Steampunk-meets-zombies in an alt-history Seattle, where a contest to build a drilling machine for the Russians to mine Klondike gold led to Dr Leviticus Blue’s Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine cutting a path of widescale destruction through the city, and releasing the deadly Blight Gas from under the earth, turning those exposed to it into the undead Rotters. Sixteen years later Briar Wilkes, wife of Blue, lives with her son Ezekiel outside of the great wall that contains the gas; one day Zeke, seeking to uncover the truth about his father, finds his way inside the wall – and it’s up to Briar to get him out again.
That forms the essence of the book: a mother looking for her son, and a son looking to discover the father he only knows by his terrible reputation. Throw in airship rides, zombie hordes, robotic limbs, gunfights, and mad scientists, and it makes for one entertaining adventure.
The two viewpoint characters of Briar and Zeke form a contrast, the son smart and resourceful but out of his depth and underinformed, mostly at the mercy of the various people he encounters on his journey; his mother just as much borne along by events on arriving in the city, but driven and determined in her search for her son.
The two threads are told asynchronously, with Zeke entering the city almost a full day before Briar, and I found that the timeline got a little confusing around the middle, where I suddenly found that Zeke was several hours ahead of the point of Briar’s timeline than I had thought. When the characters have trouble judging the passage of time from under the gas, and they each spend time both asleep and unconscious, it can be tricky to work out how they’re moving relative to one another.
But that’s a minor concern, and overall this genre mashup is a success. Priest delivers the standards of the zombie genre well, with the setting of the blight-filled city where gas masks are mandatory and visibility limited injecting something new into the somewhat familiar scenes. When the characters aren’t being menaced by the ravenous undead, it’s a story about family, and living with the mistakes we make with ours.
BONUS: Delilah Dirk and the Seeds of Good Fortune, by Tony Cliff
This short comic starring “International Mistress of Swordsmanship” Delilah Dirk was a fun and well put together story following our heroine on an attempt to extract a signature from the “corrupt, villainous chieftain of a small Greek town”. It’s a good read, one stand out part being the two-page spread depicting Delilah’s madcap dash through the streets of the town to escape her pursuers.
The Seeds of Good Fortune is a print stand-alone available to order online, but if you want to check out Delilah Dirk’s adventures, the full-length comic Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant is readable for free at www.DelilahDirk.com. I recommend checking it out.
Next week: Dust by Elizabeth Bear