I never would have picked up Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, (book 1 of the Clockwork Century series) if I hadn’t read JY Saville’s review of the sequel, Clementine, back in October. And I’m glad I remembered that review because until I read Boneshaker, I had never ventured into steam punk novels, and hadn’t read a zombie story in years. Yes, this novel is a steam punk zombie adventure set in Seattle.
Briar Wilkes is the widow of the man whose boneshaker drill destroyed Seattle and unleashed the blight–a toxic gas from within the earth which turns those left in the city into the walking dead.
Sixteen years later and Briar is raising her son, Ezekial (Zeke), while battling the contempt of the town which continues to despise her for her husband’s deeds. Her history is further complicated, in that her late–father is a folk hero of legend. And while it initially seems Briar is defined by her relationships to the men in her life, she stands on her own from the moment she is introduced.
She defines herself despite the men in her life.
Then Zeke goes into the closed walls of Seattle to learn more about his father, and Briar must rescue her sixteen-year-old son. The novel could very easily have followed young-hero-Zeke as he discovers his heroic qualities and grows into A MAN! but Cherie Priest took a more nuanced and realistic look. Briar is the real hero of the story. While Zeke fumbles to keep hold of his gun, Briar stages the rescue mission using all that she knows, as well as information learned from her father and late-husband. She’s not perfect and the longer she searches for Zeke the more we learn that Briar is withholding secrets surrounding her husband’s life and death. She is a character neck-deep in ambiguous morals but no way to escape until she allows Zeke to know the truth.
Briar made my list of favorite female characters because Cherie Priest wrote her to be the hero of the story, not the hero’s mother. Because even as a female adventurer, sexual violence is never a plot point or a threat from the villains. Because Briar stands on her own, from the moment we meet her trekking home from work at the water cleaning plant through the last moment of the novel, she defines herself.