Jason Pettus' review
is the gold standard here, equal parts passionate and incisive about the book's strengths.
My enthusiasm is more muted. The central conceits--the suite of high-wire concepts which organize the world--make me swoon. An alt-America where the Civil War apparently rages on, some twenty years in; a gold rush that prompts a scientific contest, sponsored by the Russians, to devise a mechanical digger which can cut through thick Alaskan ice to reveal that hoped-for gold; a horrible accident (or was it?), one such device--the title's Boneshaker--unleashed in frontier port Seattle, tearing through the downtown, demolishing whole swathes of cityscape and a sizable portion of the populuation; the consequent hole in the earth suddenly leaking a terrible yellow miasma--the Blight--which shrouds the city and turns unprotected inhabitants into Rotters (ye olde voracious zombie hordes); that city walled, a literal underground population learning to thrive in gasmasks and with bellows and boilers pumping fresh air down into sealed caverns and tunnels; an underground economy based on a distilled and somewhat-purified form of the Blight, now sold as a deeply-addictive intoxicant called yellow sap. And so on.
Cue inventor's widow and son. Said son (Zeke), wanting to rewrite the history which excoriates his pop, heads under the walls into the city to find out more. Said widow (Briar), horrified, chases after, dropping in with the help of sky pirates (who pilot huge ramshackle zeppelins over the city to scoop up gas).
I loved the richness of detail here. Even more I loved the attitude toward this baroque world -- no winks or eyebrow-wriggling, no allegory, no exclamation points. It's a rich, substantive world evoked with affectionate evenhanded observation throughout, without showboat discursive digressions. Priest reminds me of the best of Tim Powers -- a surreal sense of subterranean histories.
And yet--and this may seem either more backhanded or more celebratory than I intend--it boils down into a ripsnorting set of adventures. Chapters race along, right up to the edge of frequent cliffs, leaving us hanging, generating a brisk readerly momentum. I was never less than entertained, but--given that world--I was also never more than entertained. The world demands the 400+ pages, but the story could have been a brisk 250; the plot was far less baroque than the backdrop, and I wished on occasion that the narrative was as inventive as its setting.
Still--I enjoyed it. The next installment is already scheduled for publication. I can't wait to read it--to see what further rich histories this world might reveal.