When I first discovered steampunk, I kept seeing Cherie Priest's name everywhere, along with Boneshaker, a "steampunk-zombie-airship adventure," in the words of Scott Westerfeld. And so, finally, I grabbed it off of the TBR shelf and dove in.
I must say, that Cherie Priest has imagination. After all, it isn't everyone who could successfully bring together steampunk technology, alternate Civil War history, a mysterious vapor that turns people into zombies, and airship pirates. Oh yeah.
At its heart, Boneshaker is about acknowledging and accepting the past, including mistakes and misunderstandings. When Leviticus Blue gets a commission (from Russia) to build a machine for drilling in the frozen Klondike for gold, he builds the "Boneshaker," a large and ultimately destructive human-driven machine. When Blue takes it out for a "test run," the Boneshaker allegedly goes crazy, ripping up several blocks of 1880s Seattle, and releasing from the Earth a strange gas that people call "the Blight." Somehow, it has the ability to turn people into zombies, and these "rotters," as the living call them, roam the torn-up streets, searching for humans to gnaw on.
Immediately after the catastrophe, people built a wall around the destroyed section of Seattle, and anyone who had escaped settled outside the wall. Blue was never heard from again, and his wife and son currently live in the shadow of his ruined reputation. So when his son, Ezekiel, sneaks into the walled section of the city to find a way to clear his father's name, Blue's widow, Briar, hitches a ride on a pirate airship to retrieve her son from the rotters and Blight that await him.
The people they find inside the walls are survivors doing the best they can with very few resources, but there is one man, a Dr. Minnericht, whom some think is Blue, tinkering in an underground train station. What his plans are, no one knows, and no one really wants to find out, either...
While parts of the novel seemed to drag (thanks to a lot of detailed description of the airships and the rubble inside the walled-off section), in general, Priest has given us a unique adventure story packed with mystery, angsty family issues, and even mechanical limbs that shoot crossbows. If you're interested in learning more about steampunk, you need to read Boneshaker.