This week I picked up “Boneshaker” by Cherie Priest. I can’t say a whole lot about it at this point, as I’ve become stuck at chapter four. Up to that point I had an inkling that the writing was bad, but this quotation from the opening of chapter four crystalized things for me:
On Friday morning Briar rose just before dawn, like always, and lit a candle so she could see.
Her clothes were where she’d left them. She traded yesterday’s shirt for a clean one, but she drew the same pair of pants up over her legs and tucked the narrow cuffs into her boots.
The passage continues for a few more lines describing Briar’s outfit. Presumably Briar is the main character — it’s not exactly clear this far into the book if she or her son will play the more important role in things. Before getting into why I had to stop at this quotation, I should explain what little I do know about the book: it’s a steampunk adventure involving zombies, dirigibles and Seattle in the 1800’s.
Now, I understand that fashion is an important aspect of many steampunk works, but I find the lifeless itemization of clothing above to be entirely uninteresting. The worst line tells us that “Her clothes were where she’d left them”. I’d like to focus on that for a moment: Her clothes were where she’d left them. What does this phrase add to the passage above? Very little. Upon waking you are usually not surprised to find that your clothes are where you’d left them the previous night. All we learn from this sentence is that Briar’s clothes have not been robbed, or that nobody has mischievously hidden her clothes. If the book was called “Clothes Stealing Night Gnomes” and it was about tricky gnomes and their nightly games of hide-the-sock, the information that Briar’s clothes are unmolested might be useful. But in a zombie book?! Come on. We’re not even told where she left them. They could have been in a heap on a chair, or laying in a mound on the floor. All we learn is that they are “where she’d left them”. Sentences such as this have no content whatsoever and should be banished from all writing.
Originally I’d planned to say a bit more, but now that I’m at my keyboard I don’t want to waste any more time on criticism. I picked “Boneshaker” up for zombies, and I’m willing to put up with a bit more pain before I meet them. It’s likely that the first zombie encounter will determine whether or not I finish the novel. Let’s hope that it’s a frightening one.