Review: Bohemian Gospel by Dana Chamblee Carpenter

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Thirteenth-century Bohemia is a dangerous place for a girl, especially one as odd as Mouse, born with unnatural senses and an uncanny intellect. Some call her a witch. Others call her an angel. Even Mouse doesn’t know who—or what—she is. But she means to find out.

When young King Ottakar shows up at the Abbey wounded by a traitor’s arrow, Mouse breaks church law to save him and then agrees to accompany him back to Prague as his personal healer. Caught in the undertow of court politics at the castle, Ottakar and Mouse find themselves drawn to each other as they work to uncover the threat against him and to unravel the mystery of her past. But when Mouse’s unusual gifts give rise to a violence and strength that surprise everyone—especially herself—she is forced to ask herself: Will she be prepared for the future that awaits her?

I ended up liking this book a lot more than I thought I would and even though the ending was a bit rushed, I am curious about what happens in the sequel. Mouse is a vibrant character who is ostracized by no fault of her own. Her powers and parentage leave her at a loss with how to deal with the world and the demons that haunt her are incredibly dangerous. The fantasy element of the story never felt forced and it was almost an element of horror rather than fantasy in that Mouse was always in danger and is never able to free herself from monsters that follow her powers.

The romantic element is understandable as Mouse pines for Ottaker, but her heritage and his duties as king keep them apart. The main question of who Mouse’s parents actually were remains hinted at throughout the entire book. I made a guess myself, but it wasn’t completely clear until the end. I wasn’t sure if I’d be sold on this whole concept as a book, but it turned out being very interesting and a good plot.

4 out of 5

Review: Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

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Set in the late 19th century—when the city we now call Seattle Underground was the whole town (and still on the surface), when airships plied the trade routes, would-be gold miners were heading to the gold fields of Alaska, and steam-powered mechanicals stalked the waterfront, Karen is a young woman on her own, is making the best of her orphaned state by working in Madame Damnable’s high-quality bordello. Through Karen’s eyes we get to know the other girls in the house—a resourceful group—and the poor and the powerful of the town. Trouble erupts one night when a badly injured girl arrives at their door, begging sanctuary, followed by the man who holds her indenture, and who has a machine that can take over anyone’s mind and control their actions. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the next night brings a body dumped in their rubbish heap—a streetwalker who has been brutally murdered.

To start out with, you have to hand it to a book for being this incredibly diverse. Not only is the main character queer, other main characters include a trans woman, African American bounty hunter (a real person, btw), Native Americans, Indian women, and a variety of sex workers treated with respect by the author. And it is a rip snorting steampunk adventure. Karen, whose last name is actually “Memery” so the title is a bit of a misnomer, is intelligent and honest and very aware of her situation as a prostitute. I appreciated the fact that nothing about the women’s profession was glamorized, nor was it really judged either. There was no details about their work, but you understood what was happening.

My only complaint would be that the love interest was a bit flat as a character. I bought into Karen and all the other characters, but not her so much. The rest of the story was a high octane adventure that didn’t overwhelm with steampunk details and used a good bit of actual history to base itself.

4 out of 5