Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Great, Great, Great! A Review of The Bullet-catcher's Daughter.

The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter: The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire, Book 1 [Kindle Edition]

Rod Duncan Rod Duncan is a published crime writer. His first novel Backlash was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey Dagger, and he has since written three other novels (all Simon & Schuster UK), and had his first screenplay produced. His background is in scientific research and computing, and he lives in Leicester.

( Available for Pre-order. This item will be released on August 26, 2014.  I downloaded a review copy from NetGalley.com)

(Disclaimer:  I dowloaded this out of a feeling of solidarity with Angry Robot and the great authors on their list. This was, of course, before Angry Robot discontinued MY publisher, Exhibit A, without warning. I will attempt to be "fair and balanced" as one of my many previous employers would say.)

First, the headline. 

The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter is a wonderful book. Great writing, believable and enjoyable characters, clear and different alternate universe, and a story line that actually goes somewhere. Buy it, enjoy it.

Now, the precis of the book from Angry Robot. 

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…

 Finally, the review.

First off, I am really going to miss the artists and cover designers at Exhibit A/Angry Robot. The cover for my book, Courier, is probably the reason for half of my total sales. The cover design for Bullet-Catcher's Daughter (henceforth known as BCD,) is even more original, visually startling, and still ties directly to the story,

Gotta love dem Limey artists!

On to the story. I haven't read any of the other books by Rod Duncan but now, I plan to find all of them. BCD is the story of a brave, intelligent, and resourceful heroine (and a virtually identical hero) who are trying to make a living as Private Intelligence Gatherers in an England that ended the Civil War between the Cavaliers and the Roundheads with a peace treaty that divided the country in half. (In reality, the Roundheads chopped off the King's head, the Cavaliers fought back and won the war, and the Roundheads becames the Pilgrims who landed on Plymouth Rock.  Didn't get that tidbit of history in your high-school history?)

In addition, Ned Ludd, the semi-mythical weaver who became famous for destroying an automatic loom and gave us the term 'luddite' (which is only used in arguments between tech pundits these days.) led a successful uprising against the types of technology that put people out of work and made their lives a living hell, (In real life, the machines won and millions of workers were unemployed and starving until Margaret Thatcher forced them back to work.) To enforce the elimination of technology that was not in the interests of the human condition, an International Patent Office was established to rule on every invention and, at this point (which is 1973 as far as I can tell,) the entire world has signed on and the Patent Office is an Empire in all but name.

[By the way, I'm reporting the history in the book seriously but fooling around with my descriptions of reality. Go figure.]

OK, that's the world. It's an original and tight alternate universe that makes sense and allows for a great mixture of enormous balloons carrying people instead of trains, carnivals where the carney's live in brightly colored horse-drawn wagons, and very modern bureaucracies. You've got smuggling, pigeon post, religious humility facing aristocratic arrogance across a border and many other cool mazes for the author to run his characters through.

And he does run them. It's all centered on Elizabeth Barnabus and she's one of the best female characters I've read in a long time. Smart, tough, resourceful and determined, she is still capable of honest emotions and practical solutions. A refreshing change from the blood-soaked heroines of too many noir titles and the sex-obsessed wimps of too many romance novels.

The plot involves a normal intelligence assignment that grows into a life-threatening disaster that requires our heroine to race down country lanes and across international borders. It's reasonable and yet has twists at the end that which will catch you by surprise.

More than anything else, I enjoyed the writing. It was simply excellent: descriptive without being cloying, alien without being silly, and, I have no idea where Duncan learned so much about traveling carnivals and their unique language, customs, and signals.

Bullet-Catcher's Daughter is a great read. I looked forward to picking it up on my iPad every time. I never cringed at some phrase or description and I ended up lost in the adventures of Ms. Barnabus.

With any luck, Angry Robot will have better luck than Exhibit A and we can look forward to many more "Gas-lit Empire" novels.

(Damn you Marc Gasgoigne!!)


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