It started off slow, but I fully realize that was a miscalibration with the story compatibility recognizer. I don’t really do the mother-hen story line, and I often get the urge to slap headstrong teenage boys. I started this on vacation in NYC, and we just weren’t getting along. Plus, NYC is all busy and distracting and such. Once home, I picked it back up and had a little better luck, but soon got distracted with
shinier books life. Finally opened it again today and finished the last 250 or so pages, proving at least one of two things: 1) that I am a ridiculous procrastinator that would do anything other than class homework, and 2) Priest can pull it together; it just takes awhile.
Story alternates between the viewpoint of Ezekiel, a young teen, and that of his mother, Briar Wilkes, a hard-working widow. She was married to an inventor, Leviticus Blue, who built a machine that was supposed to impress the Russians with it’s gold-mining skill. Except before the debut, things go a little haywire and a bank or two is robbed instead, and a mysterious low-lying gas released into the local atmosphere. Perhaps it was connected to the machine, perhaps it wasn’t. Blue disappeared, and the gas turned everyone it touched into “rotters,” otherwise known as
coffee-deprived Seattleans zombies. The rest of the world walled Seattle off and did their best to forget about it, except for two things: they still hate Briar, as a stand-in for Blue; and the yellow gas can be distilled into a drug (of course the new drug comes through Seattle. Don’t they always?). Zeke decides to find out the truth. Mama hen chases him down with the intention of making him safe, and perhaps, of telling him the truth.
Positives: characterization that is fairly multi-culti without making it an issue and doesn’t treat females like a bunch of sex objects (cough, cough, Brent Weeks), but instead like people trying to live how they know, and be as tough as they need to to survive. Side characters were particularly interesting and unique, and I rather liked they they didn’t always ‘group up’ and stay together for the rest of the
quest search. I’m particularly fond of the Indian Princess who was oracle-like in her advice, and mysterious enough that Zeke wasn’t sure if she was going to knife him or save him.
Criticisms: Blah, airships. I suppose they are useful for getting characters in and out of walled cities. Personally, I find them to be the steampunk equivalent of the modern car chase, and usually use the time to go
fix get a drink. Blah fifteen year old boys, who are at once brave, naive, selfish, defiant, clever and obtuse.
Of all the characters, the villain was a bit of a trope. Build-up was scary; actuality was a bit like Paul Reubens in the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I also could have passed on the conceit of the weird dude in the beginning approaching Briar about writing a biography. Not sure where it got the story, except some navel-gazingness. Might have incited the kid to leave, but then again, it might not have. Oh wait, I get it. It was a way to introduce backstory. Ok, I’ll scratch that as a complaint. Annoyed me at the end, however.
Speaking of the end, it was a strange mix-up of unfinished and happily ever after (oh stop, that didn’t give anything away). Quite a few unanswered questions. While part of me likes to have everything explained, it just isn’t possible in a book of this length; I was left with intriguing questions about the Blight, about the Civil War, and about the people in Seattle. Not enough to move the rest of the series to the TBR list, however.
Overall, a middling book that I’m glad I read. Judging by the way reviews run the star gamut, it might be worth checking out for yourself. And I still can’t decide if Priest pulled it together or I’m a
successful horrible procrastinator.