many layers between her and her son Zeke, yet she is my favorite. Briar is a woman who made some very hard choices in life and hasn't had it easy because of those paths chosen. There are a lot of other intriguing characters as well in this blight soaked city.

Superbly plotted and paced, if you are going to read one Steampunk book this year make it Boneshaker. I give Boneshaker 9 out of 10 Hats. Cherie has a second novel in the series titled Dreadnought coming in 2010 with Tor and a novella, Clementine, expected with Subterranean Press as well.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on July 5, 2011
Boneshaker is a light adventure yarn set against a delightful mash-up background (Zombies AND steampunk? Yes, please!), and is written in a brisk, energetic style. Unfortunately it never quite delivers on all its grand potential. The protagonists cease really DOING anything once the story begins in earnest, their actions limited mostly to reacting to their surroundings; the villain lacks a "master plan" which might add some urgency to the procedings; and there's a lot of expository dialogue which could have been trimmed or abbreviated so as to avoid undermining the pace of the work. It is NOT a bad book, and in fact, I enjoyed it quite a lot. It's a great setting, and I enjoyed the female protagonist a great deal. That said, Boneshaker had the potential to be so much more than just genre entertainment, but alas, it was not to be. As other reviewers have said, Boneshaker is great popcorn fare: enjoy it for what it is, and you won't be disappointed. Go into it expecting the 5-star classic some folks paint it up to be, and you will walk away feeling cheated.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on November 11, 2010
I don't even know where to begin. The book failed on so many levels. The characters were bland, one-dimensional, and flat. The plot was boring and contrived. The prose, obnoxious, with the author's overuse of dialogue tags, telling (rather than "showing"), and clunky awkward phrasing.

I found myself skipping through the pages as the author was verbose in areas where she didn't need to be. Pointless dialogue moved the story from Point A to Point B rather than enrich the readers' imaginations. It was a chore to read, and finally, I had to give up. I didn't care enough about the characters to find out if Briar found her son. About 40% through the book, I just stopped caring. After reading Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, this book read amateurish. Perhaps I shouldn't have read Boneshaker after reading Hunger Games, but even if I had read Boneshaker first, I still might not have been able to finish it.

Don't be fooled by the intriguing cover. This book is a waste of time.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on March 24, 2011
I was disappointed. Boneshaker was a Nebula award finalist. As such, I expected more than a minimum level of writing skill. This book was difficult to finish. It appears to be writtten for Young Adults with an eye toward capturing a Hollywood script.

Problems:
Protagonists (2) - uninteresting, poorly drawn. They wander about aimlessly with no sense of purpose.
Zeke does not think or act like a 15 year old male. The author is operating in unfamiliar ground here.
The story line drags and the ending is artificial. It appears that the author ran out of ideas and quickly glommed together a "big battle" finale (think Action Flick).

Plusses:
The supporting characters were interesting, but there were many and each was on stage only briefly. More development would have added interest.

The cover art and binding says "steam punk" quite effectively.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on July 20, 2010
I did a little research to see what I could find in the "Steam Punk" genre of Sci-Fi literature, and this title came up strong along with Jay Lake's Escapement. I didn't care too much for the latter and Boneshaker really made me shake my head to wonder what everyone was so thrilled about.

I cared for this very little. Yes. One needs to suspend one's disbelief when treading these waters, but this bordered on absurd. Mom ventures into a walled up Seattle, that is filled with toxic gas and zombies who want you for lunch, to find her son. As it turns out the city has a population that never left after it was walled up. Somehow these residents just.....stayed. They thought it would be better living in the city, for reasons of nostalgia(?) than living on the outside. Let me get this straight. Live in constant danger of dieing from toxic fumes, being eaten alive by zombies and living under the thumb of a violent, tyrannical madman, or living outside the city. Yup. I would love to live in the city.

Other problems. The city has been walled up for 16 years. There are a crapload of zombies still around. How is it that 1. they haven't withered away (it seems people have learned to avoid them) and 2. the locals haven't hunted them down and wiped them out? There are a fixed number of them in a fixed area. How tough could it be?

The writing isn't too hot either. Cherie Priest hasn't found a voice yet. The writing is all over the place. There is no consistent tone here. And the story doesn't end. It just sort of stops. It were as though she hit the 400 page mark and said "Oh my God. I need to round this thing up." It's much like the low rent mystery films of the 40s and 50s where they pulled the string in the last 3 minutes to tie up all the loose ends.

Sorry. I won't say this was a painful read but it certainly wasn't pleasant. I liked some of the ideas present but too few to recommend this to anyone. I liked Sterling's and Gibson's "The Difference Engine" which is why I'm seeking out more titles in this genre, but so far I'm 0 for 2.
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