The Boneshaker: magic, latter-day Bradburian novel for young adults

Kate Milford's debut YA novel The Boneshaker (not to be confused with Cherie Priest's excellent, award-nominated novel of the same name) is a fine, darkly magical story set in turn-of-the-20th-century Missouri, in a small and haunted town called Arcane. It's the story of thirteen year old Natalie Minks, the daughter of a gifted mechanic, and what happens when a mysterious carnival comes to town. Doctor Jake Limberleg's Nostrum Fair and Technological Magic Show isn't right. There's something spooky about how the snake-oil peddlar can make the automata in Natalie's Pa's shop work, and the pitchmen who perform phrenology and amber therapy are sinister in the extreme (and then there's the acrobatic jester in motley who scampers over the carny on the guy-wires, wearing a darkly hilarious clay mask from which malevolent eyes peer).

Boneshaker is filled the the rich Bradbury stuff, that haunting and deliciously spooky stuff that lives in the shadows and ride through the land on creaking wagons with dusty brocade curtains. The mystery of the carny quickly turns grim and urgent, as Natalie realizes that the whole town is in danger, including her ailing mother, and discovers that only she can save the town. But first, she has to solve the riddle of the carny, of the abandoned nearby ghost-town at the crossroads, of the ancient Civil War vet who beat the devil with his guitar there before she was born, of the mysterious town benefactor who seems to know everything but only talks in circles.

Oh, and she has to learn to ride the bizarre boneshaker bike she talked her father into rescuing off a scrapheap and rebuilding with her.

Filled with heart-racing suspense and delicious mystery, Boneshaker is a book a kid (or a grownup) could fall in love with, the kind of thing that might fill a summer's worth of bedtime stories, or a stolen afternoon reading in the park.

The Boneshaker


  1. I’m happy to see YA novels getting notice here. I’m a student librarian interested in youth services, but I still read YA novels new and old for pleasure as well. If we keep giving youth thought-provoking materials, we will see them tackling the bigger, juicier stuff later on.

  2. Every once in a while the memory of the feeling I got when I first read Something Wicked This Way Comes creeps up on me and gives me the willies. There are very few books that have stayed with me that vividly or for that long, and yet when I try to capture and relate to friends the genius evident in Ray Bradbury I find it hard to collect the right words. Deliciously spooky is part of it. What I like most is that I read it as an adult and was instantly and powerfully thrown back into my own adolescence, like one of those Wilder Penfield brain experiments where an electrode is inserted into a conscious brain and a moment of the past is fully relived and remembered. Only it felt like Bradbury had been in there first and written it down.

  3. I have to agree with absolutely everything DEStrath said. Something Wicked This Way Comes was the book of my youth, along with Bradbury’s also unnerving The Halloween Tree and The Illustrated Man. All of his novels and stories resonate with an otherworldliness that is both intangible and staring you straight in the face, and no other author has ever captured that same unique magic.

    While I’m not expecting Bradbury, I still can’t wait to read The Boneshaker for myself, YA or not.

  4. Based on the summary, this doesn’t sound merely “Bradburyesque” it sounds like it plagiarizes “Something Wicked This Way Comes”. I’ll give Ms. Milford the benefit of the doubt since the summary is not the work, but try to emphasize some of the ways the novel is NEW, and not just a remix.

  5. I met Ms. Milford last weekend and picked up a promotional card she made for her book. Its quite lovely in and of itself; the front of it is basically the “flyer” image from this webpage:

    I’m happy to see her getting a shout out here and look forward to reading her book.

  6. Was it really necesssary to name this novel identically to Priest’s? I’m sorry, Ms. Milford, but it’s been LESS THAN A YEAR, and Ms. Priest beat you out the gate. I feel confident something a little different would have likely fared as well, if not better. As is, dirty pool.

    1. I see that Nathan has dispensed with this matter, but as Kate Milford’s agent, I still feel the need to comment. Kate fought to keep the original title of GINGERFOOT as hard as any debut author grateful to have her book published could fight. In the end, she was happy to have input into choosing a new title. She chose THE BONESHAKER for reasons that are obvious if you read the book, and we all felt pretty good about it. Imagine our surprise when we read about Cherie Priest’s BONESHAKER a couple of weeks after settling on the title! We even thought that the publisher would opt to choose a new title, but they felt strongly about keeping it, and the rest is history.

  7. @bwcbwc


    “Fans of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes will find lots of echoes in Kate Milford’s debut novel The Boneshaker. It’s a connection that is impossible to avoid what with the small town young protagonist facing off against a mysterious carnival filled with creepy workers and an even creepier head showman. But this is no rip-off of Bradbury; nor is it simply a pleasant homage. From the same basic plot trappings Milford has woven her own highly original and enjoyable tale, one that builds slowly and patiently into a wonderfully compelling and satisfying conclusion. ”

    Other relevent reviews/interviews:

    @License Farm

    See the following about the history of the title and Cherie & Kate’s correspondences about it. Cherie is the classiest woman around and has been absolutely fantastic about it.

    Caveat emptor, I’m the author’s husband so I’m a little sensitive to the matter.

    It is her first book and she was understandably upset about changing the title from Gingerfoot to The Boneshaker, then again finding out about Cherie’s novel.

    Having lived with the novel for ~5 years (and the novelist for 8) it is a bit disappointing that people are so cavalier about disparaging someone’s hard work. Comments like those above will certainly occur and Kate will need thick skin, but it doesn’t make it any less disappointing. They’d be easier to accept if people had actually read the book or had any insight into the difficulties and politics a first time author needs to navigate on the road to publication, like choosing a title.

    P.S. We love Cherie Priest and will promote/flog/shout about her wonderful work til the day we die. And, really, after that if you take her penchant for Zombies literally :P

    – n

  8. It was a long time ago, but the synopsis sounds eerily similar to “Something Wicked This Way Comes”..possibly the real difference being that the subject is a girl, not a boy…couldn’t imagine Bradbury trying on that costume…

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