Review: Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear


Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear // VBC ReviewKaren Memory
Elizabeth Bear
Published: Feb. 3, 2015 (Tor)
Purchase: Book Depository or Amazon
Review Source: purchased

Reviewed by: Amy

Rating (out of 5): 4 stars

You aint gonna like what I have to tell you, but Im gonna tell you anyway.

So begins Karen Memery’s (“like ‘memory’ only spelt with an e”) story about how she, and the rest of the “seamstresses” working for Madam Damnable at the Hôtel Mon Cherie, teamed up with famed lawman Marshal Bass Reeves to find the person responsible for a series of murders of other prostitutes (I mean “seamstresses”) in the area. Not only is there a murderer on the loose, but there’s trouble coming from one Peter Bantle (the proprietor of another brothel in town) and his electric-sparking glove. When Madam Damnable offers protection to two girls escaping from the harsh conditions of Bantle’s crib, Bantle swears retribution, and with his newfangled mind-control device, he just may be able to make good on his threat.

It is the late 19th century, and Karen is an orphan. She’s doing her best to survive on her own. She doesn’t plan on being a seamstress forever, mind you. So when that very survival as well as the survival of those she calls her friends is threatened, Karen will go to hell and back to save them. Just like her favorite dime novels, Karen is about to embark on an adventure that will take her to the depths of the ocean in an octopus-fashioned submersible and back. Hopefully, she’ll live to tell the tale.

Karen, as a narrator, has a great voice, and I loved the secondary characters as much as I loved Karen. I would have liked to have seen them fleshed out (no pun intended) a little bit more. Find out more of their histories and personalities, although it’s easy to tell from their actions that they all care about one another like family.

But this is Karen’s story and her story to tell. No one asks her to become involved in the investigation. Even when Karen acknowledges her feelings for Priya, one of the girls escaping from Bantle’s clutches, Karen’s involvement never becomes self-serving. Although, it would be hard to deny her feelings for Priya are a motivation at least, but Karen gets involved simply because it’s the right thing to do. To stand up to bullies who want to control things. To find the person responsible for taking the lives of women who are just doing what they have to in order to get by.

The pace of Karen Memory is pretty up and down. The action scenes were enough that I didnt want to put the book down, but the more day-to-day scene could lull you into a sense of complacency. The steampunk aspect was always just there as a part of everyday life. No one questions, it simply is. Until Elizabeth Bear decides to–BAM! In your face, oh yes we just did that and it just happened! I remember reading the end of a certain scene and thinking ‘Oh yes, that was completely awesome, more of that please.’ Mind you it takes some time to get to this point, just to be prepared, but the rest of Karen’s adventure is well worth the read don’t get me wrong.

Let’s just say I will never again look at a Singer sewing machine the same way.

Sexual content: Sex, references to abuse

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