Steampunk Review: ‘Karen Memory’ by Elizabeth Bear

Gentle readers you might not know this about me but I am a shitkicker to the core. I may Karen Memoryput 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, spelled like Memory but with an ‘e’ there in the middle. She may not be from Oklahoma but with that accent I could sure enough take her home to meet my grandma. She is in Seattle territory, back before the states were all carved up, or maybe never will be since this ain’t your granpappy’s old west; there are airships and steam powered autotrons bouncing around that can’t be seen in any old pictures I have ever laid my eyes on. Karen is a simple girl, which don’t mean stupid, mind. She got enough lernen to read and has a real keen mind. But damned if her accent didn’t make me think of family here and gone. I fell back into it and so far ain’t looked back.

She calls herself a stargazer, and she pays her taxes as a seamstress, and I don’t think you need a schoolmarm to tell you what that means. She got lucky though, fell in with the right type of lady who runs a better sort of house. Only has to take those clients that she needs and the house muscle don’t let anything rough happen. Got herself a dream too, saving up to run with a stable of her own liker her and her daddy used to work before…well, just before. Would be no kind of story at all though if trouble didn’t come around, or maybe it would be a different kind of story, but this is the kind of story were trouble does end up coming around.

A ground war is brewing, with Karen’s Madame facing a bad sort of man who runs his own group of stargazers but in a whole different way. When two girls come to the door all bloody like a spark is hit that threatens to build quick. One of the girls escaped from Peter Bandel, the Madame’s main competition in towns a right swarmy heel. The other gal is the one doing the break out, and has a reputation for doing it more than once. Peter damn sure wants back what he reckons is his by right, servitude he don’t call slavery even with the lack of choice involved. It all goes to hell from there. Enter a U.S. Marshall chasing a serial killer, a little gun play and some steam contraptions, and a hell of a lot of people usually found sitting in the corner of a book instead standing up and taking action.

Shitkicker I may be but a long ways from the worst of the hick side of my family I sit. I love seeing a diverse cast take over a story completely. Did I mention Karen might lay with men, but paying is the only reason that would ever happen? No I didn’t because it don’t matter much where Karen’s attention lays; at least until it does. Because when she finds love she fights for it with the same fire as anyone else would. The Hotel Mon Cherry ain’t just color blind, it is completely blind. Women who are part of the madam’s circle are loved and cherished, no matter their color or where their attraction lays or even if they have a little something extra under their skirt. Don’t mean Seattle is suddenly the most enlightened town in the West, not at all. But a group of outsiders that stick together can do all right for themselves.

Call a spade a spade. Karen Memory (note the spelling, with an ‘e it is a name, but if that ‘o’ is there I am talking about the book and not the person), is a fast paced dime novel. This is a cast to adore, sure, but it ain’t no character study. Adventure full of twists and turns, gun play and chases, and a few gizmos doing what they do make up the base of this tale. Louis L’Amore sits on a good many shelves in my family, bout the only books to be found outside of the bible, and as far as I know the man wrote one book forty different times.   Black hats take the girl and the cowboy gets her back. And that is what we got, excepten the cowboy is a seamstress who ain’t afraid to rough it up with the boys (or if she is she puts on her brave face and does it anyway). And she got a posse of men and women of every color and walk of life right there with her to back up her moves. Even the damsel of Karen’s tale don’t lay back and wait, doing her fair share throughout to make sure the black hats don’t carry the day.

I ain’t too certain this a book I will always remember. It is a simple story after all. But I am also pretty damn sure I haven’t done my reading of a single book this fast in quite some time. Karen Memory is a tale full of diverse characters but it don’t lean on that as its crutch nor a gimmick; it just runs a fun story using the people that have always been there but don’t always get their face on the cover.

One last thing, any character that knows what a Tobiano is, even in just a single mention. Well, she is all right by me.

4 Stars

Copy for review provided by publisher.

Tagged by Lynn- Nathan answers some questions.

I am sure by now most of you have seen this tagging game going around.  And Lynn decided she hates me and forced me at gun point to answer all these questions.  Well, pointed a tagging at my head maybe.

So behold, more about me than anyone ever needed to know!  Enjoy.


  1. Nathan, because it is short for Nathanial (yes, my mom spelled it different than the norm).
  2. Nate- My mother hated this, but coaches go for the shortest name possible.  Nate was standard while I played Soccer.
  3. Barney- Not as much as other family members get, but occasionally, based on my last name..
  4. Red – Well, they did when I still had hair at least.  I miss having hair sometimes.  Stupid genetics, I AM ONLY 33 DAMN IT!


  1. Produce Clerk – My high school/early college job.  Actually enjoyed this quite a bit, but the store was slowly going out of business
  2. Pet Store –  Met a couple of my best friends here and learned I love birds.  Bad side, pretty much ruined pet stores for me.  I learned about puppy mills, bad reptile conditions, and basically spent the last six months fighting with the owners.  Good side, my knowledge of birds was the reason my parrot’s former owner came to me and offered Jerry to me for free.  He had to move and wanted Jerry taken care of.
  3. Waiter/Bartender –  I put my time in.  Ever bartended during Kareoke?  I don’t recommend it.  You will never be able to hear Sweet Caroline without wanting to punch someone.  The good news?  Met my wife on a slow night there.  So that damn dive will always have a place in my heart.
  4. Current one with a large company.  Product rep.  I don’t mention the company because they have people who scan social media for references and who knows, I may need to do some major cussing in the future.  But thus far they have treated me pretty good.


  1. Star Wars -Duh
  2. Tombstone – Outside of The Emperor’s New Groove this is the most quotable movie I know.
  3. Monty Python and the Holy Grail – Double duh.
  4. Super Troopers – I know, I know.  But I kid you not on this.  I brought this home because it was in a clearance bin for four bucks.  Over the next week my roommate and I showed to every friend we had.  I am positive we watched it six times that week.


  1. Really?
  2. I write
  3. Book
  4. Blog


  1. Fort Collins, Colorado – My birthplace and I didn’t leave until I was 26.
  2. Another house in Fort Collins, Colorado – Moved out of my parant’s place and ended up living with the same roommate for 4 years.  We had a couple of ‘other roommates,’ but only one is still called ‘my roommate.’
  3. Enid, Oklahoma –  For two months I worked my aunt and uncles farm.  Mostly building fences.  Just because I needed something to do when I was 15 and couldn’t drive yet.
  4. Mead, Colorado – Brave old me moved twenty miles down the road to a small town that is a half hour from anywhere I want to go.


  1. Idaho – Because my parents have moved there
  2. California – Because it is where people in the US go to vacation
  3. Ohio – Not yet actually, but business is taking me there in a month.
  4. Mexico –  Just Tijuana though.  For all of a couple hours.  But this is the only time I have left the U.S.



  1. Sleeping – But if I could sleep I wouldn’t be typing
  2. At my parents – Because they spoil me and watch the kid when we visit
  3. Central America – Would love to go see all my favorite birds in the wild.
  4. Endor – As long as the Ewoks remember people are not food.


  1. Broccoli – Is there anything that can contaminate food worse?  If it so much as touches the food then it is the only taste to be found.
  2. Mushrooms – Oh ya, there is something that contaminates foods worse than broccoli.
  3. Steak- Oh, I will eat it.  But a steak is wasted on me so don’t waste your money.  I would rather chop the meat up and make tacos.
  4. Ice cream that isn’t vanilla based.  Don’t ruin the perfect things in life.


  1. Burritos- Flour tortilla, re-fried beans, cheese.  I will take other toppings or fillings, but I can eat this for any meal.
  2. Sugar Cereal –  Preferable with little marshmallows.  No, I never grew out of it.
  3. Salsa – Hot salsa, preferably with lots of cilantro.
  4. Candy – I have the worse sweet tooth you have ever seen. Ask my wife.


  1. Firefly – The only sci-fi that my wife likes.
  2. Scrubs – Favorite show in my house.  We own all the box sets and rewatch them one a night.
  3. Big Bang Theory – Yes, it is not the worlds greatest show.  But it is good background noise
  4. Sports – Really this is the most likely thing to be on our TV.


  1. New job – Same company, but a new position.  Starts sometime this month.
  2. Vacation – Usually go spend a week with my folks in the summer.  Always a good trip.
  3. Saturdays – New job cuts down the amount of these I have to work in a a major way.
  4. Good books, good beer, lots of family time.


  1. “If you fuck with the bull, you get the horns.” A phrase I stole from my dad.
  2. “Love you too” – To my 4 year old, many times a day.
  3. “Are you pondering what I’m pondering” – My wife and I both have fond memories of Pinky and the Brain.
  4. “It is hard to be humble” – An old country song my wife dedicated to me.  Apparently I need to learn more humility?  I am also know to say “I crack myself up.”


I break chain letters, I do!  I tag none of you.  But feel free to do it if you want.


Tough Traveling with E.L. Tettensor – Master of Plagues Blog Tour

As promised yesterday, this week’s topic will be covered by the wonderful E.L. Tettensor Master of Plagues (Nicolas Lenoir, #2)as part of the blog tour for her new book, Master of Plagues, second entry to the Nicolas Lenoir series.  I loved the first book, Darkwalker, and reviewed it here.  Thank you so much for taking part of our weekly fun.

This week’s topic is LAW ENFORCEMENT

Seems odd to think that in fantasy cities in which entire economies revolve around crime there is room for the men in blue (or crimson, or whatever). But the law does the best it can, even when faced with magic, mystical creatures, or rogue deities.


I don’t know much about law enforcement, historical or contemporary, but I knew that I wanted my protagonist, Inspector Nicolas Lenoir, to be part of a formal police service, rather than a lone wolf. So when it came time to create the Kennian Metropolitan Police, I was faced with the choice of either researching policing in early industrial Europe, or just letting fly with my imagination. In the end, I opted for a blend of the two. After doing a bit of light research (emphasis on the light), I used the example of London’s famous police service as a sketch – and then proceeded to colour outside the lines.

The result was a police force in the throes of a slow and painful pivot from City Guard to something more robust, something better suited to the new realities of a city facing an unprecedented period of urbanisation. When we first encounter the Kennian Metropolitan Police, the institution is already over a decade old. Its star inspector, Nicolas Lenoir, has done a lot to professionalise the force, but it still has a long way to go. The “hounds”, as city police are known, are in woefully short supply, and most of them have minimal training. Corruption and incompetence are rife. Capable officers like Sergeants Kody and Izar are hard to come by; capable inspectors even more so, at least as far as Lenoir is concerned. Chief Reck seems to agree, since he throws the toughest, most important cases Lenoir’s way.

The hounds have an uneasy relationship with ordinary Kennians, who still aren’t used to the idea of what seems to them like a quasi-military force patrolling their streets. Although the watchmen carry only a truncheon, senior officers are issued sabres and flintlock pistols (except Sergeant Kody, who prefers to carry a crossbow, not trusting the unreliable flintlocks not to blow up in his face.) Kennians are suspicious of these well-armed men of unproven worth, and not always happy to cooperate. That goes double for the residents of the slums, especially the Adali, a race of foreigners who are all too accustomed to being the first port of call for any police investigation.

Readers familiar with early nineteenth century London will certainly recognise the Met as the scaffolding behind the KMP. There’s nothing unusual in that; in fact, the Metropolitan Police Service has served as the inspiration for dozens, if not hundreds, of fantasy novels – including the first instalment on my list.

So without further ado, here it is:

The Peter Grant books by Ben Aaronovitch. Rivers of London kicks off the series, introducing us to Grant, “Police Constable, apprentice wizard and all round nice guy”. Grant is on the career path to nowhere when, following a surprise encounter with a ghost, he’s recruited into a special branch of the Metropolitan Police that deals with the supernatural. Four novels later, he’s still chasing gods and ghosts. Carry on, Peter.

The Garrett, P.I. series by Glen Cook. Classic P.I. noir in the vein of Dashiell Hammett, but set in a secondary world. The city of TunFaire has elves, vampires, trolls – you name it, not to mention a corrupt and inefficient police force in the Watch.

And of course, no list of law enforcement in fantasy would be complete without mentioning Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. Ankh-Morpork’s City Watch definitely influenced my thinking in designing the Metropolitan Police, and particularly the constabulary system set up in the outlying villages. In fact, I think Constable Crears’s red hair might be an unconscious homage to Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson. To be sure, though, Lenoir is no Sam Vimes! E.L. Tettensor

About the Author
E.L. Tettensor likes her stories the way she likes her chocolate: dark, exotic, and with a hint of bitterness. She has visited more than fifty countries on five continents, and brought a little something back from each to press inside the pages of her books. She is also the author of the Bloodbound series, writing as Erin Lindsey. She lives with her husband in Bujumbura, Burundi.

You can follow E.L. Tettensor on Twitter and Facebook.


Tough Travels – Law Enforcement


Each Thursday, our copy of ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.

This week’s topic is LAW ENFORCEMENT

Seems odd to think that in fantasy cities in which entire economies revolve around crime there is room for the men in blue (or crimson, or whatever). But the law does the best it can, even when faced with magic, mystical creatures, or rogue deities.

This is a wonderful topic.  And I promise you I have LOTS of examples to choose from.  I do!  I am not an inherently lazy person, it PAINS me to avoid the list this week.  Really!  Not just enjoying a New Belgium brew here.

But this is not my week.  I admit I duped you all.  I made YOU do all the work while I did nothing.  I even have an author, a wonderful one who has been incredibly patient with a certain blogger who can’t even get his days of the week strait

So please, continue with the linking up here.  And THEN, come back tomorrow to see a list on this site.  A post that, and this is just one man’s opinion, is the best Tough Travel post ever grace Fantasy Review Barn.

So I need you all to promise to come back.  You will come back, right?

Good, that is sorted out.

Oh, but you still want a topic for next week, don’t you?  How about this…

Join us next week as we look at EVIL LAIRS

The evil lair is where a great fantasy villain will spend the plurality of his or her time. (Topic provided by Christopher Scott Hand).

If you have a topic you want to see us cover, or if you have an entry for next week’s post but don’t have your own blog to put it on, please head over to the main Tough Traveling page and fill out the form at the bottom.

As always thanks for joining, feel free to join along at any time, and please check out my fellow travelers!

Fantasy Review: ‘The City Stained Red’ by Sam Sykes


The City Stained Red“There is a point at which a man ceases to use his men to secure his own fortune and starts using it to secure the fortunes of others…usually, for himself.”

It can be considered a good sign if only a few pages into a book I am looking around for someone to read passages to. Be it for humor or depth of thought I like to share what I am reading. Usually no one cares, but occasionally a quote is so good it elicits a chuckle from others even without context. The City Stained Red gave me a good vibe almost immediately.

A mercenary group who follows an adventurer named Lenk chases their mysterious benefactor to a new city in order to get payment…and hits a dead end. Lenk has an image in his head of putting down the sword and starting over; but he needs that last paycheck. Perhaps naively he assumes this is a path that will work for his companions. But pretty dreams are no match for reality. Behind the silk based riches Cier’ Djaal is a city on the edge. Not only is it being eyed as a prize by a couple of stronger foreign powers (held in check by each other more than anyone in the city itself), there is internal tension threatening as well. As is the pattern in an adventurer’s life avoiding these troubles is going to prove impossible.

The City Stained Red is a continuation of the Aeon’s Gate series. But it doesn’t require previous books to be read. The various back stories are woven in smoothly, letting a new reader to the series catch up but never felling overly redundant to someone who has read Sykes before (even if it was several years ago in my case). Be warned though, this book is a commitment. Expect no resolutions here; this is most definitely the start of what appears to be a truly epic series.

Sykes impresses with the way he blends here. A very serious and fairly dark tale is blended with great wit and wordplay. I dare say The City Stained Red contains some of the most entertaining dialog I have read recently, made even better by how natural it feels to the characters. Also blended in this tale is a great mix of the familiar with the completely unique. Yes, there is a D&D party feel to Lenk’s group with the soldier, the mage, the healer and the muscle all present. But each of them seems to different than their stereotypical archetype that I didn’t really consider it until a ways in. And outside of the familiar creatures are some completely unique ones. The traders who use random paintings as a mask are probably my favorite but a sentient group that made me think of the Cheshire Cat are a close second.

There ought to be a formula that takes into account a book’s length vs how long it really feels. In this case the story flew by; never felling like the epic brick of a book it really is. There is rarely a dull moment through that doesn’t come only from no-stop action. There are no wasted pages. When not in heavy action mode we are learning about the city, or expanding on a characters’ background, or enjoying some of that great wordplay mentioned earlier.

With such a large cast it would be easy to lose a character or two but each felt necessary. The ensamble cast goes their various ways and I was happy to follow each of them. A massive collection of identity crises would be the best way to describe it; Lenk’s determination to leave the life behind they had all lived together forces each of them to reevaluate everything. A dragonman wondering about his loyalty, a healer who has a surprisingly relaxed approach to violence, an enigma whose past is suddenly snapped back to the present are all compelling paths. But it is the relationship between Lenk and Kataria that shines. Neither can ever live the life the other can do due to racial differences (Kataria’s ork-like people are looked upon with much distrust in human society. It is one of the most human relationships I can imagine; bad communication, misunderstandings, and lots of mistakes but still unmistakably a kind of love.

Not a lot of negative to point out. While I love the epic nature it was a rough story to jump into; lots of names, places, and past deeds to start learning. The ensemble cast each had their part to play it jumping between them sometimes hurt the flow. I am also used to each volume of a tale to have at least a little bit of a resolution. Not so here. Disappointment that I don’t know how the story ends probably shouldn’t count against the book though.

4 Stars

Copy for review provided by publisher.


Tough Travels – Pets


Each Thursday, our copy of ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.

The topic this week is PETS

Everybody needs somebody to love. And the best companionship doesn’t always come from the same sentient group, does it? Be it furry or scaled, large or small, sometimes an animal companion is the best thing a person can have. (Thank you to my wife for this week’s topic).

For those curious I have three pets living in my house.  Two small dogs (both terriers) and a Blue Head Pionus parrot.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Harry Potter, #1)Hedwig Harry Potter – Nothing to do with an angry inch, I would be shocked if Hedwig needs any introduction at all. Snow white owl of pure awesome. As a bird lover this is a no brainer. I could have ended the list here. Truly, I do love Hedwig.

I say this every time but it is true. I miss Harry Potter.

Greebo Discworld by Terry Pratchett – The sweetest cat in the history of the world, at least to Nanny. The rest of the world sees Greebo for what he really is, borderline pyscopath who smells (in other words, a cat).

Greebo also picks up a habit in later books, due to a bit of magical tinkering, of turning into a naked sex-magnet of a man at inopportune times.  So ya, think about that as he is rubbing against your leg purring.

Choplicker A Crown for Cold Silver by Alex Marshall – I am totally cheating here so I A Crown for Cold Silverknow I had at least one entry no one else had. Choplicker is an old hound dog owned by an old woman met at the top of the hill. Just an old, slobbering, hound.

And if you bought that then you probably bought the frail old woman act. Old Choplicker isn’t the most loyal companion around, but he seems to be there when it counts. Wouldn’t worry about him that much though, he tends to be more active in the cleanup.

Lady Gray Wind Nymeria – A Song of Ice and Fire by GRRM Seriously, the series needs more Dire Wolf. You know what I am talking about. We know Martin drops people like they are bad apples on a regular basis, but you know we are at only 66% of our original wolf count? And I know all of you cried the first time a dog died. Don’t like to me. I see right through you.

Stopping here because otherwise I may have gone back to Harry Potter and just worked through Hagrid’s full menagerie.

Join us next week as we look at LAW ENFORCEMENT

Seems odd to think that in fantasy cities in which entire economies revolve around crime there is room for the men in blue (or crimson, or whatever). But the law does the best it can, even when faced with magic, mystical creatures, or rogue deities.

If you have a topic you want to see us cover, or if you have an entry for next week’s post but don’t have your own blog to put it on, please head over to the main Tough Traveling page and fill out the form at the bottom.

As always thanks for joining, feel free to join along at any time, and please check out my fellow travelers!