Originally reviewed here
.Why I Read It:
Initially I wanted to read this because I was attracted to the pretty cover. But then I started digging a bit and found quite a few glowing reviews for it from bloggers I trust and have similar tastes with. My brother went on a book-buying spree a few years ago and I was recommending a lot of YA, but he wanted some adult titles too. Since I wanted to read this myself, I gave him the gist of what the book is (zombies, alternative history, steampunk) and he was sold and bought the book for himself. It took me awhile, but I finally got around to reading it for myself. Spoiler-free review ahead.
Why did I wait so long to read this book? Actually, maybe it isn't so bad that I waited as long as I did because now I have at least TWO other books to read in this fantastic world (there's also a third, but it's not as readily available as the other two are.)
So what is it that makes this novel so great? It's FUN. I wouldn't say that the characters themselves are having a whole lot of fun, but reading about this awesome alternative history, steampunk, zombie-ridden Seattle was awesome. It's got just the right amount of everything, which is a hard balance to achieve since Priest is juggling so many elements in one novel (albeit, these elements commonly intermingle, but still; a lot of them fall short where this one doesn't.) But this book never smothers you with too much steampunk, nor do the steampunk elements for like they're thrown in solely to be able to brand this as steampunk. I think Shara (calico_reaction) said it best when she described how some of the steampunk elements -- ie. gas masks, googles -- work in this world because they're actually USEFUL. They make sense in this world, and thus the steampunkiness doesn't feel like it's there solely for aesthetics.
While I wouldn't say this is a character-driven novel (I'd argue it's much more about the action and the world-building/atmosphere), the characters do manage to hold up their own rather well, for the most part. I found Zeke a little bland; he appeared to be there just to witness the action and was rarely a participant, nor did I ever really get a feel for his personality other than his burning desire to redeem his family name. Briar on the other hand, I really liked. She's kick-ass, but also has major brains. And despite the fact that she's incredibly independent for a woman in the mid-1850s, she never felt anachronistic. For one, it's stated early on that she used to be rich (because of her husband), and two, she never bemoans the fact that she's a woman and just wants to do her own thing etc. She just does what she needs to do, but not because she wants to Stick It To The Man. I should also mention the relationship between Zeke and Briar, which I thought was sweet, but for some reason I had a hard time connecting Briar and Zeke as mother and son. Maybe it's because I don't read about this family dynamic much??
My favourite characters though were the secondary ones, specifically the group that Briar meets in the Blighted part of Seattle. Lucy (I think that's her name?) was probably my absolute favourite. The pirates that Briar meets were also pretty likable as well, despite not getting a whole lot of page-time.
When I think back to the plot, I don't remember it being all that great to be honest, but there was something about the pacing that made this 400+ tome fly by. There was enough going on that I was never bored, and because I liked Briar so much and her ragtag group of friends that she makes, it elevated what could have potentially been a very mediocre/less-than-stellar story into something that was greater than the sum of its parts.Final Verdict
: For me, this book had a few flaws: the story isn't ALL that enthralling and one of the main characters (Zeke) remained luke-warm to me. However!! I still greatly enjoyed this novel as a whole because of the fantastic world-building. I loved the balance that Priest achieved with the steampunk and zombie elements in the novel, and neither ever felt gratuitous or like they were thrown in there just to look cool. It all worked together and did so wonderfully. Also, the other main character, Briar, was extremely likable, as well as the characters she meets along the way. I'm really excited to catch up on this series (which I plan to do as soon as I can), and would recommend this to anyone who's digging the steampunk trend.