8 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: The Boneshaker by Kate Milford

Title: The Boneshaker

Author: Kate Milford / Illustrations by Andrea Offermann

Genre: Historical, Fantasy, Horror, Americana, Young Adult, NOT-STEAMPUNK!

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: May 21st 2010
Hardcover: 372 pages

Thirteen-year-old Natalie Minks loves machines, particularly automata—self-operating mechanical devices, usually powered by clockwork. When Jake Limberleg and his traveling medicine show arrive in her small Missouri town with a mysterious vehicle under a tarp and an uncanny ability to make Natalie’s half-built automaton move, she feels in her gut that something about this caravan of healers is a bit off. Her uneasiness leads her to investigate the intricate maze of the medicine show, where she discovers a horrible truth and realizes that only she has the power to set things right.

Set in 1914, The Boneshaker is a gripping, richly textured novel about family, community, courage, and looking evil directly in the face in order to conquer it.

Stand alone or series: Stand alone (but there is a prequel in the works)

How did I get this book: Bought

Why did I read this book: I’ve had this book on my TBR pile after hearing Colleen Mondor raving about it for a long time. I decided to read it now after I learned about the upcoming companion novel THE BROKEN LANDS.


It is 1913 in the small town of Arcane, where some of its unusual residents are not exactly who they seem to be. The town is near a crossroads where years before, stories say, a choice has been made. A choice that stills carries momentum and affects the entire town. Case in point: the wheel of a caravan breaks and thus, the travelling medicine show of Dr. Limberleg has to make an unexpected stop in Arcane with their Fair. Their show is an old fashioned fair of wonders but its principal prupose is Dr Limberleg and his team’s promised miracle cures for all ailments. And after the news of the miracles they have performed in a nearby town, the folks of Arcane – with the exception of a few – are ready to line up and gobble up those cures.

13 year old Natalie Minks is one of the sceptical ones. She feels that there is something strange about Dr Limberleg and his show. First of all, being a lover of all things mechanical (she is certain her father is the best mechanic in the world and probably even a genius) with a special sympathy for clockwork automata she notices that some of the mechanical wonders of the show are not quite right. Not to mention that nagging feeling at the back of her head that tells her that something more is behind the show, that there is something much, much larger at play here and that Arcane and Dr Limberleg will soon find themselves at odds – with herself playing a pivotal role in the ensuing drama.

But in the meantime Natalie is also determined to finally be able to ride her boneshaker – a peculiar bicycle she put together with her father and whose working mechanism still evades her (not that she will ever admit that to anybody). And speaking of nagging feelings, something else is bothering Natalie as well: her mother seems to be always tired; her father has been buying vitamins at the pharmacy and then her brother Charlie dares to speak to Dr Limberleg – there is definitely a question she needs to ask but she is just not brave enough to voice it. At least not yet.

…a crossroads is a place where you choose.

Choice is at the heart of this fantastic novel. In terms of personal choices that affect only but a few and in terms of that macro scale in which even the most personal of choices may affect a whole town. There are choices made about how one wishes to face their own demons as well as choices between archetypical Good or Evil. That the latter is not as black and white as that and encompasses all the spaces in between both sides of the spectrum is just one of reasons to recommend The Boneshaker.

But there are plenty of other reasons as well. Rarely do I find (especially in YA), a heroine that is so imbued with a sense of self-importance and who takes upon herself without reluctance to save those around her. I loved Natalie’s self-confidence and I loved how it evolves slowly – beginning with a blind faith on her parents’ abilities and developing into a sense of personal importance on equal grounds. That moment of separation, or realising that sometimes one simply cannot count on others for help is of utmost importance here. Not that she doesn’t accept help when it is offered, quite the contrary. There is team work and there is also listening carefully to the lessons and counsel from her elders and choosing how and when to follow them. As such, Natalie Minks is a formidable heroine and I absolutely loved her.

There are different threads to this story that happen simultaneously: several mysteries, Natalie’s coming of age, archetypical figures making appearances in little old Arcane, all coupled with stunning illustrations and seamlessly combined in the end. I have seen The Boneshaker touted as Steampunk but let’s shove those ridiculous claims down the drain: just because a book features automata and mechanical inventions, it does not mean that it is Steampunk. Instead let’s say the book is an awesome combination of Something Wicked This Way Comes with Americana and one that celebrates storytelling in all its forms and uses: especially as keeping memories alive. There is a bit of horror (and real, true horrors even) and adventure and enemies becoming friends against all odds. It also helps that I really, really loved the writing style (hard to believe this is a debut novel!).

The Boneshaker is not perfect by any means: there is a small degree of clumsy exposition as well as a rather simplistic lesson about how to deal with bullies. In spite of those things, I was more or less half way through The Boneshaker when I realised I was reading one of the best YA novels I’ve read lately. Really, truly awesome.

Notable Quotes/ Parts:

Strange things can happen at a crossroads.

It might look like nothing but a place where two dusty roads meet, but a crossroads can be something more. A crossroads can be something special, a compass with arms reaching to places you might never find the way to again; places that might exist, or might have existed once, or might exist someday, depending on whether or not you decide to look for them.

But whatever else it might be, a crossroads is a place where you choose.

Rating: 8 – Excellent

Reading Next: To be decided!

Buy the Book:

Ebook available for kindle US, kindle UK, google, nook, kobo and sony

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  • Eliza
    June 8, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    Isn’t this one of the best YA books? With bonus points for an awesome cover. The only thing better than a great carnival is a story that takes place in creepy carnival (hello Something Wicked This Way Comes (RIP MR. Bradbury), Night Circus). As you mentioned, Natalie is a great character. She’s one of my favorites (right up there with Dicey). Plus, love the use of lots of folklore. I recommend this book to everyone. Can’t wait for the prequel, which has another amazing cover.

    Betsy Bird at Fuse 8 has some interesting information about the selling of Jack Walk scandal during the Prohibition that involved harmful “patented medicines”.

  • April Books & Wine
    June 9, 2012 at 5:23 pm

    I have never even heard of this but as soon as I saw that cover in my feed reader, you guys had me HOOK LINE AND SINKER. Oh my god do I love a crossroads and fantastic characters and confidence and PRETTY COVERS THAT AREN’T GENERIC. Totally putting a hold on this bad boy at my library.

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