"You ain't gonna like what I have to tell you, but I'm gonna tell you anyway. See, my name is Karen Memery, like memory only spelt with an e, and I'm one of the girls what works in the Hôtel Mon Cherie on Amity Street. 'Hôtel' has a little hat over the o like that. It's French, so Beatrice tells me."
Set in the late nineteenth century-in a city a lot like what we now call Seattle Underground-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.
Hard on the heels of that horrifying discovery comes a lawman who has been chasing this killer for months. Marshal Bass Reeves is closing in on his man, and he's not about to reject any help he can get, even if it comes from girl who works in the Hôtel Mon Cheri.
Elizabeth Bear brings alive this Jack-the-Ripper yarn of the Old Steampunk West with a light touch in Karen's own memorable voice, and a mesmerizing evocation of classic steam-powered science in Karen Memory.