June 5, 2019 by TinyNavajo
Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
*Published February 3, 2015*
I saw this was on sale through BookBub and I love steampunk and the first line of the blurb caught me and didn’t let me go until I bought and read this book.
“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.”
Hugo-Award winning author Elizabeth Bear offers something new in Karen Memory, an absolutely entrancing steampunk novel set in Seattle in the late 19th century—an era when the town was called Rapid City, when the parts we now call Seattle Underground were the whole town (and still on the surface), when airships plied the trade routes bringing would-be miners heading up to the gold fields of Alaska, and steam-powered mechanicals stalked the waterfront. Karen is a “soiled dove,” a young woman on her own who 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 into her world one night when a badly injured girl arrives at their door, seeking sanctuary, followed by the man who holds her indenture, 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-type story of the old west with the light touch of Karen’s own memorable voice, and a mesmerizing evocation of classic steam-powered science.
This was such an interesting book. I loved that the narrator/main character throws you right in and you have to sink or swim to understand what is going on. If you are quick of mind, you’ll be sucked right into this story of adventure, love, and sanctuary where streetwalkers are targeted for the sick desires of someone. I loved that this was a book that takes place in steampunk styled city in the Pacific Northwest. The steampunk matters were amazing, but the way it intertwined with the settling West of marshals and lawmen following from Indian Territory was even better.
I also loved that our main character is not looked down on for her job occupation. She is not her job, she does her job, but this story doesn’t dwell on that side of things other than it leads Karen into the mystery of the girls who are killed. It gives Karen and her friends/family a sense of dignity they would not have had otherwise. It also gives Karen more free will to be who she truly is rather than just a girl who is used for certain services.
I highly enjoyed this book and how much it almost took a fantasy turn to it with all the steampunk technology. It’s also grounded in a way that makes it feel as though the world had turned a bit sooner, or later, this would be the history that we would have as as the United States. What do you think of steampunk technology? How do you think it would have impacted our world should we have had it? Comment below and let me know!