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Karen Memory Hardcover – February 3, 2015
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Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut. Learn more
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“This lean, sinewy, visceral narrative, set forth in extraordinarily vivid prose full of telling detail, conveys a remarkable sense of time and place, where the characters belong to the landscape and whose personalities derive naturally from it.… Gripping, perfectly balanced and highly recommended.” ―Kirkus Reviews, starred review, on Range of Ghosts
“Elizabeth Bear launches a trilogy in a fantastic new world with this compelling tale.… Bear creates a vivid world where wizards must sacrifice their ability to procreate in order to control magic and the sky changes to reflect the gods of the land's rulers.” ―Publishers Weekly on Range of Ghosts
“Her characters possess depth of feeling as well as political acumen, bringing a personal element to a broad-scale epic fantasy…. Highly recommended.” ―Library Journal on Range of Ghosts
“Her language, a celebrated feature in all of her writing, shines here in her descriptions of the setting…. Like George R.R. Martin, Bear presents third-person limited viewpoints from multiple characters, a strategy that allows her to delve deep into their heads without losing her own distinctive poetic narrative voice.” ―The DC Spotlight
About the Author
ELIZABETH BEAR was the recipient of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2005. She has won two Hugo Awards for her short fiction, a Sturgeon Award, and the Locus Award for Best First Novel. She is the author of the acclaimed Eternal Sky series. Bear lives in Brookfield, Massachusetts.
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And while I really, really wanted to support the Memery/Priya relationship (it's not easy to find a same-sex relationship as a primary relationship in a book which isn't specifically about same sex relationships), I felt the author forced it here. Priya was never really developed as a character, and I never understood why Memery was drawn to her except . . . well, she was available?
As I mentioned, I really wanted to like this a lot more and the book was very close to being truly special, but the author got so bogged down on developing her setting that the other aspects of a story that draws readers in suffered for it.
Short Summary: Karen Memory is the story of Karen Memery, a prostitute working in a higher-end bordello in Rapid City (a made up gold rush/logging town in the Pacific Northwest). The story is told as if Karen is telling you, the reader the story, either directly or as a journal intended to be read by an audience. "Karen" has a very relatable, if a bit folksy, type of narrative voice but it does move the story along well. As the story picks up there are a lot of heavily steampunk elements in the plot as well as a very sweet lesbian romance. The book's cast is extremely inclusive of minorities that often don't get a lot of page time (largely female cast, mixed races, mixed gender identities and sexualities).
Setting: This is set in Rapid City, which is a Pacific Northwestern gold rush/logging town that feels very not-Seattle with a bit of San Francisco's Chinatown mixed in. The most interesting piece of this setting, to me, was that the city was being raised up above the old street level and it was only halfway done with this process, so there were at least two levels of "streets" and you had to go up and down ladders to get into businesses and other destinations. On a smaller level, a lot of the action takes place in the Hotel Mon Cherie, a fairly upscale bordello.
Characters: The main character is, as you'd guess, the eponymous Karen Memery (Memery, not Memory, like the title though). Karen is the narrator as well. She's a very likable character, the type to stand up for her friends and do what she thinks is right. Although she's currently working in a bordello, she doesn't plan to earn her living on her back forever. She's got a very practical attitude. There's a pretty wide cast of interesting characters including the Madame of the bordello (very inventive with the swearing!), Priya (Indian girl rescued from a bad situation), the Marshal and his Comanche posseman, and the other staff and woman who work at Hotel Mon Cherie. Oddly enough, for me the villains in the story were the least interesting of the characters.
Plot: In broad strokes to not give away major spoilers - there's a serial killer plot mixed in with a personal vendetta against the Hotel Mon Cherie and political action on that front. This all ends up mixed in with a bigger plot that brings in more of the steampunk aspect of the book near the end. I realize that's not much to go on, but I really prefer not to give too many spoilers when I can avoid it.
Overall I very much enjoyed this read. Although it had some heavy topics, it didn't really get bogged down and was an adventure story more than anything. The girls in the Hotel Mon Cherie loved reading dime adventure novels to each other when business was slow, and that's the feeling I got from reading this book. It was a lot of fun!
I loved the snapshots of the world illustrated by the various events, or just there for color and texture- like the guild of Mad Scientists.
It's written by Karen in the fist person, and her voice is spot on. While it was a bit irritating at first to have her consistently write "should of" when we'd say "should have" was more accurate- it became just a part of the way she spoke/wrote; she is not a well-educated girl. I admired her pragmatism in choosing a life after her father died and left her essentially penniless.
I also admire her ethics/morals. She drove much of the plot, based on her accurate conviction that "This isn't right", and "if not me, who? If not now, when?" Which is not to say she's moralizing! Indeed, she makes some questionable decisions... but she's only 16 (though she reads older).
It's a great plot, with automatons (one derived from a sewing machine), mind-control rays, submarines, airships, clockwork limbs, and so much more... and yet, these are in many ways secondary to the plot, which is very human.
Not only is Karen a very vivid character, so are the other characters in this- both friends and foes.
Very recommended, to anyone to whom this description appeals!
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engaged to the very end.Read more