Thursday, May 07, 2015

Mini-Review: Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon) was released to great fanfare and critical acclaim, which had been preceded by a good bit of buzz that began when the spectacular cover art and intriguing synopsis were released some months earlier. I was one of those who began looking forward to this book way before it was released. Then I heard the early buzz from early readers, though I waited until the book was released to read it, and I only got more excited. And of course I waited until a couple of months after I finished the book to finally write this review.

One result is that I have very little to say that hasn’t been said elsewhere (often much better than I could say it myself). First – the book is awesome, it easily lives up to the early buzz and critical acclaim. Second – this book has a wonderful, wonderful voice to it. The main protagonist, Karen Memery, brings life to this first person narration. It’s pulp fiction. It’s the weird west. And it’s beautifully told through the foul, honest mouth of a ‘seamstress’.

Come for the steampunk, weird west, alternate history, tale set in the low streets of a new city a lot like Seattle, featuring a classy bordello full of exquisitely interesting people as they dive into a murder-mystery and are aided by the real-life origin of the Lone Ranger and his fictional Native American sidekick. Stay for the addictively unique voice of Miss Memery, LGBTQ characters, romance, dirigibles, submarines, bio warfare, mind control gloves, and a sewing machine that doubles as mechanical armor. No worries – that doesn’t even cover it all, but it should give you a taste of just why you should run (not walk) and start reading this book right now.

Hyperbole aside (and the actual description is not hyperbole – it really is that cool), Bear gives voice to voices that are traditionally mute and go no further than ‘yes sir’, ‘no sir’, etc. Subversive is a term that gets bandied about here. And as wonderful all that is – it’s the voice, Karen Memery’s voice that makes this book a great book. Miss Memery charms the reader, refills the bourbon, charms the reader some more, refills the bourbon again, and then she gets animated in her story as you continue to refill the bourbon between moments of laughter and anxious tension.  

Elizabeth Bear really is writing at the top of her game right now and getting long deserved recognition at just the right time. Few authors pull off such a varied bibliography half so well, and Karen Memory just may top it all (at least for the moment). Go ahead, jump on the steamwagon for this one – it’s a wild ride and one hell of a tale to hear told.

And now, I want to read this again. With a bourbon in hand.

Better make it a double.

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