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Disappointing but readable followup to Boneshaker
on December 15, 2011
Hainey, a free slave in this alternate version of the late 1800's where the Civil War has dragged out nearly two decades, has a brief but memorable part in Boneshaker. Enough so that I was very much looking forward to reading the story of his stolen ship treated in this sequel. Boneshaker paints him and his zeppelin flying cohorts in the Han Solo, neutral pirate/smuggler vein of character, but what we get here is a little different, and ultimately unsatisfying.
From the start, when Maria is introduced as the Pinkerton detective assigned to reel him in, it is made clear that Hainey has done some bad things to earn his reputation - bad enough that Maria's orders are clear, she may slay him or capture him and return him to the South, whatever she wishes so long as he doesn't get back his stolen ship. These two characters are what the story revolves around, and halfway through they fall flat.
*** SPOILERS ***
Hainey's fall from the reader's grace occurs when he mows down in cold blood a crowd of dockyard workers, men whom are only trying to prevent his crew's theft of a docked zeppelin. He doesn't fire at their feet or scare them into submission, any of the usual tropes we normally indulge an author. It is really hard to sympathize with this character after that point - there's a fine line between Han Solo mowing down Imperials, and a man mowing down innocent dockhands. There is a similar killing of an innocent Chinaman in Boneshaker, and Priest handles that scene and its aftermath very well. She makes it a very revealing moment for both characters involved. Priest breezes past Hainey's murders under the guise of self/crew-defense, and it is simply not consistent with the character we had seen or hoped for up to that point - there is no regret or guilt felt. Priest had hinted that Hainey deserved his reputation, but its ultimately a disappointment to the reader. It was difficult to care about whether or not he got his precious ship back after that point.
Maria is a more consistent disappointment. The book builds up to her showdown with Hainey, and when it happens its smack-dab in the middle of the ship theft, where the two join in the mutual escape with their lives. The resulting truce between them is logical, but the showdown is awkward in many ways and a letdown. Rarely does the author examine Maria's motivations - despite having worked for the Confederacy, you never once hear her thoughts on slavery, or on Hainey and what she would've ultimately done with him, had a certain plot device threatening the South not changed her goals. She comes off very flat and only marginally gains any sympathy as a character, in stark contrast to Briar Wilkes, the mother hellbent on finding her son in Boneshaker. The layers of story just peel off Briar as Boneshaker progresses, ending with a fantastic reveal at the end, but Maria remains an unrewarding cipher from start to finish.
Likewise, there is no reveal for Hainey and the story of his precious Free Crow. He wants it back, that's the story. We learn less than a paragraph about it beyond what we got back in Boneshaker. Speaking of the zeppelins, Priest can be forgiven for glossing over details in the first book where they are a sideline to the story, but Clementine should have painted in that sketch. I still have no idea how to picture these things - are warships entirely armored, including the gas bags? They seem to operate more as jet airships than they do as floating airships, which gets hard to picture. Is the reader really supposed to take seriously a tense scene where a pistol shot from an expert marksman at close range may miss and ricochet to explode the hydrogen tanks, just pages after a scene where a poorly controlled shoulder-mounted Gatling is fired among them? There are similar inconsistencies that mar Boneshaker but here they added up just enough to keep me from buying into the world and enjoying the ride.