Steampunk Heroines: Prudence by Gail Carriger and Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

18 Mar

Ed. Note: This is the 100th post to the Hoboken Library’s Staff Picks blog! A million thanks to our readers! 🙂

The Victorian Era is one often associated with women being the angels of the households concerned primarily with raising children and staying home, while men were off having adventures.  Steampunk stories often rewrite history and give women a more starring role than they would have often had at that time.  Two steampunk novels Prudence by Gail Carriger and Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear both feature strong women characters written by two terrific female Speculative Fiction Authors.

Prudence by Gail Carriger


Image via Amazon

Prudence is the first in Gail Carriger’s Custard Protocol series, a follow-up to her Parasol Protectorate series of books.  All of Carriger’s novels are set in an alternate British Empire where werewolves, vampires, and ghosts exist in addition to airships and other steam powered contraptions.  If you like to avoid spoilers be aware that it is difficult to discuss or read this series without revealing a few things that happen in the earlier books.  You can read my blog post about her earlier series here.  Rue (short for Prudence) has the ability to take on other supernatural beings’ powers while turning them into regular mortals (though this eventually wears out as she gets a certain distance from them).  Both her birth parents and adoptive father are well-off so Rue has led a pampered life.  The first half of Prudence sets up the series with Rue gathering a steamship crew in London for what she thinks is a mission to India involving a rare new form of tea.  Many of the crew includes the children of characters from the Parasol Protectorate series.  If you haven’t read the previous books this works to catch you up on things, but it is also of interest to those who are familiar with Carriger’s other books to see what has happened to some of those characters over the twenty years that have elapsed since TimelessPrudence takes a whimsical look at Victorian manners and is a fairly light read though it does hint at some of the historic issues of colonialism.  Rue proves herself to be a strong and competent leader as both a steamship captain and working as an ambassador to come up with a solution to a tricky political situation involving the supernatural community in India.  I appreciated that Carriger included some of the mythic creatures of India in Prudence that many readers in this country might not be as familiar with.  There are a few hints of romance, but I was unsure and intrigued to find out who Rue might wind up falling for by the end of the series.  With Prudence, Gail Carriger continues to be my favorite steampunk author.  I can’t wait to hear from her in person for the first time at the Steampunk World’s Fair happening in New Jersey this May.  In the fictional world, I’m looking forward to seeing in the next novel where this new crew of adventures chooses to float.

Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

Karen Memery unlike Rue does not come from a privileged background, but she has just as much spunk and spirit.  The book’s title is a misspelling of her name, which is very appropriate since Karen is very memorable.  Karen Memory is set in Rapid City, a fictional amalgamation of Pacific Northwest Cities like Portland, Vancouver, and Seattle where airships fly through the air and mechanicals are used for everyday tasks like cooking.  Karen’s father trained horses and was accidentally killed while working with one, leaving Karen an orphan.  Until she can save up the money for her own stable, she finds a position at Madame Damnable’s Sewing Circle at the Hôtel Mon Cherie, which is a nice way of saying brothel. Despite the nature of her and the other women’s work Karen Memory avoids describing their activities directly and the focus is more on their sense of sisterly comradery and general living conditions than their occupation.  Karen along with the other women of Hôtel Mon Cherie offer shelter to a women escaping from Peter Bantle who holds her indenture, which leads him to seek revenge all the while a murderer reminiscent of the Jack the Ripper is plaguing the streets.  It is much bleaker and less comedic in tone than Prudence and felt so well researched and atmospheric that if it were not for an occasional steam-powered device, I might have felt like I was reading a historical novel.  The action sequences at the end of Karen Memory would make a great movie, but there is also a sweet blossoming romance at the story’s heart.  I had been hearing many good things about Bear and after this novel, I definitely plan to seek out more of her work.

-Written by Aimee Harris, Head of Reference

3 Responses to “Steampunk Heroines: Prudence by Gail Carriger and Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear”

  1. lrg514 March 25, 2015 at 3:25 pm #

    And a million thanks to your knowledgeable and prolific bloggers, too.


  1. Historical Fantasies with Feisty Heroines by David D. Levine and R.S. Belcher | Hoboken Library Staff Picks - January 24, 2018

    […] these books; then check out my previous posts about Gail Carriger’s Steampunk series, Catherynne M. Valente’s Radiance, and Leanna Renee Heieber’s The Eterna Files, and Liesel […]

  2. 40 Years of Favorite Part Three: My Favorites From My Thirties | Hoboken Library Staff Picks - February 14, 2018

    […] probably written more about Gail Carriger’s works than any other author for this blog. I love the humor that infuses […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: