55327_girl-writing_mdThis novel was published by Tor Books.

Karen Memery lives in an alternate steampunk Seattle. She works as a whore at Madame Dammable’s Hôtel Mon Cherie, where the girls are treated well, unlike other establishments where immigrant girls are enslaved. When women start turning up dead, she meets Marshall Bass Reeves and his Comanche posseman and joins their investigation of Peter Bantle and his evil cohorts.

This didn’t work for me. I had serious disbelief issues early on. For example, Karen describes herself as “plump,” but then she’s athletic enough to defeat a man in a knife fight, considers jumping over the rail and running away and is saving money to buy a horse ranch. It doesn’t go with “plump.” The steampunk is questionable, too. Bantle has a mind-control machine and circus performers have jet packs, but they’re still using horses and wagons for transportation. And how does a steam-powered mind-control machine work, anyway?

There’s lots of diversity, as the cast includes Chinese, East Indian, Native American, black, gay and cross-dressing characters. However, they remain pretty much flat and undeveloped. All the white men are either villains or stupid while the Asians are stereotypically brilliant. Also, I don’t understand Karen. She’s is a lesbian, working as a whore to get a stake for the horse ranch. She’s two-faced, putting on one face for men and another for women. She apparently likes her work, but we get no insights into the sex trade as she sees it. There’s lots of social commentary here, but I didn’t like everything the novel said. Some of it seemed sexist and offensive.

I was more impressed with the Author’s Note, where Bear explains that she was trying to feature characters that have been ignored by history. Madame Dammable and Marshall Bass Reeves are real characters from the Old West, and Merry Lee is loosely based on Tye Leung Schulze, first Chinese woman to cast a ballot.

Two stars.

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