Subway Literature: Cherie Priest’s BONESHAKER

Not long ago I was in Orlando at a company conference when I got a phone call from a very nice gentleman at McNally Jackson, one of my favorite bookstores. My copy of Boneshaker had arrived and was waiting for me when I got back to NYC. Hooray!

No, not my forthcoming first novel, in which a young girl battles the demonic forces of a traveling medicine show with the help of, among other things, an antique bicycle. I’m talking about Cherie Priest’s novel of the same name, which broke my heart when I first heard about it, despite the fact that the second I read the description I was immediately dying to read it. (Here’s Cory Doctorow’s review on BoingBoing: Well, last weekend, I finished reading it. This much I’ve already said on Twitter and Facebook: if I gotta share a title, this is the book I want to share with.

I’m a newbie novelist. Of course I hated the idea that my baby, my firstborn, after a long and painful title change process, had to share. I first learned about Ms. Priest’s book when I wrote a post about the agony of finding the perfect title (it’s here, for anybody who’s interested: The first comment was a concerned poster wanting to be sure I was aware that the new, perfect title I’d changed mine to was a duplicate. I was, needless to say, not aware. But it turned out my publisher was, and Clarion had decided that, for a number of reasons, the duplication was a non-issue. My book’s for ages 10 and up; Ms. Priest’s is for adults. Her boneshaker’s a drill, mine’s a bicycle. Mine’s coming out six months later, and in a different format. No biggie, basically. Which makes me happy, because, as I said, I just finished reading BONESHAKER, and it’s so very good. If you like zombies, airships, Seattle, or maniacal inventors, you should really go pick this book up right now. Love steampunk? Love horror? This book is for you.

In Cherie Priest’s imagined Seattle, it’s 1879 and the Civil War is stretching on, and most of the city has been enclosed in a wall to hold in the disastrous effects of a blight gas loosed by the Boneshaker of the title. (Sixteen years ago, Leviticus Blue built and tested the Boneshaker, which was intended to expedite mining in the Klondike. Instead, it tore through the underpinnings of the city, releasing the Blight, which turns those who breathe it into flesh-eating undead “rotters.”) Ezekiel Wilkes, son of Leviticus Blue, is desperate to redeem the memory of his father, and finds a way into the enclosed city to search for something to prove Levi wasn’t the monster history has made of him. His mother, Briar, goes in after him when she discovers him missing. What follows are spectacular and deadly hijinks in a nightmarish landscape peopled not only with zombies but those who have, for one reason or another, chosen to make the deadly heart of Seattle their home. It’s a tremendous adventure (it’s going to make an insane film for somebody—I’m looking at you, Terry Gilliam; get cracking) but what I love best about it is the city Ms. Priest has built on the historically mutated bones of her hometown. Cities are and always will be my favorite characters, and although both Briar and Ezekiel are wonderful, it’s the scrappy survivor that is blighted Seattle that the author brings most vividly to life: a place that is at once hellish and awesome. This city is the perfect embodiment of Freud’s uncanny: homely and unknowable all at the same time.

So anyway, I recommend it. Highly. Go get it, why don’t you? And since you might have to order it, why not go ahead and order both Boneshakers? Just make sure you have Amazon or whoever send them separately. My book you’ve got to wait until May for, but Cherie Priest’s zombie phantasmagoria is out now. It’ll at least get you through October. Then you’ll only have four months to wait for mine.


  1. Swinging by from Priest’s blog to repeat what I just said there: Your post is the epitome of grace — and so is hers. I’m thoroughly impressed with both of you. 🙂

  2. I’m here because of Cherie Priest’s post about the title similarity in which she mentioned how cool your book was. It sounds very interesting, and I think I’ll be picking up a copy.

  3. Thank you both for stopping by! Cherie’s post really made my day yesterday, and seeing comments here this morning just made today. Linda, let me know if you do and what your thoughts are. NJ, thanks so much for that! I will go out on a limb and guess that you’re a class act yourself. Thanks for the kind words.

    What Cherie said about the simultaneous joy and terror of the First Book Process is entirely true, and one thing that’s made it a little easier for me at least is how awesome the more established writers I’ve reached out to have been. Cherie’s post is a perfect example, albeit an example that goes above and beyond the call. Intellectually I know everyone started out somewhere, but there’s no law saying anybody has to make time for the next freaked-out newbie, especially if she’s a perfect stranger.

    Which brings me to something I wasn’t yet able to say when I wrote this post back in October or whenever but am glad to say now. If not for the duplicate title I might never have had a reason to exchange emails with Cherie in the first place, and although certainly a few emails do not a deep correspondence make, I am so pleased to have gotten to know Cherie to the very limited extent that I have. She’s pretty awesome.

  4. Hello! I read the post over at Cherie Priest’s site about your novel title similarities and came over to read your post…and got sucked into your site. 🙂 Very glad to have dropped by & I will be checking out your book when it arrives in stores. Congrats on your first novel!

  5. I said it at Cherie’s blog and I’ll say it here: I think y’all are both pretty amazing, and I’m looking forward to your book, which I anticipate enjoying just as much as I did hers. I agree with you publisher: I think this is just a happy little coincidence that helps your new baby and doesn’t hurt Cherie, since she’s been so good about it. My best to you both and to all the steampunk writers everywhere.

  6. Hi, Kate! Found your site from Cherie Priest’s blog post, and have been browsing around, intrigued–then saw the bit about Charles de Lint’s endorsement of your book, and could resist no longer. I’ll be reading “The Boneshaker” when it’s released. Congrats on your book, and on what will hopefully be the first batch of many new fans.

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