Briar Blue (or Wilkes, her maiden name, which she goes by now) was married to a dashing and arrogant inventor, accused of creating a machine that he used to rob several banks in Seattle, destroy a good deal of the downtown, and unleash a gas that is inimical to human life. Seattle itself was eventually walled off, and people live on the outskirts in abject poverty. Briar tries to make a life for herself and her son, but has to deal with the hatred people still bear her husband. And her son has become convinced that maybe his father was falsely accused, and goes into the walled-up city to prove it.
Which leaves Briar with nothing to do but go after him.
I enjoyed the grunge of this book, the feeling of desperation, and again, how Briar and her son related. Maybe I'm just in a good position to read this right now - we just finished a roleplaying game in which my character was desperately searching for her daughter throughout the entire campaign, so I was in the right place to appreciate that as a sense of urgency. I also enjoyed the part where, when the chips were down, they really did love and trust each other.
On the not-so-great part of the spectrum, I'm not convinced zombies were necessary. I think the gas and its effects are interesting enough, and I'm not sure what zombies add to the mix, except to create a lot of chase-and-battle sequences, which are by far the least interesting part of the book. I enjoyed the setting, the tension between the past that happened and the past people want to have happened, and the characters much more. (This is not to say that the characters are incredibly deep, but I still found them interesting and fun.)
So the tendency of the book to stop for a zombie chase/fight for quite a bit of the second half made it a bit draggy. There were too many, and it didn't seem like it really added something. I think there are enough dangers in the city, with the different factions, the mad scientist, the gangs, and the earthquakes that somehow, zombies seem superfluous. But maybe that's just me. I rarely find zombies that interesting, and they need to really add something to a story, instead of just be there as all-purpose obstacle.
But I still enjoyed Boneshaker. The vision of a collapsed city next to a new one where people are trying to rebuild something was interesting. Ideas about who would still try to live in a place that was trying to kill them were neat. And I liked Briar.
I read this book as part of an attempt to read all the Hugo Nominees