Okay, let's start with the publisher’s description:
“You ain’t gonna like what I have to tell you, but I’m gonna tell you anyway. See, my name is KarenOkay, let's start with the publisher’s description:
“You ain’t gonna like what I have to tell you, but I’m gonna tell you anyway. See, my name is Karen Memery, like memory only spelt with an e, and I’m one of the girls what works in the Hôtel Mon Cherie on Amity Street. Hôtel has a little hat over the o like that. It’s French, so Beatrice tells me.”
Hugo-Award winning author Elizabeth Bear offers something new in Karen Memory, an absolutely entrancing steampunk novel set in Seattle in the late 19th century—an era when the town was called Rapid City, when the parts we now call Seattle Underground were the whole town (and still on the surface), when airships plied the trade routes bringing would-be miners heading up to the gold fields of Alaska, and steam-powered mechanicals stalked the waterfront. Karen is a “soiled dove,” a young woman on her own who 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 into her world one night when a badly injured girl arrives at their door, seeking sanctuary, followed by the man who holds her indenture, 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.
What the publisher really should have opened with is the fact that this book features a steam-powered Singer sewing machine mecha-suit that’s been heavily modified and upgraded. Readers might ask if it really makes logical sense to transform a sewing machine into something so complicated and mechanically convoluted. To which one could reply, “Who cares? It’s a freaking sewing machine mech!”
While there are other elements that are just plain fun, there’s a lot more going on in this book. You’ve got a group of women teaming up against several different layers of villainy, from a serial killer to large-scale political mind-control schemery. There’s high-stakes action with a nice bit of romance thrown in. Some of the plot revelations and twists at the end came a little too fast for me, but that might be a matter of personal taste.
Karen and company aren’t exactly the privileged class of 19th century society, and Bear doesn’t ignore the prejudices of the time. She’s worked to create a diverse cast of characters, but those characters face additional challenges. Marshal Bass Reeves is a black man, and at one point is threatened with lynching. His partner, a Comanche named Tomoatooah, is forced to flee the town. And while Karen is relatively open-minded and accepting, you also see her using the language of the times, and occasionally stumbling over her own prejudices.
While Karen and her allies live and work in a bordello, nothing sexual happens on the page. Karen’s life isn’t romanticized, either. Bear acknowledges that this can be ugly work. But it’s not something that needs to be on the page for the story Bear’s telling.
Bear brings together a strong plot, an engaging voice, and good characters. (I’m particularly fond of the foul-mouthed Madame Damnable.)...more
This is basically a post-apocalyptic zombie book with superheroes, which is an interesting premise. As powerful as the heroes are, they’re not invulneThis is basically a post-apocalyptic zombie book with superheroes, which is an interesting premise. As powerful as the heroes are, they’re not invulnerable, and they’re vastly outnumbered. They’ve established a stronghold called The Mount, in the ruins of Hollywood, where they scavenge for supplies and do their best to protect their citizens from the exes (ex-humans), as well as a street gang that’s discovered some powers of their own.
Clines hits a lot of the expected beats for a zombie story, including flashbacks to the beginning of the disaster, various scenes of humans being trapped by exes, and the terror of the endless sea of undead at the gates. I appreciated that there was at least one twist that I didn’t see coming. (And it has a blurb from Nathan Fillion, which is both cool, and makes me incredibly envious!)
I’d recommend this one to fans of zombies and Watchmen....more
This is book one of Hearne’s popular Iron Druid chronicles, and I can see why he’s done so well with it. It’s page-turning fun, with a 2000+ year oldThis is book one of Hearne’s popular Iron Druid chronicles, and I can see why he’s done so well with it. It’s page-turning fun, with a 2000+ year old druid called Atticus O’Sullvain living in Arizona with a delightful Irish wolfhound. For a long time, he’s been hiding from a very angry god who wants a sword Atticus stole centuries ago.
Lots of action, a good helping of snark, and entertaining, larger-than-life characters, from the werewolf and vampire legal team to the possessed bartender to the Irish widow Atticus hangs out with, swapping Irish tales.
There’s also a bit of hetero-male wish-fulfillment going on, with several beautiful and powerful women who all want to sleep with Atticus. On the other hand, Hearne presents a range of female characters, all with their own strengths.
Pat writes an interesting introduction to this novella (novelette?), in which he warns people, “You might not want to buy this book … it doesn’t do aPat writes an interesting introduction to this novella (novelette?), in which he warns people, “You might not want to buy this book … it doesn’t do a lot of the things a classic story is supposed to do.”
More than anything, this struck me as a character study. Auri is a secondary character in Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles. In this book, we follow a week in Auri’s life.
Depending on how you read it, there isn’t a lot happening in this book. Auri lives beneath the university, a world of empty caves and tunnels and pipes and ponds and abandoned rooms. In some respects, she reminds me a bit of Luna Lovegood, a character who sees the world in a very different and odd way. But in Auri’s case, you get hints of her past, of someone who was broken and rebuilt herself and her world.
If you’re looking for a strong plot, or for a story that has an impact on the greater world, you should probably skip this one. Auri spends her days exploring, finding lost objects and putting them in their proper places, exploring different rooms, and searching for the right gift for him.
The writing is gorgeous, and I was fascinated by Auri’s character, who seems to walk a very thin line between beauty and crippling OCD. My only complaint is that I wish she wasn’t so fixated on "him" (Kvothe, from Rothfuss’ novels). I understand that this is in keeping with the books, but it frustrates me to read such a beautifully-written woman whose existence revolves so much around a guy. I’ve been reading too much of that sort of thing lately, so it's possible I'm a bit oversensitive right now.
That said, it’s a beautifully written story, though it won’t work for everyone. It inspired me to try some new things with my own writing and characters....more
This is a fast-paced thriller with lots of action and fighting and a diverse cast and secret organizations and subterfuge and general sneakiness and aThis is a fast-paced thriller with lots of action and fighting and a diverse cast and secret organizations and subterfuge and general sneakiness and ass-kicking. Cas is cold and efficient, but with just enough humanity to keep her somewhat sympathetic. Her two companions bookend her nature quite well: Rio is basically a serial killer channeling his violence toward the bad guys, while PI Arthur is the heart and morality of the group. The conflict between them is very well done, particularly Arthur’s horror when he realizes who Cas’ friend is.
I’m also quite fond of computer guru Chester, a wheelchair-using geek who reminds me of Oracle. (With the caveat that I haven’t read Oracle in the comics; I’m just familiar with her character from talking to my fellow geeks.)
The overall conflict is perhaps familiar, but still engaging: a group with mental superpowers is manipulating the world to make it better, even if that means brainwashing and killing those who get in the way. It presents some good ethical dilemmas, since the antagonists have set things up in such a way that hurting them could actually help other villains.
The one problem I kept stumbling over was Cas’ powers. I can buy that she’s a math supergenius, but instinctively seeing and understanding the math of the world around you is one thing. Being able to apply that math to put every bullet exactly where you want, to hit a kid with a tennis ball after three ricochets, to weave a motorcycle through traffic at insane speeds, these things kept snapping my suspension of disbelief. The physical aspect is a whole other superpowered skillset, one that’s never mentioned.
On the other hand, her superpower is math. How cool is that?
We do get hints about Cas’ backstory toward the end, but we’ll have to wait until at least book two for the details. Overall, the ending wasn’t as satisfying as I’d hoped, but again, I suspect that’s because Huang is setting the groundwork for future books.
Nitpicks aside, I devoured this book, and I’m very much looking forward to the sequel, Half Life, which should be out in January....more
Three years ago, Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith went public with a post about a post-apocalypic YA novel they had written together. During theThree years ago, Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith went public with a post about a post-apocalypic YA novel they had written together. During the submission process, they received a response from an agent who offered to represent the book, "on the condition that we make the gay character straight, or else remove his viewpoint and all references to his sexual orientation."
Their post led to a great deal of discussion about the need for gay characters in YA literature. The agency in question also posted a rebuttal.
So that's the backstory. The book eventually sold to Viking Juvenile, with a publication date of November 2014. I'm happy to have gotten my hands on an advance copy :-)
Stranger definitely has a western feel to it, as noted in the publisher's summary:
Many generations ago, a mysterious cataclysm struck the world. Governments collapsed and people scattered, to rebuild where they could. A mutation, "the Change," arose, granting some people unique powers. Though the area once called Los Angeles retains its cultural diversity, its technological marvels have faded into legend. "Las Anclas" now resembles a Wild West frontier town… where the Sheriff possesses superhuman strength, the doctor can warp time to heal his patients, and the distant ruins of an ancient city bristle with deadly crystalline trees that take their jewel-like colors from the clothes of the people they killed.
Teenage prospector Ross Juarez’s best find ever – an ancient book he doesn’t know how to read – nearly costs him his life when a bounty hunter is set on him to kill him and steal the book. Ross barely makes it to Las Anclas, bringing with him a precious artifact, a power no one has ever had before, and a whole lot of trouble.
I liked this one. There's a lot of imaginative worldbuilding going on, particularly around the different powers people develop and the new forms of wildlife. The crystalline trees are awesome and terrifying. Also: telekinetic squirrels. They don't get a lot of page-time, but just the fact that there are telekinetic squirrels makes me happy.
Smith and Brown rotate chapters through five (I think) different PoV characters, which was a little tricky to keep track of in the beginning, but I think it worked well. I'm less thrilled about the different font used for each PoV, but since I was reading an ARC, I'm not sure the publisher will keep that quirk in the final version. It might not bother you, but it distracted me.
There's a lot going on here. You've got the eponymous stranger Ross Juarez, a loner with a bit of PTSD who finds a sense of community for the first time in his life ... but there are those who don't want him around, and others who just want to use him. There's the larger conflict with a power-hungry king who's been conquering neighboring towns. There are multiple romances. There's internal political struggles between a family trying to create their own dynasty as leaders of Las Anclas and the changed sheriff who messed up their plans.
There's also an ongoing story about discrimination and prejudice. You have open hostility and fear, and some of that fear is almost understandable, given the damage changes can do when people can't -- or don't -- control them. Poor Ross gets fear and suspicion from both barrels, as a stranger and someone with a suspected change.
I'm impressed by how well the multiple relationships, stories, and characters all come together. It did feel like there were some loose ends when I finished, and I'm hopeful those will be addressed in future books. But Stranger provides enough closure that I didn't feel cheated. It's a good ending, one that makes me want to pick up book two.
Oh, and yes, there are several non-straight couples in the book, and they're treated with the same respect and variety as the straight couples. Surprisingly enough, I did not burst into flames, nor did my own heterosexual marriage immediately crash and burn. Go figure....more