Review: The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter by Rod Duncan

Bullet-Catcher's Daughter

Series: The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire #1 | Genre: Fantasy/alternate history/steampunk | Format: NetGalley ARC | Publisher: Angry Robot Books | Publication date: 26th August 2014 (US & ebook); 4th September 2014 (UK print) | My rating: 4/5

Elizabeth Barnabus lives a double life – as herself and as her brother, the private detective. She is trying to solve the mystery of a disappearing aristocrat and a hoard of arcane machines. In her way stand the rogues, freaks and self-proclaimed alchemists of a travelling circus.

But when she comes up against an agent of the all-powerful Patent Office, her life and the course of history will begin to change. And not necessarily for the better…

The more I think on it, the more I realise how much I enjoy a good start to a promising series, whatever the genre. The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter is one such good start.

This is a clever little book. The premise, at least on the surface, might sound somewhat familiar – girl chafes at societal restrictions, girl dresses as boy and takes on quite scandalous profession, girl gets into spot of adventurous bother as a result. Now, I’m not saying I have any problem with this, because such a story in the hands of a capable writer can be well worth the reading time. Rod Duncan is, I suspect quite strongly, one such writer – because this book is more than just adventurous steampunk fluff. There is an impressively mapped world within this book; his alternate history angle isn’t just there for pretty decoration, but rather it raises some interesting, thought-provoking points about the potential effects of separation upon a formerly united nation (*looks very, very pointedly at UK current affairs*). Duncan takes these thoughts and the possible logical outcomes and sets a very intriguing, peril-ridden scene for our heroine – who is herself not your typical fluff dispenser.

Elizabeth Barnabus’s motivation for the double life she leads seems, at least on the surface, to be pretty straightforward – she has debts to pay, and in her alter ego as her ‘brother’, she intends to earn the money to pay them. Naturally, things don’t go according to her plan. Amidst all the danger and intrigue, however, there are some interesting relationships forming for her. Julia Swain (a would-be investigator herself) and her family represent a good, clean, wholesome alternative to the path Elizabeth chooses, even if they don’t remain blind to the trouble she ends up in. This eventually makes things pretty interesting for Elizabeth and Julia…

…But therein lies mild spoiler territory. Ahem. This way, ladies and gents…

There is a lot of setting-up being done in this book, which tends to be pretty much inevitable for any first entry to a series. What makes this one stand out among them is the consideration that’s gone into building this world. The divide between the Kingdom (south of the border, which in this case runs through Leicester) and the Anglo-Scottish Republic is, by this point in Duncan’s fictional time, pretty vast, culturally speaking. It’s worth tipping a hat to the author for the thought he’s put into making this world he’s built matter to the story, though at this point in our own time I suspect that taking it too seriously is a course best avoided…

But let’s not dampen the mood. As I said, this is a clever, enjoyable refreshment of a book (there’s a twist involving the title that I’m quite pleased to admit I didn’t see coming), and any fan of adventure, intrigue, steampunk or all three should certainly give it a try. I’m definitely glad I did, and I’ll be happy to return to the series for book two. Huzzah!

 

 

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