Saturday, June 24, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

Long Review after the Jump:

Karen Memory is a pretty fun book.  I've seen the book described in other reviews as a "Lesbian Steampunk Western" and that's a pretty fair description.  This is a book with a strong woman protagonist who tells the story from a first person perspective in a pretty well paced plot.  I'm actually not sure the steampunk elements really add anything to the book, however.

-----------------------------Plot Summary--------------------------------
This book takes place in an alternate late 1800s/early 1900s City known as "Rapid City" located somewhere around Washington (state).  Karen Memery is a prostitute at a higher class establishment, the Hotel Mon Cherie, run by a woman named Madame Damnable.  But one day, a pair of women come into the Hotel on the run - Merry Lee, a well known rescuer of trafficked girls, and Priya, an Indian girl Merry Lee is trying to save. They're followed by Peter Bandle, a more evil whorehouse-runner and sex trafficker, and his posse, who want them back.  Bandle wears a mysterious glove that seems to alter the minds of those he points it at.....

Karen finds herself falling in love with Priya and wanting to help her, and in the process becomes entwined with something much larger than their establishment.  For you see, Peter Bandle has greater aspirations - not only is he running for mayor, but he seems to have a serial killer of women on payroll....and that may be the least of it.  When a Black US Marshal Bass Reeves arrives in town on the look for that killer, Karen finds herself and the Hotel involved in a dangerous game with implications not just for her and her friends, but for the entire United States.......

This story is told from Karen's first person perspective, and it's really well written.  The book tells a tale of people struggling to do what's right in a time where racism and sexism are open and abundant, and since our main characters are all either women and/or POC, these issues are prevalent and something for the characters to try and constantly work around.  But they do.

And again, the book is fun - and for a not very predictable book really, although the book does give some hints as to where it's going throughout so it's not exactly unfair.  Oh and the Book features zero rape, a happy ending, and despite potential to do so, never gets too dark.  Which is nice to see in some of these books.

That said, the book is not perfect.  I'm not really sure the steampunk elements of the setting really add much, and the book goes from a small city-sized story to one that has National implications fairly quickly near the end and I'm not sure it works....we already had a main villain, and adding the extra one felt like it muddled things down. I also wish we had more time with the story's love interest, Priya.  Karen's actions are driven by her love/crush on Priya, but Priya is off screen a lot, and we really don't get to know her as much as I'd like.  It's a minor complaint really.

Anyhow, if you're interested in a fun book, featuring issues of race and sexism, or one with LGBTQ characters, or strong women characters, or just a fun romp (or all of the above!), you could do a lot worse than Karen Memory.  Recommended.  

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