The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter is a strong start to the Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire series.
The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter unfolds in a world where the Luddite rebellion of the early 19th century succeeded in holding back the progress of technology. The nations of the world entered a compact to restrict scientific advancement. The powerful Patent Office, an international peacekeeping agency with broad powers, is constantly vigilant for “unseemly” technology that must be suppressed. Further, the Luddite rebellion resulted in the split of Great Britain into the Kingdom in the south and a Republic in the north.
Elizabeth Barnabus was the daughter of a famed circus showman in the Kingdom. When a ruthless aristocrat ruined her family, a young Elizabeth fled to the Republic. To survive, she leads a perilous double life, as both herself and her fictitious twin brother. Elizabeth works as a private intelligence operative, eking out enough of a living to sustain herself. Elizabeth accepts a job that could change her future, possibly paying enough to allow her to clear old debts and return to the Kingdom. She chases a runaway aristocrat, last seen in the company of a nomadic circus filled with shady, dangerous characters. Elizabeth risks her life to infiltrate the circus and then follows the missing man into the Kingdom, where she narrowly avoids arrest as a fugitive. Elizabeth keeps crossing paths with a dashing Patent Office agent with whom she shares a complicated attraction. A thorny climax unwittingly positions Elizabeth as an unlikely rebel.
Author Rod Duncan crafts a fascinating world for The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter. It’s the rare book that transposes the steampunk ethos to the current day, using it to build a complex alternate history that jumps off from a crucial real world event and spins the fictional world in a different, and quite creative, direction. Duncan finds subtle and inventive ways to illuminate the realities of this fictional universe, injecting enough of its history into the thriller structure to enhance the action without bogging it down.
Elizabeth is a great creation and Duncan develops her in compelling ways. He deploys her intelligence and creativity to demonstrate how she survives in difficult circumstances. Duncan makes Elizabeth’s longing for her lost family and past relatable, never mawkish. Her clear-eyed realism is leavened with a dash of hope. Throughout the course of the novel, Duncan demonstrates what an engine for change Elizabeth can be, even when she doesn’t quite mean to. He gives her a solid case to pursue, which takes some involving twists and turns. The circus denizens are colorful and well-drawn, communicating an appropriate level of menace. Elizabeth’s supporting cast is mostly solid, if not always memorable. Standouts include John Farthing, the Patent Office agent who develops an intriguing, complicated bond with Elizabeth, and Julia Swain, Elizabeth’s young protégé. The climax is smart and effectively positions Elizabeth for future adventures.
For fans of fantasy, steampunk and speculative fiction, The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter is a promising series launch that’s worth checking out.
Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on May 11, 2016.