Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Book Review: Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

Pros: great world-building, fun characters, interesting plot  

Cons: some crude language

Karen Memery works as a ‘seamstress’ in Madame Damnable’s Hotel Mon Cherie.  When two women knock on their door running from one of Peter Bantle’s cribs by the pier, Karen stands up to him and the roughs who’ve come to take the women back.  Bantle’s got a special machine and he’s running for mayor, and things in Rapid City start to go downhill fast for the ‘seamstresses’, especially when U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves rolls into town, looking for a killer.

You get a wonderful first chapter explaining how Karen’s a ‘seamstress’ and a seamstress, making her own dresses for her, ahem, actual work.  You also get a great introduction to her co-workers and the environment they work in vs environments other ‘seamstresses’ have to work in.  So when a ‘seamstress’ from a much worse environment show up, you’re already sympathetic towards her.

The world is basically a decent sized town in the wild west, if the wild west had dirigibles and other steampunk accoutrements - like a souped up Singer sewing machine that straps on.  There’s also a wide variety of characters, from the black marshal (patterned off of a real man), a lot of spunky women (not all of whom are white), some Russians, a native man, and others.  The cast makes the city feel real - and remembers the history of the Western coast, with China towns, escaped slaves, indentured servants, and more.   

Bear’s prose is fun, seeing through Karen’s eyes, though it takes some getting used to as the grammar’s atrocious.  There’s a lot of period - and character - appropriate terms (including derogatory terms for people of other races/nationalities) and swearing, which some may find offensive. 

The plot rambles a bit, as Karen isn’t always at the centre of things, but is quite interesting and coalesces in a series of fights that make for an exciting climax.

This is an excellent book.  Highly recommended.

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