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Cherie Priest, BONESHAKER


My reading list lately includes Cherie Priest's 2009 steampunk novel BONESHAKER. It is "steampunk" in that it has sci-fi elements and a Victorian setting. It is also an alternative-history novel (Stonewall Jackson survived his wound at Chancellorsville, and due to his tactical brilliance in subsequent campaigns the Union was incapable of bringing the civil war to a satisfactory conclusion -- it was still underway in the late 1870s.) There are zombies in this novel, (called "rotters"), there are humans who manage a wary co-existence with the rotters ("doorknobs"), there are dirigibles, a mysterious dead grandfather and an even more mysterious (probably dead) father: all good stuff.

The son/grandson of these two mysterious men is Ezekiel Blue, or Ezekiel Wilkes, [depending on point of view] or just Zeke. He goes in search of evidence that his father wasn't the evil man that he is generally held to be, or to have been, amongst the residents of the outskirts of Seattle.

The narration moves back and forth between Zeke's PoV and that of his mother, Briar Wilkes, the former wife of Levi Blue and the daughter of Willard Wilkes.

I'll just quote one brief snippet of dialogue in this post. Briar is talking to a doorknob named Swakhammer about yet another mysterious man, an inventor known as Minnericht. Swakhammer has informed her that some of his fellow doorknobs believe that Minnericht and Levi Blue are one and the same. Blue has "dressed up different and [is] wearing a new name."

Briar is walking through a tunnel with Swakhammer at this point -- never mind why. Briar finds the idea absurd. Given Levi's reputation [which I won't try to explain in this post], she says: "If you folks really thought he was Blue, you'd have dragged him into the street and fed him to the rotters by now."

Here's the neat bit. Swakhammer's reply and the bit of description that follows:

"Mind your step," he told her, indicating with the sweep of the lantern the way the tunnel was broken up into an uneven floor.

I love it. Mind your CONVERSATIONAL step, saying stuff like that to me! That seems to be the message, until we get to Swakhammer's gesture with his lantern. And the two possible meanings of "mind your step" co-exist even when we do.

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