Boneshaker had a really amazing premise (steampunk + zombies + American Civil War), but the execution fell horribly flat and I felt disappointed throughout the book. I can't believe it won all the awards it did, and I think maybe the award-winners kept imaging the book to be more worthy because of the premises. I think this is what Boneshaker suffers the most from. Priest did attempt to do something original and what I have gathered from the other reviewers, and my experience, is that we approach the story with expectations about how creative the story could be, and then become frustrated because Priest isn't a great writer.
Although Boneshaker makes references to the Civil War occurring on the East Coast, far away from Seattle, the information is barely used, in fact references to this time-point barely make their way into the story. I can understand choosing that particular time in history makes it easy to fit in the technology, but if the author doesn't use the history, why bother? Why not an alternative universe? Why not present day where computers and such where never developed?
Priest did well writing dialogue that sounds exactly like people talk...in the 21st century...and it jarred me. The amount of "I guess" and "you know" and "so" in the book annoyed me. I was expecting dialogue of the 1880s or at least something similar. Even though the dialogue is modern, it becomes cumbersome to read through the filler we all know we speak out loud. All the characters talk in a very similar manner so it isn't even used as a personality trait.
The action moved quickly along in the book and I agree with other reviewers that the book would make a decent movie. However, there is little character development. Zeke is only there to ask questions and his affect and response was more appropriate to an eleven year old than a teenager. By the end of the book it grated on me, his relentless desire to ask questions, even during scenes where everyone is supposed to be running and fighting and keeping themselves alive. Briar isn't much better, although I think her scenes were generally better because she wasn't asking annoying questions.
Zombies have a very small role in the book. If only the noxious gas was present, and no zombies, the very same story would have happened. So again, why put them in there? Also - how can a wall keep out gas?
The steampunk is more for decoration than utility. Very little is described of the equipment and I do remember clearly the characters saying that they weren't sure how something worked, but it just "did," so they used it. A cop out for taking the time to explain!
What you are left with in the book is a mother-son relationship that is shallow. Neither of the characters are very interesting and as a reader, we don't get much understanding or emotion from them.
I was surprised at the ending, in the location Briar and Zeke where talking. When Briar had been there previously, she had barely been able to breathe, and at the end, she is somehow able to spill her life story to her son in the same spot, without any mention of breathing difficulty.
Boneshaker could have been a children's book, if you take out the curse words. There wasn't a lot of finesse in the writing and it was way too long.