Book Review: Stone Mad

Stone Mad (Karen Memory, #2)Stone Mad by Elizabeth Bear
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Okay, first things first. If you haven’t already met Karen Memery and read about her first adventure in the (almost) eponymously titled Karen Memory then I heartily recommend you go grab that book now. It isn’t absolutely necessary to do so in order to enjoy this second adventure, but it does help, and it’s a cracking good read. Also, there may be some spoilers to book one in this review.

So now that’s out of the way, how does this novella length sequel shape up? Well, I have to say it’s at least as good as the first, maybe even just a little bit better. The main story here follows Karen as she investigates what may or may not be a genuine haunting at the local upmarket restaurant and hotel. Along the way she locks horns with almost everyone she comes into contact with, including her lover and partner from the previous book, Priya. When a couple of young spiritualist sisters start making the tables rattle during Karen and Priya’s intimate dinner date, things take a turn for the dramatic and Karen is soon rushing around trying to save everyone (including herself) from certain death while simultaneously worrying if she’s caused irreparable damage to her fledgling relationship.

This is a fast-paced haunted house mystery with a weird western twist, though it still manages to find time in the narrative to drop a few pearls of wisdom and insight. There are a few oblique references to the events and aftermath of the first book, but these don’t directly affect the story laid out here. It helps that the shorter length of this novella means the reader is almost immediately dropped into the story, though given that we’re being told the story in Karen’s words she does occasionally take us around the houses before getting to the matter at hand. And that’s just one of the many things I absolutely love about these books – Karen’s voice.

I’ve only read a few of Elizabeth Bear’s books so far but one thing I have found is that she is incredibly good at giving her narrators their own voice, and in this book Karen’s voice is note perfect. She really does sound and feel like the slightly lost but irrepressibly take-charge young woman she’s meant to be, even if sometimes that take-charge attitude is more troublesome than she’d be willing to admit. In this instance her attitude almost causes her to lose her girl, her future and her life, the latter on more than one occasion.

It’s a rollicking good read, and one I’d definitely recommend, especially if you enjoyed the previous book. I’m giving it four and half stars, and really hope we’re going to see more of Karen and her friends in the future.

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