Jenny's Library

Posts Tagged ‘steampunk

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 Killer of EnemiesKiller of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac

Seventeen year old Lozen’s life has never been exactly easy.  Her family was never among those who could afford genetic modifications or the latest tech implants.  But once upon a time they had their own home, and pets, and her father and uncle were still alive.  Now it’s just Lozen, her younger siblings, and their mother – and all four of them are trapped behind prison walls that exist to keep monsters out and them in.  Lozen knows how to hunt the monsters though – that’s why The Ones in charge have let her and her family live.  It’s also why they hold her family hostage, ensuring her compliance.  Lozen knows that if she can just manage to get them all outside of Haven’s walls and out of sight of the guards, they’ll be able to once again survive and live on the land that her people have called home for centuries.

I really wanted to love this book. She’s a monster hunter, for goodness sake!  (Plus, how many dystopias are out there that feature Native American characters?) And for the first third or so, I did love it.  But the pacing grew increasingly uneven, our introduction of each succeeding villain became too repetitive, and one of the twists just didn’t quite work for me.  Still, it’s a good book, with some very excellent lines and scenes, and think it should be in every library’s young adult collection.

cover image for Etiquette & EspionageEtiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger

Sophronia does an excellent job of getting herself into trouble and embarrassing her older sisters, but she is perpetually floundering, stumbling, and tripping when it comes to being a proper young lady.  Fortunately (for her mother’s nerves, if nothing else) Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality is willing to take Sophronia in.

Gail Carriger’s Finishing School books are set in the same alternate steampunk universe as her Parasol Protectorate series, so of course Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy is not quite what Sophronia expected, and her lessons include much more than how to curtsey properly.  Yet, it’s full purpose, and her reason for being there, remain a mystery to her long after she climbs on board (yes, on board), creating a useful narrative trick for controlling the pace and for keeping readers guessing – and turning the pages.

It’s the kind of story that would likely come across as a bit overdone and over the top if it were written by someone else, but Carriger manages to carry it off with style.

Unfortunately, there is a rather large misstep about a third of the way through the book, when the only character of color is introduced in a way that isn’t at all logical or appropriate.  While this same character is shown in an admirable light for the rest of the book, that doesn’t excuse the author and editor leaving in a description that makes no sense and is based on caricatures.  Which is a shame, because the rest of the book is delightful.  It tweaks it’s nose at gender conformity, flirts a bit with critiques of class and inequality, and isn’t afraid to show complex relationships among female personages.