Karen Memoryby Elizabeth Bear
Published on February 3rd 2015
Buy on Amazon
“Set in the late 19th centuryâ€”when the city we now call Seattle Underground was the whole town (and still on the surface), when airships plied the trade routes, would-be gold miners were heading to the gold fields of Alaska, and steam-powered mechanicals stalked the waterfront, Karen is a young woman on her own, is making the best of her orphaned state by working in Madame Damnable’s high-quality bordello. Through Karen’s eyes we get to know the other girls in the houseâ€”a resourceful groupâ€”and the poor and the powerful of the town. Trouble erupts one night when a badly injured girl arrives at their door, begging sanctuary, followed by the man who holds her indenture, and who has a machine that can take over anyone’s mind and control their actions. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the next night brings a body dumped in their rubbish heapâ€”a streetwalker who has been brutally murdered.”
Oh my God, I loved this book. Â Loved it as in I started it Tuesday at 8 PM, finished it Wednesday at 3:30 PM, and am posting this review on Thursday.
It grabbed me from the first page where it explains that prostitutes are taxed as seamstresses. They even have sewing machines — a regular one and one that you get inside and use your body to control. Â I don’t understand how that would work but I want it!
The story is told from Karen’s point of view. She has a great voice. Â She is an uneducated sixteen year old who grew up with her father training horses. Â After his death she ended up working as a “seamstress” in an upscale house. Â The girls of the house are a family and protect and love each other in spite of their differences. Â They are from many different races. Â There is a trans woman. There are disabled women. Â Some are lesbians who only serve male clients because it’s their job. Â Karen accepts this all but sometimes still falls into the casual prejudices of white women in that time. Â Sometimes she gets called out on it. Â Sometimes she needs to learn her lessons a harder way.
The women of Karen’s house protect a prostitute escaping from a more disreputable house. Â This fans the flames of a simmering rivalry into out and out war. Â Karen gets grabbed by a thug at the market.
Don’t worry though. Â She hits him the face with a bag of onions. Â She holds her own until the fight is stopped by the appearance of a U.S. Marshal. Â He’s chasing a murderer who was in Indian Territory previously. Â When dead prostitutes start showing up, the Marshal enlists Karen and her friends to help his Comanche deputy and him find the bad guy.
This is a great read for any one who likes a fast moving adventure tale full of steam punk technology and daring ladies.Â Karen is a great lesbian heroine who sees the world in her own unique way.