Karen Memory is a lot of fun, but I’m sure she’d find a much more colorful way to say that. The hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold at the center of this delightful steampunk/Western mashup may not speak textbook-perfect English, but her quirky colloquialisms lend a rollicking feel to her adventures, which are many and varied. By night Karen works for Madame Damnable in the classiest brothel in town, but with a serial killer on the loose and girls turning up on the doorstep seeking refuge, the least interesting thing Karen does all day is what she does on her back.
I haven’t read a ton of steampunk, so I’m still getting the hang of the way their alternate histories hang reality ever so slightly askew on its hinges. Some aspects of the novel ground it clearly in the mid-1800s (the marshal Karen teams up with to fight the town’s evil forces is a former slave), while others introduce cool but surreal anachronistic touches (airships, a giant diesel powered sewing machine). As in most fantasy novels, there’s a big climactic fight scene, which is probably great if you’re into that, but just makes my eyes glaze over. I was much more engaged in the romance between Karen and love interest Priya, who is trying to save her sister from the clutches of an evil man who doesn’t treat his charges nearly as well as Madame Damnable does hers.
I listened to the audio version, which was good overall. Madame Damnable is endlessly creative with profanity, and hearing her foul-mouthed ranting read aloud really tickled me. However, the narrator had an odd and distracting habit of taking loooooooong breaks for commas and periods, which constantly knocked me out of rhythm as I listened. I don’t want to listen to a reader with a total monotone, but a steadier pace would have served the book well.