Jenny's Library

Posts Tagged ‘adventure

cover image for Karen MemoryKaren Memory by Elizabeth Bear

Karen Memery, like most citizens in Rapid City, is just trying to do what she can to get by, and maybe even save a little something for a better future.  But Fate has other plans for her.  Like falling in love, helping a US Marshal catch his man, and preventing a villain’s treasonous plot.

There ever so are many things to love about Karen Memory.  Its steampunk Wild West setting, Karen’s  practical and distinctive personality, and of course the developing relationship between Karen and Priya.  Most especially the way Karen falls so quickly and so hard, yet doesn’t let herself push Priya (who is suffering from trauma and worry for her sister) for more than she might want or be capable of.

I think what I like best about it though is the way that its fictionalized historical setting, rather than being used once again as an excuse to focus on the usual suspects or to write characters and situations that reinforce modern bigotry, becomes instead a way to highlight the truth that we – that all of us – have always been here all along.  Karen’s occupation as “seamstress” (and the tongue in cheek way that she talks about providing sexual services) works in tandem with this argument by demonstrating that respectable society’s views of those so often only written into the margins of history books has little to do with their lives, capabilities, and impact.

Karen Memory was originally conceived as a young adult novel (Karen herself is in her late teens), and it makes me incredibly sad and frustrated that the market is such that it instead was published under an adult imprint.  I believe it still works as a young adult novel – especially for older teens – and so I strongly encourage my fellow YA librarians to make sure your adult section has it handy for recommendations.  Need a book that has adventure, romance, mystery, friendship, lgbtqia content, characters from several different racial and ethnic backgrounds, steampunk contraptions, shootouts, and deals spectacularly well with sexual assault and consent?  Here is your book.

I just want to add two more content notes about Karen Memory, for my fellow librarians in particular:

First, that there were a few bits about Tomoatooah, the US Marshal’s posseman, that made me wish I could find a review of the book from someone more familiar with Comanche culture and Native American stereotypes in American literature.  He is very much a fully realized character, and is not portrayed in an intentionally negative light.  But some aspects of how he was written had me wishing I had a more knowledgable opinion to consult.

Secondly, I want to clarify that while much of the story takes place in a brothel, there is no actual depiction of sexual acts. Sex, sexual services, and sexual assault are all discussed – when it affects the characters and plot.  All of which I consider appropriate for teens.  But despite the setting, Karen Memory has no soft-core, male-gaze, porn-like descriptions of female characters or sexual acts, unlike a great many other adult SSF novels that are themselves recommended to teens all the time.

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cover image for The Tropic of SerpentsThe Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan

Despite the tragic events of her first expedition, Isabella remains determined to continue her study of dragons.  In their natural habitat, if possible.  Now there is an added urgency to her research, as Isabella – and her colleagues and sponsor –  fear that new information about dragon skeletons may threaten their survival. When the crew set off to a spot in Eriga known as the Green Hell in search of the swamp-wryms who dwell there, they are forced to face not only inhospitable habitats, but dangerous politics as well.

As I said in my review of the first book in this series, Brennan is attempting to do a thing here that I appreciate but I’m not quite certain about: Lady Trent’s world is clearly a colonial one, with all the problems and attitudes that creates, and Isabella has not been immune to such conditioning.  Her years of travel and research have taught her to view the world slightly differently, however, and so the Lady Trent that is narrating the expeditions has a less colonialist view than the Isabella whose actions we see.  It often becomes a clever way to acknowledge the problems of colonialism while being realistic about the kind of views a woman of Isabella’s position would have. I’m just not sure that it always works.

That said, I still absolutely adore these books as they are full of wonderful things that I love to pieces. Dragons! of course. Interesting ones that are as varied as any other real genus. Clever women who do Science! You get the idea. And running through it all, Lady Trent’s engaging personality and the pleasure of reading about an accomplished woman with a full life.

The Goblin EmperorThe Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

Maia has lived his life in exile, cast out with his mother from his father’s court.  Since her death he has been raised by a courtier who was more than happy to take his frustrations out on the friendless boy.  With three older brothers, no one ever expected the half-Goblin Maia to ascend to the throne.  But when a suspicious accident leaves the king and the elder princes dead, Maia is thrust into a dangerous and unfamiliar court.  Ostensibly the most powerful person in the land, Maia nevertheless is as isolated as ever.  Only now he’s trapped by custom and responsibility, and is almost certainly a target by those who covet his crown. Determined to do right by his people, Maia must somehow find a way to make allies and root out his enemies.

An absolute pleasure to read, The Goblin Emperor is a story of intrigue and suspense told on an intimate rather than epic scale.  Maia’s desire to be just and competent, to be the kind of ruler his people deserve, despite his lack of training, has us rooting for him from the start.  Don’t be fooled by this novel’s idealistic point of view and steady unfolding of events, there is plenty of nuance  here, and the narrative’s affirmation of the value of humanity (and goblinkind) is one based on a spectrum of experiences, not a black and white view of Good versus Evil.

I sincerely hope there is a sequel coming (or, at the very least, that we get more books by Addison) and I suspect this will become one of my comfort reads in years to come.