Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

If contemporary Seattle is an apt setting for cyberpunk thrillers, it stands to reason that nineteenth-century Seattle should serve just as well for a steampunk adventure. Bear’s new novel follows the title character’s life as a bordello girl working along Puget Sound, from which steam-powered airships take gold prospectors up and down the western mountain ranges. But in the seedy dockside world of the Pacific Northwest frontier, the opportunities for criminals with powerful technology in their hands are ripe. Fans of the steampunk aesthetic will appreciate Bear’s affectionate treatment of the style. Weapons, gadgets, and their places in the characters’ lives put together a charmingly inventive fictional Seattle, ­especially for those readers bringing along some knowledge of the city’s nascent history. Karen’s first-person narration can feel a bit inconsistent with her swapping between eloquence and intentionally ungrammatical slang, but she always manages to hit the spot when her descriptions need to set the mood. — Booklist