A Cautionary Note to a Book

(With apologies to Dear Author’s style.)

Dear Boneshaker,

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.

Book CoverThere 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,



General Bitching...

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  1. 1
    Char says:

    Is there a book to go with this note to Boneshaker or is this a general FYI to writers?

    I’m kinda hoping this is for a real book, because I can so get passed/past beyond the ‘this manuscript was found in the bank vault box of…”

  2. 2
  3. 3
    Miranda says:

    I tried Boneshaker but there was too much ‘Behold! My steampunky weirdness!”

    I like Cherie Priest’s Eden trilogy and her book Dreadful Skin is one of the few horror novels that I found to be actually scary, but I wasn’t a fan of this.

  4. 4

    I thought it was just me.  I started to read Boneshaker and ended up setting it aside to try again at a later date.  I just couldn’t get into it, but I’m not sure why.  I’ve loved other Steampunk efforts, this one though wasn’t grabbing my and holding my interest.

    I’ll try again down the road.

    Oh, and welcome back, Candy!  We’ve missed you.

  5. 5

    I cannot speak of Boneshaker.  But you should go to Warrior’s Way RIGHT NOW.

    I hate cowboys, clowns, and bad ninja movies, and I thought I was taking one for the team when going with the menfolk to see Warrior’s Way.  Loved it in a big way.  It’s beautiful to look at. It knows exactly who it is as a movie (and doesn’t care if you think it’s a good idea).  And it even has a sweet romance.

    And a dwarf.  And a baby.  And a drunken Geoffrey Rush.  This movie has something for everyone.

  6. 6
    ev says:

    Well that sucks. The closest Warrior’s Way is playing is in MA. However, I am looking forward to Cowboys and Aliens. There’s lot so stuff in there. And Daniel Craig.

  7. 7
    Avrelia says:

    I ended up loving Boneshaker a lot, because Briar Wilkes is awesome, but the beginning was a pain to go through.

  8. 8
    Lara Amber says:

    I ended up really disliking Boneshaker, mainly because of the voice.  There were several times where I caught her characters using words with modern/slang definitions that did not exist 1880s.  (For example the word “neat” didn’t mean “cool” until the 21st century.)  The cadence of their speaking also felt very modern.  It felt shallow.

  9. 9
    Dara Young says:

    Boneshaker got filed under DNF for me. I thought I might go back to it…instead I gave it away. I hope the person I gave it to enjoyed it! I love Steampunk, but that book went nowhere really painfully slowly. I couldn’t take it!

  10. 10
    JoanneF says:

    (For example the word “neat” didn’t mean “cool” until the 21st century.)

    This has nothing to do with the book, but “neat” meant “cool” back in the 1960’s.

  11. 11
    Sarah says:

    I also tried very hard to like Boneshaker, but after that failure of a beginning and then… something I can’t quite put my finger on… might be the distance from the main characters?  I couldn’t care less about them, so it was a DNF for me.

  12. 12
    Erin says:

    Wow, I thought for sure I was in the majority when I DNF this book.  It had all the ingredients to be truly awesome, but really did NOT live up to its hype.

  13. 13
    Lara Amber says:

    This has nothing to do with the book, but “neat” meant “cool” back in the 1960’s.

    You’re right.  I meant 20th century.  It actually started as a slang term in the 1920s.

  14. 14
    TKF says:

    I thought it was just me.  I started to read Boneshaker and ended up setting it aside to try again at a later date.  I just couldn’t get into it

    Not just you. And I felt pretty much the same way about The Iron Duke (tried the free chapters, but didn’t feel compelled to buy the book and keep reading). The voice in both just didn’t work the historical aspect of the book. If you like Steampunk and Fantasy, I highly recommend Alison Sinclair’s Darkborn series (Darkborn, Lightborn, and the upcoming Shadowborn). It’s Steampunk without the Victoriana.

  15. 15
    JF says:

    Add me to the disappointed non-finishers of Boneshaker—despite what might be a kickass heroine, the book was an uphill read for me and I finally flaked about halfway through. . .


  16. 16
    beggar1015 says:

    Speaking of The Warrior’s Way, this trailer explains everything:

    And I also read just two chapters of

    The Iron Duke

    before I gave up. Maybe steampunk isn’t my thang, but I just didn’t feel any connection with the characters. Not enough to keep slogging.

  17. 17
    TKF says:

    And I also read just two chapters of The Iron Duke before I gave up. Maybe steampunk isn’t my thang,

    The Steampunk wasn’t the problem IMO, but the poor world building and clunky writing certainly was. Plus, she’s set up a battle royale between Steampunk and Cyberpunk, and I have a really hard time with the idea of Steampunk winning that fight (dude, you so brought a musket to a laser fight). And from what I’ve seen in the reviews, she never even addresses this dilemma nor what happened to the Cyberpunks (aka The Horde), or why they would give up so easily. And I’m not paying to find out if it gets better a few sequels in . . .

  18. 18
    orangehands says:

    I can’t believe I forgot about the Warrior’s Way. And seriously, my full (harry potter) theater cheered when Cowboys and Aliens came up. The only thing that would make this shit better is if unicorns joined the battle like the vicious beasts they really are. And then maybe a dragon blows them all up. 

    TKF said I have a really hard time with the idea of Steampunk winning that fight (dude, you so brought a musket to a laser fight).

    Totally love that sentence.

  19. 19
    Spider says:

    I’ll be interested to see what Candy thinks when she’s finished this.

  20. 20
    Lizabeth S. Tucker says:

    I love Steampunk and put this book on my list simply because of the cover and the synopsis on the back.  I’ve never read any of Ms. Priest’s other works so I had no prior experience with her writing style.  It has now been removed, based on the wonderfully honest comments/reviews/complaints contained here.  Thank you all!

  21. 21
    Candy says:

    The verdict thus far: I’m about 50 pages in, and the prose is getting clunkier and clunkier. The dialogue tags, in particular, are getting on my tits. I can tell from context and the content of the dialogue, most of the time, how to read what a character just said. No need to throw in almost snapped, or threw back, or whatever. I’m going to give this another 100 pages. If it hasn’t won me over by then, I’m going to toss this in the DNF pile and move on.

    All I want is for a book to grab me by the throat and insist I read it. It doesn’t have to be good. It just has to be compelling. Is that so much to ask? ::sniffle, sob::

  22. 22
    Pickle says:

    Add me to the couldn’t get into Bonecrusher, and I LOVE Steampunk.  Very disappointed.  But I adored Leviathan and Behemoth (YA series) and even got the guy I’m seeing to read and enjoy them.

    Thanks for quickly summing up the failings of Bonecrusher…..

  23. 23
    srs says:

    This is disapointing. I just bought Boneshaker today, largely b/c I really liked the premise of the sequal and have a pathalogical inability to start a series part way through. Hopefully I’ll find it compelling enough to finish.

    Has anyone read Dreadnought? Did y’all like it any better?

  24. 24
    Stephanie says:

    I DNF Boneshaker because the coffee shop wouldn’t let me take it home. I got about 20 pages into the story and have put it on my ebook wish list. I will, eventually, buy and read it—the beginning has immense promise.

    It helps that, as a general rule, I only read prologues if I get into the story and find “ah, yes, I do need to know something about this world!”

    I also don’t care a whit if the speakers have a more modern voice or not, and I’m very fluid about what does and doesn’t bother me about words in use. As long as each character is consistent, I’m happy.

  25. 25
    cld says:

    I had to slog my way through Boneshaker, despite loving the setting. However, I thought Dreadnought was much better.

  26. 26
    TKF says:

    I had to slog my way through Boneshaker, despite loving the setting. However, I thought Dreadnought was much better.

    Cool! I’ve been eying those, but haven’t yet tried them after the utter disappointment of The Iron Duke.

  27. 27
    Affreca says:

    I liked Dreadnought well enough, but it had one bit of world building fail that still makes me grumble.  It does not take a train (especially a super special hybrid steam/diesel train) a week to cross Missouri. Not even in 1880.  Hell, it doesn’t even take a week to cross Missouri with a bicycle on the old train route (KT trail is very pretty).

  28. 28
    Rae says:

    Completely hated this book…I wanted so much to love it, but everything that’s been mentioned above, plus my ingrained hatred for obvious cash-ins on popular movements, made it a DNF for me.  Bleah!

  29. 29

    Don’t want to start another five day battle here, but do any of y’all ever go to the Library?  I hate to think of those DNF piles.  Not only can you borrow books, you can also leave the ones you don’t want.  Not this thread, but someone said they have to pick so carefully cuz of budget constraints.  Library.

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