Boneshaker (Clockwork Century 1) by Cherie Priest [Review]

Title: Boneshaker
Series: Clockwork Century book 1
Author: Cherie Priest
Genre: Steampunk
Cover art: Jon Foster
Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Tor 2009

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In the early days of the Civil War, rumors of gold in the frozen Klondike brought hordes of newcomers to the Pacific Northwest. Anxious to compete, Russian prospectors commissioned inventor Leviticus Blue to create a great machine that could mine through Alaska’s ice. Thus was Dr. Blue’s Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine born.

But on its first test run the Boneshaker went terribly awry, destroying several blocks of downtown Seattle and unearthing a subterranean vein of blight gas that turned anyone who breathed it into the living dead.

Now it is sixteen years later, and a wall has been built to enclose the devastated and toxic city. Just beyond it lives Blue’s widow, Briar Wilkes. Life is hard with a ruined reputation and a teenaged boy to support, but she and Ezekiel are managing. Until Ezekiel undertakes a secret crusade to rewrite history.

His quest will take him under the wall and into a city teeming with ravenous undead, air pirates, criminal overlords, and heavily armed refugees. And only Briar can bring him out alive.


Everything about this book is beautiful the cover, the design and the story in itself. There is a even a beautiful map of Seattle 1879 inside by Jenifer Hanover. I think that the  popularity of Steampunk has something to do with a wish for more beautiful soulful things. I am not saying that modern design can’t be beautiful but they seldom have soul.

This is the story about  a strong persistent mother who would do anything for her son. Briar is a hardworking single mom that just manages to get by on what she brings in while she tries to live under the radar of the stigma of her former husband’s alleged crime. Her son Ezekiel convinced of his father’s innocence sets out to find proof inside the walled city.

The Author

Cherie comes quite well recommended from reviewers and nominations and she lives up to my expectations. She writes very accessible and with her own style that reminds me of pulp fiction writers like Sax Rohmer’s (Dr. Fu-Manchu) and old classic writers  like Jules Verne. This is the first book I read by her but not the last; I have Clementine on its way here and Dreadnought (the next book set in the Clockwork Century) on pre order.

World Building

I like the Steampunk version of Seattle even if I was a bit skeptical about the Zombie part at first. I am not really into horror that much. I enjoy the whole ‘what if’ with Steampunk. It makes you think and fantasize all by yourself.

Cherie uses a journalist that pesters Briar for an interview to give the back story in an excerpt from his unfinished works and the rest comes natural as the story develops with Briar doing most of the remembering. It feels like we just opened the door to the Clockwork Century and had a tiny peek, I want to know more and explore the different parts of this alternate universe. So I guess the world building worked great, I am hooked.


Zeke goes into the Blight to clear his father’s good name and Briar goes after to save his skin. The story focuses on Briar finding a way into the walled city, surviving the zombies, the blight, locating her son and getting him out of there. But it is not easy. She encounters the airship Clementine whose story I assume is covered in the novella by the same name. The walled city in itself holds more than one secret and she uncovers them one by one. The twists and turns reminded somewhat of pulp fiction but more coherent. Some of what happens seems to happen out of the blue when they do but they get their explanation later on much like they would in real life.


I like the characters as much as I am in love with the settings. Briar is really set on saving her son from himself while she spare noting in scolding herself for her own short comings. The people she meets and form bonds with step out of the text lifelike and interesting in themselves. There are more than a couple of them I wouldn’t mind reading a short story or two about. Alastair, Cly, Fang and Angeline Princess to mention a few.

My View

I love Boneshaker, it is an easy read you will have trouble putting down and the storyline is compelling and you will want to read more of Cherie’s books afterwards. What is it that is so charming and compelling with goggles, gas masks, zombies, airships and 19th century technology? I don’t know but it got me under its spell too.