Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
Published by Tor/Forge on February 3, 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Steampunk
Buy at Amazon •
“You ain’t gonna like what I have to tell you, but I'm gonna tell you anyway. See, my name is Karen Memery, like memory only spelt with an e, and I'm one of the girls what works in the Hôtel Mon Cherie on Amity Street. Hôtel has a little hat over the o like that. It's French, so Beatrice tells me.”
Set in the late 19th century—when the city we now call Seattle Underground was the whole town (and still on the surface), when airships plied the trade routes, would-be gold miners were heading to the gold fields of Alaska, and steam-powered mechanicals stalked the waterfront, Karen is a young woman on her own, is making the best of her orphaned state by working in Madame Damnable’s high-quality bordello. Through Karen’s eyes we get to know the other girls in the house—a resourceful group—and the poor and the powerful of the town. Trouble erupts one night when a badly injured girl arrives at their door, beggin sanctuary, followed by the man who holds her indenture, and who has a machine that can take over anyone’s mind and control their actions. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the next night brings a body dumped in their rubbish heap—a streetwalker who has been brutally murdered.
Bear brings alive this Jack-the-Ripper yarn of the old west with a light touch in Karen’s own memorable voice, and a mesmerizing evocation of classic steam-powered science.
I don’t normally get to the brand new Fantasy books when they are initially released…but I was reading Scalzi’s Whatever blog and his “The Big Idea” post recently was Elizabeth Bear discussing her brand new release Karen Memory.
First, let’s discuss the fact that I am a cover whore. And this cover is ahhhmazing! Karen looks badass, pretty and untouchable. LOVE.
OK. Now we can move on to the plot – which also sounds amazing! So I nominated it for the first read in a new Goodreads group I joined (After Earth) and it won! Score.
Girls in my profession know a little too much about men. The ones who want to know a woman as a person are fewer that you’d hope, and most of those don’t even realize it about themselves. They don’t care who a woman is , or what she’s scared of, or what she wants to become. They think they want a woman, but what they really want is a flattering looking glass wearing lipstick and telling them what they want to hear. Easy enough for me; it’s my job, ain’t it? I’m not as good as Pollywog, but I can mostly keep my face straight on my skull.
Harder if you have to live with one and play that role all night and day, without your sisters to keep you from going starkers. I can’t imagine being married to most men.
– pg 83
I got maybe…100+ pages into Karen Memory. I liked the characters. I liked the writing. I liked the way the world was set up but the dialog bothered me a bit…and it was s l o w. So slow. And this was a library loan…and library loans must be returned.
I have nothing really to say about Karen Memory. Normally 100 pages is plenty for a review but hardly anything happened during those pages. I may pick this one up again as I want to know what happens. Just…later. After I’ve gotten through some of the other books on Mt. TBR.
Since my book club read this, lots of people told me that they really enjoyed it. One of my good friends wrote an excellent review here: The Bookette