(With apologies to Dear Author’s style.)
You will not find somebody much more inclined to like you. No, not just inclined. Downright eager to like you. Steampunk with zombies and pirates and airships oh my set in alternate reality Seattle? HOLY SHIT, and also HELL YES. It sounds absurd and fun and full of good times. Hey, I’m the girl who’s currently bugging her friends to go see Warrior’s Way with her, solely because she wants to see a showdown gunfight between ninjas, cowboys and clowns. (As this review put it, “If you can’t figure out why a clown shooting a ninja is forty kinds of awesome, it’s not going to waste time explaining it to you.”) But right off the bat, you’ve pulled a trick that many other books have pulled, and that almost none have succeeded at: quoting from a period source that sounds absolutely nothing like what a period source would sound like. To wit: the prologue is supposedly drawn from Unlikely Episodes in Western History as written by a character in 1880, but it sounds more like a world-building exercise from 2008.
I get that using quotes from fake period sources adds to the ambiance. It’s fun, and it adds an air of verisimilitude. It’s also a good way to fix infodump issues—you can gussy it up and make it more palatable by making it sound journalistic or epistolary. But fake period sources are really fucking hard to get right, and my advice to you, Boneshaker (as well as thousands—nay, millions—of novels out there), is this: don’t do it unless you can nail that period voice. I can think of a scant handful of books that have managed to pull it off well. You are decidedly not on that list.
There is no shame in just having an anonymous third-person narrator taking us through the paces. Here’s the thing: you either need to stop trying so hard, and embrace the fact that you’re pure cheesy goodness wrapped in brass goggles and clockwork gears and strewn with the occasional mangled zombie body, or you need to try harder and actually nail that period voice dead on—or a close enough facsimile that most of us are too charmed to care about the occasional misstep. (Cf Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Georgette Heyer, or much of Loretta Chase’s work.) This neither-fish-nor-fowl-nor-actual-1880s-book-chapter bullshit just detracts from your charm.
In short, embrace what you are, and accept that you can, in fact, have a purely infodumpy prologue that’s also charmingly written, especially when the rest of the book is written in a third-person voice. I wouldn’t have had any issues with your prologue except for the fact that you tried to pass yourself off as something from the late 19th century. I liked you before I ever opened the book, and I still want to like you. Stop trying to make yourself cooler.
With love, but also mild reservations,