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Karen Memory    by Elizabeth Bear order for
Karen Memory
by Elizabeth Bear
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2016 (2015)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Karen Memory is a gripping steampunk adventure by Elizabeth Bear, author with Sarah Monette of the Iskryne fantasy series. Her engaging protagonist, Karen Memery (spelled with an 'e') works in the Hôtel Mon Cherie (a classy bordello run by the indomitable Madame Damnable) on Amity Street in Rapid City, an alternate, late nineteenth century northwest American coastal city.

Though not her first choice of profession (she was raised to work with horses), Karen does her job cheerfully, happy to have employment after being orphaned. Her life changes dramatically one day when two desperate young women, Chinese Merry Lee and Indian Priya, seek shelter at the bordello. A badly injured Merry Lee has rescued Priya from sexual slavery in the cribs down by the docks. Given refuge, they are closely followed by wannabe mayor Peter Bantle and his bullyboys. Bantle uses a device to influence others' minds on Karen, who is ashamed to have come close to doing his will.

Karen falls hard for Priya, a talented linguist and mechanic. An irate Bantle begins to escalate attacks on Hotel Cherry and its inhabitants. At the same time, the bodies of women (whipped to death) are found outside town brothels. And U.S. Deputy Marshall Bass Reeves arrives in town, along with his Comanche sidekick Tomoatooah, on the trail of the serial killer responsible. Together, lawmen and fallen women embark on a series of exciting, action-packed adventures.

There's another rescue, more murders and further attacks on the Hotel Cherry before the good guys risk drastic action. Though they succeed in their initial objective, they uncover an ambitious plot to steal Alaska (and its newly discovered gold) from the United States. Foiling this involves an airship, a submarine, and a Singer sewing machine on steroids! Karen Memory is a hugely entertaining read.

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