20 Oct, 2016

Karen Memory

/ posted in: Reading Karen Memory Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
on February 3rd 2015
Pages: 350
Genres: Science Fiction, Steampunk
Published by Tor Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Washington
Goodreads

“Set in the late 19th century—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 house—a resourceful group—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 heap—a streetwalker who has been brutally murdered.”


Oh my God, I loved this book.  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.  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.  She is an uneducated sixteen year old who grew up with her father training horses.  After his death she ended up working as a “seamstress” in an upscale house.  The girls of the house are a family and protect and love each other in spite of their differences.  They are from many different races.  There is a trans woman. There are disabled women.  Some are lesbians who only serve male clients because it’s their job.  Karen accepts this all but sometimes still falls into the casual prejudices of white women in that time.  Sometimes she gets called out on it.  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.  This fans the flames of a simmering rivalry into out and out war.  Karen gets grabbed by a thug at the market.

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Don’t worry though.  She hits him the face with a bag of onions.  She holds her own until the fight is stopped by the appearance of a U.S. Marshal.  He’s chasing a murderer who was in Indian Territory previously.  When dead prostitutes start showing up, the Marshal enlists Karen and her friends to help his Comanche deputy and him find the bad guy.

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This is a great read for any one who likes a fast moving adventure tale full of steam punk technology and daring ladies.  Karen is a great lesbian heroine who sees the world in her own unique way.

04 Oct, 2016

Everfair

/ posted in: Reading Everfair Everfair by Nisi Shawl
on September 6th 2016
Pages: 381
Genres: Fantasy, Steampunk
Published by Tor Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Congo
Goodreads

“Everfair is a wonderful Neo-Victorian alternate history novel that explores the question of what might have come of Belgium’s disastrous colonization of the Congo if the native populations had learned about steam technology a bit earlier. Fabian Socialists from Great Britain join forces with African-American missionaries to purchase land from the Belgian Congo’s “owner,” King Leopold II. This land, named Everfair, is set aside as a safe haven, an imaginary Utopia for native populations of the Congo as well as escaped slaves returning from America and other places where African natives were being mistreated.”


Laurie Albin has a complicated home life.  He has a wife named Daisy with whom he has children.  He has a secretary/mistress named Ellen living in his house with whom he also has children.  He has just brought home Lisette, another mistress.  He has also decided to move his whole family to Africa to help set up a new country.  He promptly then abandons Daisy, Lisette, and most of the children when he heads back to England with Ellen and one son forever.  They don’t really miss him though.  Daisy and Lisette have been lovers since Laurie brought Lisette home.

That’s just part of one family to keep track of in this sweeping stories that takes place over decades in many countries across Africa and with a huge cast of characters.

The British settlers are one aspect of Everfair. There are also African-American missionaries led by Mrs. Hunter.  She’s a woman who believes that absolutely nothing is more important than converting souls to Christianity.  She’ll stand in the way of humanitarian aid if it doesn’t include Bibles.  She’ll refuse to work with other people for the good of everyone if they aren’t Christian.  She also is upset with the French woman Lisette because she is mixed race but living the life of a European white woman.

Tink is a Chinese man who was being held by Leopold’s men.  He escaped and now is the mechanical guru of Everfair.  He loves making ever more advanced artificial limbs for people maimed in wars.  He invents better and better airships.

King Mwenda and Queen Josina are the African leaders of the area that Leopold seized and then sold to the colonists of Everfair.  They maintain that it is still their land to govern.  They were willing to work with the colonists to get rid of the Belgians but now they want to take control back.

Other characters come and go.  The book takes place between 1889 and 1919.  There can be large jumps in time and/or place between chapters.  It is important to pay close attention to the notations of where and when the action is taking place.

I think this book was ambitious in its scope and ultimately didn’t stand up to it.  There is so much going on that some story lines just disappear.  There are characters that are in the story and then you just never hear from again.

I enjoyed the characters and their interactions with each other.  But there was a time when a character heard that another war was looming and expressed frustration that there was yet another one.  I felt the same way.  It was one world conflict after another with a lot of the time in between compressed or skipped over.

The technology that is so important in the steampunk genre didn’t feel fully formed either.  The imaginative artificial limbs were wonderful.  Everyone had several to wear for different occasions.  Some were weaponized.  Others were just pretty.  I didn’t get a great feel for the airships though.  They were being powered with some sort of local magic earth that was never explained.  I wasn’t sure if that was supposed to be a nod to the uranium of the area or not.

This is a hard book to decide if I liked it or not.  What is on the page is interesting and worth reading but you are left with a sense that something is missing.  It could have been more.  Perhaps if the scope was narrowed, it could have gone more in depth and I would have liked the overall story more.

 

06 Nov, 2015

The Aeronaut’s Windlass

/ posted in: Reading The Aeronaut’s Windlass The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher
on September 29th 2015
Pages: 640
Length: 21
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Steampunk

Since time immemorial, the Spires have sheltered humanity, towering for miles over the mist-shrouded surface of the world. Within their halls, aristocratic houses have ruled for generations, developing scientific marvels, fostering trade alliances, and building fleets of airships to keep the peace.
Captain Grimm commands the merchant ship, Predator. Fiercely loyal to Spire Albion, he has taken their side in the cold war with Spire Aurora, disrupting the enemy's shipping lines by attacking their cargo vessels. But when the Predator is severely damaged in combat, leaving captain and crew grounded, Grimm is offered a proposition from the Spirearch of Albion--to join a team of agents on a vital mission in exchange for fully restoring Predator to its fighting glory.
And even as Grimm undertakes this dangerous task, he will learn that the conflict between the Spires is merely a premonition of things to come. Humanity's ancient enemy, silent for more than ten thousand years, has begun to stir once more. And death will follow in its wake...

Goodreads

On paper this isn’t a book that I should be interested in. I don’t care about steampunk airship captains. But, this is Jim Butcher and I will read anything he writes, so I trusted him and downloaded the audiobook.

Then I realized that the audio was 21 hours long. I really hoped that I wasn’t making a wrong decision. Turns out that I wasn’t.

Humans live in large towers called spires. Each one is two miles in diameter and thousands of feet high. The surface of the planet is too dangerous to go down to. There are airships that travel in the sky. All energy comes from crystals that harness etheric energy. These crystals are slowly grown in vats and are very valuable.

The Cast

Captain Grimm

He is the captain of the privateer ship Predator. He was an official in naval fleet of Spire Albon but was removed for cowardice under suspicious circumstances.

Gwendolyn Lancaster

She is the heir to House Lancaster, the family that makes the best crystals in the world. She is a spoiled brat who is overly convinced of her own importance because she’s an aristocrat. She has joined the Spirearch’s guards to do her few years of service. She thinks everyone should pay her due respect without her having to earn it. I pretty much hated her.

Benedict Soralyn

He is a cousin of Gwen’s from a minor branch of the Lancaster house. He is an experienced guard. He is Warrior born – natural born athletes with the speed and reflexes of cats and the eyes of cats. Gwen is quite surprised to find out that he is highly thought of by everyone up to the Spirearch himself, since she never thought of him as anything but a poor relation.

Bridget Tarquin

She is the last of a formerly great house that has fallen on hard times. She is also joining the guard even though she isn’t really suited for it. Can speak fluent cat.

Rawl

Prince of the Silent Paws clan of cats and friend to Bridget, whom he calls Little Mouse. He is accompanying her to the guard to try to bolster an alliance between humans and his clan. Cats are not pets and most humans see them as a form of vermin. Cats of course feel the same way about humans.

Master Ferus

He is an etherialist, a master at manipulating etheric energy. This drives a person mad after a while and he’s been doing it for a long time.

Folly

She is Master Ferus’ apprentice. She carries a jar of apparently dead lumen crystals and can only talk directly to her jar and not to people.

When Spire Albion is attacked by a force from Spire Aurora it appears that the Spirearch’s guard may be compromised. The Spirearch recruits this diverse bunch of people he trusts to get to the bottom of it – a disgraced captain, some recruits, a trusted guard, two crazy etheralists, and a cat.

There is so much to love here!

Any time either of the etherialists open their mouth it is completely mad. It is like trying to go on a spying mission with The Mad Hatter. They know what they mean and they are utterly brilliant but it takes other people a while to adapt to dealing with them.

Rawl! There are sections of this book told from a cat’s point of view. It is so well done. It is exactly what a cat would think of all this human nonsense. He knows that he is the leader of the mission. He gets angry when his person is in danger because who is going to scratch him like he likes if she gets dead? They go aboard the airship and he can’t concentrate on anything until he gets to climb the “ship tree” (mast). He has a wonderful theory on telling the importance of humans by the size of their hat. At the end, he had had first aid administered by a human and was pouting about it for days. As a vet, I could totally relate to that attitude.

There is a great discussion at the end about the effects of combat on a person and how hard it is to reintegrate into a society of people who haven’t seen combat.

It was totally worth the 21 hours of audio. I can’t wait for the next installment.

05 Aug, 2015

Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendon

/ posted in: Reading Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendon Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson
on July 14th 2015
Pages: 320
Series: Rebel Mechanics #1
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Steampunk
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

Also in this series: Rebel Magisters

It's 1888, and seventeen-year-old Verity Newton lands a job in New York as a governess to a wealthy leading family--but she quickly learns that the family has big secrets. Magisters have always ruled the colonies, but now an underground society of mechanics and engineers are developing non-magical sources of power via steam engines that they hope will help them gain freedom from British rule. The family Verity works for is magister--but it seems like the children's young guardian uncle is sympathetic to the rebel cause. As Verity falls for a charming rebel inventor and agrees to become a spy, she also becomes more and more enmeshed in the magister family's life. She soon realizes she's uniquely positioned to advance the cause--but to do so, she'll have to reveal her own dangerous secret.

Goodreads

In this version of 1888 New York, the Americans lost the revolution because they couldn’t overcome the British use of magic.  Now the seeds of revolution are growing again.  The Americans are relying on their ability to make steam powered and electric machines to fight the British.

Verity is just looking for a job as a governess when she meets up with a group of mechanics testing their latest invention – a bus that runs without horses or magic.  Members of the group befriend her and introduce her to the revolutionary cause.  They see her as an asset because she got the job as a governess to a powerful British family.  They want her to spy for them.


I enjoyed this author’s Enchanted, Inc. series and couldn’t wait to read this book.  I love the premise that the revolution failed because the British have magic.

I like the way that the romance was handled in this book.  At first it seems like it is going to play a major part in the story but then it ends up focusing on Verity making decisions for herself not based on what the men in her life want from her.  There is flirtation and it may play out more in future books in the series but she isn’t focused just on finding a man to marry.  It is hard to pull that combination off but the author did a great job of it.

I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next in the story.

 

About Shanna Swendson

Shanna Swendson is the author of the Enchanted, Inc. series, the Fairy Tale series, and Rebel Mechanics.

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