- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Tor Books; Reprint edition (January 12, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0765375257
- ISBN-13: 978-0765375254
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 0.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars See all reviews (108 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #687,760 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Karen Memory Paperback – January 12, 2016
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“Karen Memory is a book that gets going right away and never stops. Surreally captivating, Bear's latest melds the genres of steampunk, fantasy, adventure and dime-store western together perfectly, thanks mostly to the charming voice of the protagonist. Karen's rough edges and obviously wicked intelligence are highlighted by nuanced details that establish her already likable voice as even more relatable; her charming (self-taught) misuse of phrases and terminology, and reflexive bravery and morality are just a few examples in this fantastic read.” ―RT Book Reviews, 4 ½ stars, Top Pick!
“Bear pumps fresh energy in the steampunk genre with a light touch on the gadgetry and a vivid sense of place. Karen has a voice that is folksy but true, and the entire cast of heroic women doing the best they can in an age that was not kind to their gender is a delight.... Karen and the ladies kick ass.” ―Library Journal, starred review
“Bear's rollicking, suspenseful, and sentimental steampunk novel introduces Karen Memery.... Bear gives Karen a colorful voice, sharp eyes, and the spunk and skills necessary to scuffle with bad types as well as to win over people whose help she needs. Her story is a timeless one: a woman doing what is needed to get by while dreaming and fighting for great things to come.” ―Publishers Weekly
“Fans of the steampunk aesthetic will appreciate Bear's affectionate treatment of the style. Weapons, gadgets, and their places in the characters' lives put together a charmingly inventive fictional Seattle--especially for those readers bringing along some knowledge of the city's nascent history.” ―Booklist
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. Bear lives in Brookfield, Massachusetts.
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Top Customer Reviews
“You ain’t gonna like what I have to tell you, but I’m 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 didn’t 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.
Elizabeth Bear has crafted an unassuming sort of story that's equal parts science fiction, steampunk, alternate history, western, pulp adventure, romance, and thriller. Surely, it seems like it should be too much, like there should be too many things going on, but it all comes together in just the right proportions to make for a fun read that will have you turning pages late into the night.
It all begins and ends, of course, with Karen Memery (she spells her name with an 'e' in place of the 'o'), who serves as both protagonist and narrator. She has an incredibly distinct voice, all-but defining the story with her cadence, pacing, and word choices. She's unfailingly polite, and rather coy about her profession, but also honest about just what 'sewing' entails. Really, it's Karen who makes the story work so well, with so much of the drama, the tension, and the humor resting solely on her shoulders. In addition, it's Karen who keeps us grounded, and who provides such a down-to-earth sort of feeling for what is, at times, such an oddly fantastical tale.
Surrounding Karen is a solid cast of characters, comprised not just of the kind of strong, bold, brave women you'd expect to find in a frontier town, but also of a few good men - including a lawman who inspired legends of Lone Ranger, and his Comanche sidekick. Even more important to the story, however, is the villain - one Peter Bantle. It's incredible to have such loathing for a character of whom we see so little, but Bear does a fine job of driving home the physical, emotional, and psychological implications of his villainous acts. Even without his electrical mind-manipulation device, he epitomizes the concepts of scum and villainy. It's rare that I want to see a literary character dead with such passion, but he really gets under the skin.
If I were to have one minor issue with the book it would be the pacing. The first half is rather slowly paced, seemingly concerned as much with the telling as the tale, but then the action just explodes and we race towards a frantic climax. It's almost like two books in one, mashed together for the sake of convenience. The first half is a period piece, a romance, and a western, while the second brings the thriller and the steampunk elements to the forefront. It does get a bit silly with the pulp and steampunk elements - you have to see what Bear does with a massive sewing machine, and the homage to Captain Nemo is fantastic - but that's part of the fun. That's not to say I didn't enjoy both halves, but there is a distinct boundary in the text where we transition from one story to another.
I doubt there's much else I can say that's already been said before, and I'm conscious of spoiling some of the surprises, so I think I'll just leave it there. Karen Memory is a book crosses genres and pushes some boundaries, but it's Karen Memery's narration that really makes the tale. If you're at all curious, take my word for it, the hype is legitimate, so grab yourself a copy and settle in for a read.
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