Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear: A Review

Karen Memery kicks some Old West butt.

Elizabeth Bear’s newest novel is a steampunk romp through the fictitious northwest U.S. town of Rapid City.

The obvious star of this novel is the title character, Karen Memery. Her voice is fresh and immediate, and draws you in from the very first lines:

You ain’t gonna like what I have to tell you, but I’m gonna tell you anyway. See, my name is Karen Memery… and I’m one of the girls what works in the Hôtel Mon Cherie on Amity street. “Hôtel” has a little hat over that o like that. It’s French, so Beatrice tells me.

Delightful, fresh takes on steampunk tropes include steam-powered mechas; rootin’-tootin’ ladies of the night seamstresses-cum-U.S. Marshal deputies; and mind control.

Bear’s skillful narrative style, tight plot and fertile imagination bring us along effortlessly. Through Karen’s eyes, we see the crazy jumble caused by Rapid City’s hasty growth, the unregulated west, quite a few crazy mechanical inventions, and backdoor political maneuverings.

As I would expect from an Elizabeth Bear novel, these Rapid City women don’t wait for the U.S. Marshals to save their city, although they happily greet them as allies. Yet this book is not stuffed full of gun-toting women whose only purpose is to wield a six-shooter and belt back a shot of rot-gut. Bear’s main characters are fully realized with the ability to surprise the reader.

Though I truly enjoyed this novel, one thing disappointed me: the tired plot device known as the prostitute serial killer. In my opinion, any additional urgency this plot device engendered, its location in the story arc of the novel, and the satisfaction of the eventual discovery of the protagonist did not warrant its inclusion into what was otherwise a truly original tale.

In short, I give this book 4.8 out of 5 stars.

If you are looking for a fast read during your summer vacation, this book is one to put on your reading list.

Elizabeth Bear

Title: Karen Memory
Author: Elizabeth Bear
Publisher: Tor Books (February 3, 2015)

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