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Karen Memory

(Karen Memory #1)

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  4,337 ratings  ·  894 reviews
"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."

Set in the late 19th century—when the city we now call Seattle Underground w
Hardcover, 346 pages
Published February 3rd 2015 by Tor Books
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Nadine Jones Because there are several GLBT characters, including the main protagonist, Karen Memery, who is lesbian.
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Average rating 3.72  · 
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 ·  4,337 ratings  ·  894 reviews

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Mogsy (MMOGC)
4.5 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum

“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.”

A lot of times, it’s the books that initially fly under my radar which end up impressing me the most. This was the case with
Apr 25, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: meh, untumbled-turds
After making it to page 90 something, I just couldn't go on. Karen Memory is a mixed bag of genres telling a story that's been told before: prostitutes with hearts of gold become targets of big, bad men in a frontier town. Now, I like a good western and I like good science fiction, and nothing makes me as giddy as when the two come together seamlessly (R.I.P. Firefly), but Karen Memory wasn't a particularly good western and it was only sci-fi by way of some very minimal steampunk elements (so ta ...more
Feb 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: steam-punk, western
This was a high adventure and a barrel of laughs! Karen Memory is a fantastic protagonist with a very authentic voice. An action filled western with lots of shoot outs and shenanigans. A wonderfully varied cast of characters, heros and villains alike. A badass bunch of women saving the day.. surely this would do well on the big screen? Well worth a read!
Reposted to

Gentle readers you might not know this about me but I am a shitkicker to the core. I may put on high airs and use proper grammar and such to the best of my ability but in reality I am genuine hick. I raised hog for most of my growing days and have a fair hand with a hoss. Get me around my mama’s kin for more than an hour and this ol boy could fit in to the most authentic casting of Oklahoma y’all have ever seen.

So you bet your ass I fell in love with miss Karen Memery, spe
Jan 23, 2015 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Not sure - maybe you'll like it more than I did
Recommended to Stacy by: Gail Carriger's Book Club - February Pick
Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear is a difficult book for me to review. If I took a deconstructionist perspective, then it would get a higher rating because there were things about the book that I enjoyed; however, I did not enjoy reading the book as a whole: it was downright burdensome, which is never enjoyable.

Things I enjoyed:

-I loved the theory of this book. The idea of reading about a brothel in a Seattle-like city fascinated me.

-The feminist intention; I can't really say it had a feminist "me
By now you've probably read more than a few gushing, over-the-top, positive reviews of Karen Memory. I got sucked in by the praise myself, to the point where I rather boldly harassed the local Chapters for not carrying a copy, but I'm pleased to declare the praise warranted.

Elizabeth Bear has crafted an unassuming sort of story that's equal parts science fiction, steampunk, alternate history, western, pulp adventure, romance, and thriller. Surely, it seems like it should be too much, like there
I don't read a lot of steampunk. The Gail Carriger Parasol Protectorate series (though I count that as PNR more than anything, but I guess it does have steampunk qualities, so... *shrug*) and one or two others, and now this book. But my friend Colleen says that a lot of things are CALLED steampunk when they actually aren't - a distinction I'll likely never understand because I'm just not that into it to get the finer nuances of the steampunk genre/sub-genre stuff. (I'm bad at genre categorizatio ...more
Feb 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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 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 19t
Aug 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
I just loved this. Truly, one of the most memorable books I've read this year (excuse the unintentional pun) and surely the best steampunk Western out there. Bear evokes the past so brilliantly without being a slave to it, and puts goddamn PEOPLE in it without care to race, gender, sexuality in such a real and wonderful way. It's a fantastical plot, unbelievable to be sure, but in the best possible dime novel way. All the stereotypes - whore with a heart of gold, etc - are there but turned on th ...more
May 26, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi, fantasy
Once again I feel like I didn't read the same book as everyone else. Look - giving this 2 stars is me being generous here. I thought this book was ridiculous and unbelievable. I thought the plot was absurd and thin. Also, this book commits one of my largest book pet peeves - Love at first sight. We are basically told that Karen loves Priya - we never see it. I still have no idea what they saw in each other. This was just another book where I spent the entire time rolling my eyes and being super ...more
aPriL does feral sometimes
'Karen Memory' is a wonderful, almost literary, entertainment, full of inventive steampunk machines mixed into the actual true history of Pacific Northwest cities, probably mostly of Seattle, Washington, in my opinion. Author Elizabeth Bear doesn't forget to add in interesting characters and thrilling scenes!

The only issue I really had with this fun adventure is that while it started very strong with a literary exploration of a brothel and its multicultural lgbt residents in an alternative Weste
The Shayne-Train
Dec 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Well hellfire and tarnation, was this a dang excellent read!

Ok, I'm sorry. It's so hard for me not to talk (or type, as it were) in a Wild West type of way after finishing a Wild West type of book. Especially when it's narrated in the first person, so every sentence and paragraph is filled with downhome wisdom and pioneer metaphors and good ol' fashioned grammatical errors.

So, this was amazing. Exactly as I expected from Elizabeth Bear, whose fantasy 'Eternal Sky' series (which starts off with R
Finally, someone has managed to produce the steampunk novel that fulfills all the potential such a world has to offer! I love the aesthetics of steampunk, and the maker attitude that goes with it - but the fiction set in that world has almost always let me down. Not this time!

The almost-titular Karen Memery is an orphan who turned to seamstressing - and occasional sewing - to make a living in a world too busy to watch for all the fallen sparrows and soiled doves. She's smart and quick to fall in
Oct 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own, 2015
Karen Memory grabbed me from the very first line: "You ain't gonna like what I have to tell you, but I'm gonna tell you anyway." Here was a character I already wanted to spend an entire book with if Elizabeth Bear could keep up that voice, that spunk, that verve. She does, making the first line of the book a lie: I did like what Karen had to tell me.

Karen Memery is a "seamstress" in Madame Damnable's bordello in Rapid City, which Bear describes as a combination of 19th century Seattle, San Franc
Jul 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a rollicking good time with all the things you'd want to see in a steampunk western written for a 21st century audience. Steampunk devices everywhere, from cooking and surgical automata, to sewing machines and steam shovels that have more in common with battlemechs, to the traditional steampunk aesthetic vehicles like airships and submersibles. On the Western side of things you have a US Marshal and his Cherokee posseman tracking down a murderer, a bordello straight out of an old-ti ...more
I went into this book blind, and it was not at all what I was expecting from the title. I was expecting a story about memories being altered or stored or something like that, possibly cyberpunk. Instead, this is a steampunk novel set in the 1800’s with a kind of semi-wild west feel to it. It had a pretty slow start, although it did pick up steam as it went on.

The story is told from the first person POV of Karen Memery. I guess the title is a play on words and maybe intended to reflect the fact t
Fun and very readable, even if sometimes the story is a bit ridiculous. It wasn't all that memorable, but it was entertaining and I was never bored while reading. I did enjoy the setting and characters a great deal, so I think I'm likely to read the next book eventually. ...more
Megan Baxter
Jul 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
There are a lot of books that I have had rough relationships with the past little while. Those I struggled with partially liking, and partially being upset by. Books that didn't live up to their promise, and didn't surprise and amuse or challenge me. And then there's Karen Memory, which was so utterly delightful that I think I was only fifty pages in or so before I started telling people how much fun I was having reading this book.

Note: The rest of this review has been withheld due to the change
Jul 31, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015-read
I really enjoyed this book. Steampunk western is not my usual thing, but Bear does it perfectly as usual. Karen Memory is an adventurous tale that pays homage to its dime novel roots without being bound by its conventions. There is a cast of rich and memorable characters, and the story is written with Bear's trademark texture and finesse. At times the story goes over the top, but that is precisely the nature of this sort of tale, and in the end, it left me feeling very satisfied. ...more
At one point, I was considering giving this five stars, I was having so much fun with it. Some pacing issues towards the end, as well a tiny quibble with the ending brought me back down to earth, though. But overall, fun!

Karen Memory is a book I wasn't really looking forward to reading, for what reason I'm not sure. I'd never read Elizabeth Bear before (but will in future!), and sometimes Westerns just don't work for me (and other times I love them). But I pulled it out of the good ole TBR Jar,
This book was frustrating, because it had so many good elements that simply didn't gel. The whole is less than the sum of the parts.

The concept is fun, the ideas are neat, and I appreciate how rare it is to find a steampunk story that is Science Fiction rather than Fantasy. I even enjoyed the patois the book was written in.

But the problems overwhelm the good bits.

Let's start with the main character, Karen Memery (why it's changed for the title, I don't know. "Memory" as a concept or plot device
Jan 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobooks
Bear is a great writer, and I always enjoy the prose and stylings of her books. Karen Memory is about Karen Memery (uhh), a prostitute - sorry, "seamstress" - in a steampunkish late 1800s American city. Karen and her ragtag group of 'seamstresses' find themselves wrapped up in a battle with Peter Bantle (sp? I listened on audio), when one of Bantle's girls arrives, beaten and scared, seeking refuge in the brothel that Karen works at. Karen is immediately smitten with the young lady, but soon Ban ...more
I was in such a hurry to read this when it came out that I bought it on release day, started reading and — promptly got distracted, because I’d been reading it at clinic and then I didn’t go to clinic for a few weeks, and lost the thread, etc, etc. So I started it again today, and devoured it all in one go. I love the colloquial narration, which manages to skirt the line between feeling genuine and being annoying really well. I love the casual way characters of all colours and persuasions are a ...more
Oct 02, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Most importantly, Karen Memory, for all the grimness of its subject matter, brims with friendship and love and humor. This is a fantastic, fast-paced adventure that simply sparkles with wit and depth and compassion, all expertly narrated in Karen’s unique voice. I’m sure Elizabeth Bear’s many fans will already be all over this one, but if you’re new to the author, this is as good a place as any to get started. Highly recommended.

Read the entire review on my site Far Beyond Reality!
Dec 31, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy, steampunk
Full Review:

3.5 stars

In the beginning, the book introduces the reader into the life of Karen Memery. We get a great sense of her inner strength and drive and her personality. Karen is definitely a passionate person full of fire. She’s fun to read about and even more fun to root for (which is good, because there are plenty of opportunities in this book where Karen could use someone in her corner rooting for her to make it through). We also come to understa
Sep 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I can't even begin to explain all of the love I feel for this book! I wasn't entirely sure what to expect and around 75% I was afraid that the plot was going to fall on its face. Instead the author kicked it up a notch (or a few) and pulled off the damndest rollicking steampunk western I've ever had the privilege to read.

I loved all of the characters, who were all so eccentric, loveable, and as unique as any humans could ever be. In what other book do you find a delightful lack of white heterose
Sep 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
A steampunk story set in the old west. Our heroine is a ‘seamstress’ which, apparently is another name for prostitute. The bad guys are trying to shut down the houses of ill repute and take the Alaskan territory. The story is told through the POV of our heroine who is a wonderful character. She is refreshing and practical. She is saving her money to buy a horse farm and settle down after her seamstressing days are over.
What this book does that I really love is to take a real person in history
Kara Babcock
I would be lying if I said I read this book for reasons other than a) it's by Elizabeth Bear and b) it's received some good attention, particularly in a few of my Goodreads groups. I know this because I struggle to find something compelling to talk about in this review. There's not really one thing that hooks me about this book. It's not a time period I'm interested in. The whole "wild West" motif is something I usually don't go for. But I gave it a try, and while I didn't love Karen Memory, I d ...more
Apr 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
I'm a little ashamed to admit it's my first Elizabeth Bear novel, though I've read her short fiction. It's a rollicking steampunk tale, as told by the eponymous main character. She's a distinctive narrator, with a folksy English that could easily have been irritating in the wrong hands, but was instead endearing. It has it all: action, politics, cool inventions, memorable setting, memorable characters. Horse details that don't make me tear my hair out (you may know that's a pet peeve of mine.) I ...more
Peter Tillman
Reread, and I'm kicking it up to a full 5 stars. It's basically pulp fiction of the very highest order, and just a whole lot of fun to read. This might be my favorite Elizabeth Bear book, which is saying a lot. If you haven't read it yet, you should. My highest recommendation.

Here are the reviews I liked best here: If you prefer a short, sweet review, go for Robyn's:
If you like a long, full review, Moggsy's is the one I recommend:
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Articles featuring this book

Her Favorite Steampunk: Visit the steam-powered Wild West in Karen Memory, the latest from the speculative fiction author who offers her top five.
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“Some would say a whore don't have no expectation of Heaven. I'd say, if she gives value for cash, she's got a better shot at God's blessing than your average banker. Jesus loved Mary Magdalene. He kicked over tables when He met a moneylender.” 24 likes
“The Devil can quote scripture, after all. And monsters can say "please" and "thank you" same as any mother's son.” 11 likes
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