Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest, is the first in her Clockwork Century series. Priest has created a wonderfully rich world, set in the 1880s, yet it is quite different. The Civil War never ceased, zeppelin-like airships fill the skies, and Seattle is hobbled, walled off and filled with a gas which turns those who breathe it into rotters (the undead).
Nearly two decades before, the Russians held a competition for someone to invent a drill that would help them pull ahead in the great gold rush in the Klondike. Leviticus Blue won the competition, but while testing the drill, it ripped through Seattle, crippling it and releasing the deadly blight into the air. Anyone who breathed the gas became the living dead, and both they and the gas were walled in, left to fill the city. Now Blue’s widow, Briar, and her son, Zeke, is ostracized by those who live on the outskirts of Seattle. Zeke decides to head into the city to clear his father’s name, for he does not believe all the terrible things people, including his mother, say about him. Briar follows Zeke into the city, where they meet a colorful group of people (a partially mechanical barmaid, a man named Swankhammer, and a group of air pirates) who inhabit the Seattle underground under the thumb of a mysterious criminal genius.
Honestly, the plot of the story was just slightly secondary to the world Priest created, but I’m OK with that in this case. It is a vast, intricate world, populated by delightful characters and an entirely new frontier they can explore. I, too have a bit of writer’s envy over this one. I’ve started the sequel, a novella called Clementine, and I have Dreadnought, the third in the Clockwork Century.
I’ve always loved alternate histories, especially mixed with steampunk, and this is an excellent showing by Cherie Priest.