The first book in a steampunk/horror series.

Publication year: 2009
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible Inc.
Narrators: Wil Wheton and Kate Reading
Running Time: 13 hrs and 42 minutes

Briar Wilks is the daughter of a hero and the widow of an evil genius. Levitictus Blue designed the Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine to drill through the Alaskan ice but things went really wrong, and now everyone thinks he’s responsible for the destruction of Seattle’s city center and the formation of blight gas which kills humans and turns them into rotters. Meanwhile Briar’s father Maynard Wilks, a prison guard, helped the prisoners during the disaster at the cost of his own life. When the people had fled the city, they built a wall around it and live now on the outskirts of the former city.

Briar and her son Ezekiel, Zeke, have been living on the outskirts of Seattle since Seattle was closed down. Briar is grimly determined to keep them both alive and works long hours at the factory to do just that. She even changed her last name back to Wilks but that hasn’t stopped people from harassing her and her son. However, she hasn’t told much about the past to her son because it’s too painful to her. Zeke’s friends are convinced that both Zeke’s grandfather and father are innocents caught up in events. Zeke is tired of being bullied because of his family and he decides to head into the walled city of Seattle to find proof of their innocence.

An underground tunnel leads to the city but just when Zeke has gone inside, an earthquake collapses the tunnel. Briar is frantic to have her son back. She packs her meager gear and heads to the city after she begs a ride in an airship. Everyone knows that nobody can live in the city for very long because of the blight gas and the rotters. However, there’s actually a couple of small communities in Seattle, and Briar and Zeke will have to survive them, too.

This is a fast-paced adventure story with quirky characters. Briar is actually grimly determined to find her son and to survive anything in Seattle. She brought a gun against the rotters and a gas mask against the blight. I feel that she’ very similar to Sarah Connor in her determination to find her son alive and to protect him. Zeke is equally determined to survive and to find proof about his father’s innocence. He thinks that the Russians pay Levi Blue to start his machine too soon.

I really enjoyed the secondary characters. The people inside Seattle have lived there for a long time; they’re tough and used to fighting both the blight and the gas. In many ways, they remind me of American settlers, or at least their romanticized version in many fictions. Some of them made a point about how few women there are in side the walled city and we only see two women, in addition to Briar, in the book. They are both quite memorable. Lucy O’Gunning is the mistress of a bar called “Maynard’s”. She’s lost her arm and has a strong mechanical arm instead. Then there’s Princess Angeline, an old Native American woman whom the locals respect and fear a little. She’s very handy with knives and a gun.

The other secondary characters are also interesting. The book has two shady airship crews. Clyde, the huge captain of Naamah Darling (is this a reference to Carey’s books?) and his motley crew. In fact, I’d like to read more about them. Then there’s the mysterious Doctor Minnericht who seems to be a tyrant ruling Seattle with his inventions. Nobody has seen what he looks like because he always wears his mask.

The Chinese have their own group. One of the locals hates them and even kills one of them but the others seems to get along with the Chinese more or less well. I found them quite puzzling. The other characters tell us that there are only adult Chinese men in Seattle, except for a few teenage boys. They tend the machines which make the air in some places in Seattle breathable. Yet, they don’t seems to charge anything for it. So, why would they stay, away from their families? (Come to think of it, Briar seems to be the only character in the book with a family.)

However, I had a bit of a problem with the others, too. Most of them seem reasonable people and it’s apparently possible to leave the city. Yet, they stay. Why? Surely, they could have found a better life for themselves than running away from rotters for decades. I can understand those who stay to make a profit from the drug business (yep, people have found a way to make the blight into a drug). However, what good is money, if you can’t spend it? Surely the criminals should have been coming and going once they’ve earned enough. And if they have to spend several decades earning money here, surely, there are better places to earn money? And what about the rest? Are there really no better place for them? There is a civil war going on but clearly the war effort doesn’t draft/employ everyone or the captains of the dirigibles wouldn’t be around. Hopefully, we’ll get to see more about the world around Seattle in the next books.

Still, I enjoyed the book and I’m looking forward to the next ones.

Oh, and even though there are both male and female characters in the book, there’s no romance. This is definitely a plus on my book, because it’s seems that it’s increasingly difficult to find a book without the obligatory romance.