I tried this book out on the basis of it’s nominations for major science fiction awards and that of the Best Read of the Year at http://www.scifisite.com. It’s not normally what I would pick up being steampunk mixed with zombies. However, my expectations were surpassed and Boneshakers turned out to be a solid novel, though it’s lasting legacy might be spurring me to watch the Walking Dead TV show.
The book follows exclusively one family, a mother and son, who are cursed with some awful family lineage. The grandfather of the son is a folk hero for some and a criminal to others and the son’s father is perhaps the most reviled man in all of 1800s Seattle. Not content with the official historical record, the son, Zeke, travels into the part of Seattle wrecked by his father, Leviticus Blue, and now crawling with zombies created by the Blight unleashed during Blue’s rampage. The mother goes in after him and that is the setup for the rest of the book.
Something of a paradox mars an otherwise decent story. The zombies of the setting are really ancillary despite being a prominent part of the setting. They are in only a couple scenes and very rarely seem dangerous, in fact one character seems to have a weapon that could wipe them out if they just thought to use it. However, their presence explicit or implicit keeps the characters moving at a rapid pace such that they have no time to ruminate or develop. The beginning opens up with a young Zeke dissatisfied with life and his family’s legacy. His mother feels like a bad parent and you feel like she is going after him partly out of guilt, partly out of love. But once we get inside the city these motivations get shoved backwards and no new ones are offered up. Zeke is often called resourceful, but never seems to display it, instead just buffeted along on the whims of whoever he runs into. Same with the mother. The primary villain is built up, but the confrontation and reveal of his identity leave much to be desired. You are told more than shown the cruel power he wields over the denizens of this part of Seattle.
Nevertheless, the book has some gripping chases and some of the people within the city are more interesting than the main characters. The book’s opening is fantastic (and the ending is better than most), which makes it all the more sad that such an exciting setting, a walled of area in a city teeming with zombies and unbreathable air where people actually eek out an existence, languishes while we get a standard plot of mother rescuing son.