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Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire #1

The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter

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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…

375 pages, Paperback

First published August 20, 2014

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About the author

Rod Duncan

13 books215 followers
Rod Duncan worked in scientific research and computing before settling in Leicester to be a writer. His first novel, Backlash, was short-listed for the John Creasey Memorial Award (now the CWA Debut Dagger).

After four crime novels he switched to fantasy. The Bullet Catcher's Daughter was nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award. He is currently writing a series of alternate history books, called ‘The Map of Unknown Things'.

Rod is also a screenwriter, and was once eaten alive in the feature film Zombie Undead.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 475 reviews
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,855 reviews1,889 followers
July 22, 2020
Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: 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…

July 2020 UPDATE The first book in the series featuring Elizabeth Barnabus is on Kindle sale for $1.99!!

My Review: Fantasy novel. Four-and-a-half stars. Why are you still staring at this screen? Click over to Amazon or whichever bookery you patronize and order one. It is a Moral Imperative. Seriously.

1/19/16: A few private messages suggested I expand on my exhortation. Okay, here goes: Any writer who can, WITHOUT infodumping, bring me directly into a fantastical and outrageously unlikely alternate steampunk world earned your scarce book-buying dollars. He made me *believe* that, in an illusory world, illusionists could be so important and so vital that the law enforcement agency of the whole world will hunt them down and imprison them. He gave such reality to the conundrum of how to simply exist as a woman in the world he's made that I was wincing, squirming, and blushing for the privilege that being male has always brought.

Please believe me...this is powerful storytelling talent working so smoothly you can't feel the strain. I loved the first book, and am 50pp into the second. This is the shazizzle, as we used to say years ago.
Profile Image for Felicia.
Author 28 books128k followers
December 19, 2016
This is a really enjoyable book that blends mystery and steampunk together. I've always been a sucker for cross-dressing ladies a-la Shakespeare, and this one really does a bang up fun job of having a protagonist who dresses as her "brother" in order to be a detective.

There's intrigue and a cool steampunk alt-world to dive into, and really interesting characters. There are hints of romance but it's certainly not a driving force. The political intrigue and mystery are, and those are where the book shines. Can't wait to read the next one!
Profile Image for Orient.
255 reviews207 followers
June 17, 2016

"The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter" is a book I really looked for reading and after finishing it I feel a little bit disappointed because the book was not as interesting for me as I expected. I’ve read it quite quickly, but it didn’t grip me or excite me in the way that so many other books do. Maybe Mr. Murakami had spoiled me :D
I quite liked the story and the characters. The idea to write a steam punk story about a woman who disguises herself as a man sounded really attractive to me. (It’s definitely the side effect of The Secret Life Of Dr. James Miranda Barry :D)

The places (towns, cities, Elizabeth's floating home) are described in an attracting way and it helped to create the steam punk atmosphere. I quite enjoyed following Elizabeth in her charade. But there were times when I felt that Elizabeth lacked strong personality. She was like a beautiful unfinished painting for me: the beginning of the story is interesting, but while I went further with it, I found some quite weird parts were other characters outshone Elizabeth or just the pace was simple, predictable and lacked sparks. Of course the blend of mystery, steam punk and fantasy played a great deal in the book and definitely helped to strengthen it. It didn't hook me up entirely because of my spoiled personality :D
Profile Image for Robin (Bridge Four).
1,575 reviews1,464 followers
December 9, 2014
3.5 Stars

I really enjoy a good story about cross dressing. When done well I find the social dynamic changes between being male and female fascinating. The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter is done well. The background of Elizabeth and the explanations of her mannerisms make it believable.

Men fancy that they recognize a woman by dress, figure and face but it is more through movement that gender is revealed.

Elizabeth was brought up in a traveling circus and learned very young the art of being both herself and her alter ego imaginary twin brother Edwin. She knows that it isn’t so much what the costume is if you can’t deliver the walk and talk to go along with it. It is a subtle shift and she has practiced it so many times that she can do a quick change from one to the other in the span of a few seconds.

On her own for the last four years Elizabeth lives on a boat in a warf and is dutiful sister by day and her brother a private investigator by night. While she wishes that she didn’t have to play at the façade it is necessary to survive as single women do not have many opportunities.

“We worry for you,” she said at last.
“There’s no need.”
“Mr. Simmons mentioned his concern to me at breakfast this very day. It seemed to him, and I agreed, that your brother may not have the time of the expertise to invest in your problem.”
“My problem?”
“Acquiring a husband, Elizabeth. My goodness, girl, of what other problem should you be thinking?”

The Gas Light Empire is an alternate future where the industrial revolution never happened and instead there was a war that separated England. Everything is still powered by steam, gas and animals. There seems to be nothing electrical anywhere and the Patent Office is the most powerful agency in the world. Their sole charge is to protect the empire from anything that might be of harm.

Whereas some sciences and inventions have manifestly secured and improved the wellbeing of the common man, we hold it self-evident that others have wrought terrible suffering. Never has it been the way of science to separate the seemly from the unseemly. Therefore has the good of all been offered up for sacrifice on the alters of egotism and narrow self-interest. Since the nations have failed to rein in their scientists and inventors, it has fallen to us to establish, through this Great Accord, a supra-national sovereignty adequate to the task. - excerpt from the glossary

When Edwin/Elizabeth takes on a case to find the missing brother of an aristocrat from the providence she barely escaped from four years ago her path crosses with not only the Patent Office but also a traveling circus and the very man she is trying desperately to remain hidden from. Everyone seems to be in search of the missing man and the strange contraption he has with him that could change the Gas Light Empire forever.

I enjoyed the characters in the book. I liked Elizabeth immediately as she stood up to a goon in a bar.

Men have died for not believing a woman would choose to shoot them in the heart. So I chose instead to press the pistol to his groin.

Elizabeth runs into all kinds of interesting individuals on her journey to find the missing brother of an aristocrat. Tinker, an orphan boy in the circus she befriends, was by far my favorite oh the trouble they could cause together, I really hope he is in the next book. I also very much enjoyed Julia the student of Elizabeth with a slight infatuation with Edwin *wink wink* and Mr. Farthing a Patent Office agent hot on Elizabeth’s trail who’s interest in her might not be entirely only due to his job, at least I’m really hoping for a little love interest action on that front.

It took a little time to get really rolling but I got pulled into the plot and I loved learning more about Elizabeth’s past time with her family in the circus and how she used that in her dual life and as an investigator. I almost got the plot twist at the end. All the clues were there I just put them together a little differently. The only thing I didn’t really get was why the Duke of North Hampton was so taken with Elizabeth that he destroyed her entire family and she had to flee when she was fourteen. He seemed extremely stalker like in a removed way.

Overall it was a very enjoyable ride and I’m very interested to see how this Duology plays out. Note: I normally don’t read glossaries but I actually enjoyed this one a lot and it gave some history on how the last 200 years played out without bombarding the story with too many more boring details.

Thank you to Angry Robot and Netgalley for the ARC. All quotes taken from an uncorrected proof and may not be in the final product.
Profile Image for Mogsy (MMOGC).
1,988 reviews2,584 followers
July 3, 2015
4 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum http://bibliosanctum.com/2014/09/02/b...

Angry Robot is making a comeback this fall with a couple of great titles, and The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter is one gem that is deserving of a lot more attention. I really had no idea what I was in for going into this book, but even before the beginnings of the story was revealed to me, I found myself already captivated by the elegant writing style.

Rod Duncan brings the Gas-Lit Empire to life in this steampunkish tale of mystery and espionage, starring a female protagonist with a big secret. Elizabeth Barnabus is the single child of a “bullet-catcher”, a term used to describe stage magicians or artists known for performing large-scale or spectacular illusions, but she has used all the tricks of the trades to fool the world into thinking she has a twin brother. In the guise of her fictitious brother Edwin the private detective, Elizabeth sets out to solve the case of a missing aristocrat while dodging alchemists and shady circus folk as well as agents of the all-powerful and tyrannical International Patent Office.

Obviously, Elizabeth is a talented, capable and intelligent young woman used to solving her own problems, often in creative and ingenious ways. So forgive me for going on a mini-ramble here while I ponder on the trend of the “daughter-in-the-title” phenomenon; that is, I notice so many book titles that seem to follow this “The ________’s Daughter” formula these days, but I call it a ramble and not a rant because I think it amuses me more than it bothers me. I find it curious especially in this case, where Elizabeth is such an awesome character and being defined by her father’s profession clearly doesn’t do her enough justice! Besides being a master of disguise, she is also very adept at taking in a situation and making snappy decisions.

I’m also impressed with the way the author has created this world using very subtle means. Instead of throwing buckets of descriptive details in the readers’ faces, he instead uses the history he has crafted for the Gas-Lit Empire to great effect. By reading about the significant events that shaped the empire, such as the war that divided England or the rise of the Patent Office, I was able to piece together the culture and mood of this alternate universe. Sights and sounds can come across easily through words, but it takes a much rarer talent to convey the intangible such as the atmosphere of a setting the way Duncan does.

The mystery in this novel unfolds gradually, and though I wouldn’t call The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter a high-octane read, it does keep up a steady level of intrigue and suspense. It also has its moments, such as when Elizabeth runs afoul of a troupe of traveling circus performers and for a few chapters I was immersed in the dark side of circus life and became acquainted with many very interesting individuals.

With its unique setting and premise, this book embodies the essence of what I’ve come to expect from Angry Robot over the years. But I would still love to know more about Elizabeth as a character. Even though the story is told through her perspective in the first person, she seems to keep the reader at arm’s length. This might be an effect of the writing style, or perhaps something Rod Duncan purposely meant to do from the start, and if that’s the case, then it’s actually pretty clever. It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for someone in Elizabeth’s place to maintain a detached attitude even as she is narrating her own story, given how she must protect the secret of her double-life from the rest of the world.

In short, this was a well-written novel, the story fantastically put together with elements of alternate history and steampunk, topped off with a strong, resourceful heroine. You can’t help but be drawn to Elizabeth Barnabus. I’m definitely looking forward to continuing her adventures in the sequel.
Profile Image for Veronique.
1,217 reviews164 followers
February 22, 2017
Stories of cross-dressing always attract me - not just in the fun of the fact itself but also in its deeper meaning, flouting gender ‘rules’. The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter does this in an alternate Victorian setting, one where the United Kingdom has been divided into two republics with very different laws, mores and technologies.

This is where we find Elizabeth Barnabus, who takes on the persona of her fictitious twin brother Edwin in order to be able to sustain herself, working as a private investigator. This fantasy novel is also an adventure following the unravelling of a mystery. In fact, there are two: the one she is paid to work and the one of her past, which the reader discovers little by little throughout the book. In the same fashion, we get more and more glimpses of this fascinating world. Duncan also uses an arch-Victorian tone for the narration, which works really well in contrast with the action and thrilling moments.

This was an easy book to read and piqued my interest. Definitely want to know more about Elizabeth and her world.
Profile Image for Daniel.
2,340 reviews35 followers
July 4, 2014
This review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. rated 5.0 of 5

Often, when I pick up a new book, by an author who is unfamiliar to me, there is both a sense of excitement, wonderment, but also a little sense of dread, wondering what I might be about to throw myself in to.  It's a game of trust betwen me, the author, the editor, and the publisher.  And when the author, and his/her book hooks me and takes me on a fantastic adventure and in to a land of people and places that I don't want to leave, I am thrilled to have been so surprised.

Rod Duncan's The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter, has thrilled me.

Our protagonist is Elizabeth Barnabus, a spy/detective who disguises herself as her own brother.  We meet her as she takes on a new job for a Dutchess, the Lady Bletchley, tracking down a person while avoiding capture and the loss of her home and discovering what makes a few new machines so valuable.  Along the way she encounters a travelling circus that may be concealing some of the information she's looking for, and an agent for the Patent Office ... perhaps the most powerful of all agencies.

Elizabeth is resourceful and intelligent.  If she can't talk or disguise her way out of trouble, she likely can use guile and prowess to physically escape.  Author Duncan weaves in Elizabeth's back story with masterful ease.  So nicely intertwined, we often don't realize that we've stepped out of the present story to get some background.  This is precisely how it should be done - it is a wonderful balance of being story-driven and character-driven.

Everything about this world felt real.  Elizabeth and author Duncan don't spend time marvelling over little things that would be very natural to them (and as Elizabeth was raised in a circus environment, even the most strange would appear natural to her).  Instead, the world/environment is created through the action of the story.  It ocurred to me at some point that this book might be considered 'steampunk' given the era and the modern marvels within.  Typically, I haven't been impressed with steampunk precisely because so much attention is paid to showing off how 'cool' the concepts are.  But when a story isn't about concept, it is much easier to make it real.

It's almost impossible to have a book without some sort of romance, but here again, Duncan gets it just right.  There are hints of romance that satisfy, amuse, and promise more for another time.

There wasn't a single moment that I felt bored or wanted to skip ahead a little.  I was mesmerized early and the story and characters blossomed before me with precision.  This is the book I was hoping to read back when I delved in to The Night Circus and again with Hang Wire.  Now it's been done correctly and  I want more!

Looking for a good book?  Mystery, duplicity, secret societies, alchemy, romance, action ... The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter by Rod Duncan has it all and promises to be the talked-about/must-read book for sci-fi/fantasy enthusiasts this year!
Profile Image for Siobhan Logan.
6 reviews1 follower
June 29, 2014
From the ingenious art work of Will Staehle – that blood-red Victorian purse/ metallic hand – to the fabulous title, The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter, Rod Duncan's first novel in the Gaslit Empire series promises a thrilling and duplicitous read. And it delivers. This treat from imprint Angry Robot (loving their Cylon logo too!) is coming to Steampunk fans this September, with a sequel hot on its heels next spring. It has as much peril, mystery and mashed-up Victorian-futuristic technology as you could wish but above all, what will be bringing this reader back for more is the central character; gutsy cross-dressing private-detective, Elizabeth Barnabus. She is alone in this world but for a fictional brother and a remembered father. 'I'm no more than a shadow,' she tells a would-be admirer, 'and can have only such friendships and feelings as a shadow might'. Only one job away from destitution, she yet turns out to be a cunning and always courageous match for the shadowy Agents of the all-powerful International Patent Office. Appealingly, she is an accomplished liar as well as a reader of others' deceptions.

'Illusion was my inheritance,' she confides early on. From a childhood spent in The Circus of Mysteries, she has learnt ' … the gift of being, when needed, my own twin brother.' Without this skill, Elizabeth cannot survive as a woman on the run exiled in a land where females cannot own property or run businesses. 'Equal but different' is the slogan of the Anglo-Scottish Republic, a rather Puritan world where the Rational Dress Society enforces strict codes about women's clothing: 'That is not a hat and you are not properly dressed.' Elizabeth, masquerading as a Victorian gentleman 'intelligence-gather', is a deviant living in the shadows of Leicester's waterfront on an old canal-boat, Bessie. Duncan convincingly explores the mechanics of her gender-manipulation: 'Men fancy they recognize a woman by her dress, figure and face but it is more through movement …' Elizabeth enjoys strolling through the city with the easy swagger of a man: 'rolling the shoulders … occupying the centre of the road.' However much she can handle a weapon and calculate an escape route, this action-heroine is young and at times, emotionally volatile. 'I don't know if it was fear or anger that made me act,' she reflects after shoving a loaded revolver in a thug's mouth. What's for sure is you're rooting for this outsider who is not only a wanted 'fugitive from a contract of indentured servitude' but also a Gypsy who arouses a casual bigotry in officials of the Republic.

Elizabeth has crossed all sorts of lines in a novel pre-occupied with boundaries of many kinds. A runaway from the Kingdom of England and Southern Wales, she occupies the middle-space of Leicester, a city bisected by the historic partition of England (an irony this Irish reviewer enjoyed.) As a citizen of the real Midlands centre, I thought the sense of place enriched the novel with its Turkey Café, Darkside Coffee House and Gallowtree Gate, complete with gallows. The twin border-checkpoints are a step away from Leicester's iconic Clock Tower. Another location I recognise as 'the Lanes', offering 'an alternative shopping experience' of boutiques and 'emporiums', has become Duncan's 'the Backs … that dark warren of narrow streets, blind alleys and iniquity.' I found myself wanting a map in the book (apparently this will be found in the accompanying web-site on publication) but then again, my Leicester is not the fictional city. Rather I am looking at a setting reflected back in the distorting lens of a fairground-mirror. Similarly, I kept thinking I had gotten a foothold on the history of the book, drawing on my own knowledge of the English Revolution, the Luddites and Empire etc. But like a tourist who's strayed into the smuggler's den of the Backs, I am easily way-laid. It makes no sense that the emerging bourgeoisie of Cromwell's Puritans would build a realm so hostile to technological innovation. And which century am I in when a reference to the 1970s is dropped in as a teaser never to be explained? History-as-we-know it, fragments of that narrative, have been shaken up in the kaleidoscope of Duncan's invention. It is this kind of total 'world-building' that draws in the reader and I hope to master this alternative history as it unfolds over several volumes.

I soon stopped trying to map my way through, too caught up in the rapid pace of Elizabeth Barnabus' adventures. The protagonist is continuously on the move, taking an airship to Lincolnshire, where she pursues Harry Timpson's Laboratory of Arcane Wonders, and later to London where she not only risks capture by her old enemy, the Duke of Northampton, but even enters the citadel of the terrifying International Patent Office. The Lincolnshire scenes will delight fans of the cult-TV series, Carnivale – I'll say no more – and the capital is at once Dickensian and deliciously fantastic with its International Air Terminus at St. Pancras. The tension of quest and discovery is constant. And Elizabeth Barnabus has more secrets and back-story packed into her trusty portmanteau than her friends can possibly know or the agents of the Patent Office suspect. 'Illusion is story,' she advises us, quoting her long-lost father, '… weave it with characters … and love and loss and the audience will follow you as children … followed the Pied Piper of Hamlin.' Here are Mysteries wrapped in Disguises moon-lighting as Plots. The closing pages promise that The Gaslit Empire will yield many more before its rumoured 'Fall'. This reader is booking her ticket for the show and marking off the months till the sequel 'Unseemly Science' rolls into town.
Profile Image for Koeur.
1,049 reviews18 followers
June 2, 2014

Publisher: Angry Robot
Publishing Date: August 2014
ISBN: 9780857665317
Genre: Fantasy

Publisher Description: 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…

Review: Cover art is pretty inventive.

This novel kind of crept up on me…in a good way. Elizabeth’s past is inter-woven into the story line and this picture emerges of a traveling family whose lives were ruined because of the Duke of Northampton’s desire for young Eliza. She flees to the Republic to escape the Duke and subsequently becomes an investigator in the guise of her non-existent brother. She takes a commission from Lady Bletchley to find her lost brother, whom does not wish to be found, especially by his sister.

The characters were well built and the story-line really was the entirety of the novel. As Eliza moves through her life in the constrained Republic, the nuances of that life and her inner dialogue draw you into the tapestry of her world. While inner dialogue usually decries a failed attempt at world building, the author makes good use of this time to center Eliza’s thought processes on evading bad people, staying under cover, planning for contingencies and using her wiles to escape the Dukes and Mr. Timpson’s minions. She has sudden allies in the form of street people, orphans and her neighbors whom rent the boat slip to her.

Really, a fine and well crafted novel. Those of us who imagine novels in pictures will enjoy this work for the subtle descriptors that build an alternate world reality. The author plans a few of the “Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire” novels. As per the glossary, Elizabeth plays a key role in the fall of the Gas-lit empire. Cheers to that as she is a captivating character. Angry Robot has picked a winner.
Profile Image for Monica.
387 reviews83 followers
August 28, 2014
This review was originally posted on Avid Reviews: http://www.avidfantasyreviews.wordpre...

2014 has been a great year for innovative releases in speculative fiction, and the publisher Angry Robot in particular has put out a wonderful abundance of genre-defying novels this year. One of Angry Robot’s newest releases, The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter by Rod Duncan, is no exception. This novel is the first installment of The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire, and is Duncan’s first speculative fiction series. It is impossible to define the book within a single genre; instead it is a hybrid between alternate history, fantasy, sci-fi, and steampunk, and Duncan masterfully weaves these different genres into a wonderful story with subtle but intricate world building. From the first chapter the story takes off on an action packed adventure filled with illusion, magic, mystery, and even a traveling circus. Duncan creates a heady bouquet of story elements that will leave the reader in dire need of the next novel in the series.

The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter is the story of Elizabeth Barnabus. Her world is an alternate historical England that has been divided into two nations, and is portrayed with a blend of Victorian era sensibilities and cultural influences, and futuristic technology. Elizabeth lives a double life; she dresses up as a fictional twin brother named Edwin in order to ensure a job as a private detective. When a Duchess from the northern nation, a place Elizabeth fled years ago, hires her to find a missing aristocrat who does not wish to be found (especially by the Duchess), she is suddenly swept up in the mystery of a hoard of arcane machines. To solve the mystery she must travel with eccentric members of a wandering circus, and face the ghosts of her past. In addition she will have to go up against rouges, self-proclaimed alchemists, and an agent of the all-powerful Patent Office; an institution that is highly averse to any technological innovation. The closer Elizabeth comes to solving this mystery, the more her life, and even the course of history, will change.

One of the most accomplished aspects of Duncan’s writing is his ability to impart a vast amount of world building and plot details to readers without overwhelming them with an information dump. Duncan weaves the details of the setting, the political climate, the nature of the world, and numerous other elements with a first-hand account of the protagonist’s past. This balance of characters, plot, and detail keep the story fast paced and engaging throughout the entire novel. I was very intrigued to come across an author whose writing was subtle and captivating in equal measure. Another benefit of this novel’s genre defying story and unique writing style is an appeal to a much larger audience than a regular steampunk novel. Fans of numerous types of speculative fiction, as well as fans mystery and alternative history, will find a wonderfully unique novel that also contains aspects of their respective preferred genres. This blend of the familiar and the strange will be sufficient to satisfy many different kinds of readers.

The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter sets itself apart from many other genre-defying novels with its well-chosen themes. I particularly love the theme of illusion, and how it plays such an important role in Elizabeth’s life and the world that Duncan has created. There is also a strong sense of Elizabeth defying the constraints of her culture. She is an extremely strong and well-developed protagonist, and she makes her own definition of what it is to be a woman, and of what a woman is capable of doing.

Though there are plenty of thought-provoking elements to the story, on the surface it is still a fun mystery set in a fascinating world. It is one of those books that the reader can really get out of it what he wants. If you are looking for intricate themes and innovative writing, then this is a great book for you. On the other hand if you are looking for a moderately fast paced mystery with magical qualities… well, then this is also a great novel to read. There are some places where the plot slows down significantly, but I found them to be few, and to not disrupt the story’s pacing. For example, after the initial excitement at the beginning of the novel, the story does slow down a bit in order for the reader to become familiar with the protagonist and her situation. But soon the action picks up again, and the reader begins to become immersed in the story rather than simply intrigued by it. Overall, it is a wonderful story that I would recommend to anyone even remotely interested in speculative fiction.

My rating: 7.75/10

I received a copy of this novel from Netgalley and the publisher, Angry Robot, in return for an honest review.
Profile Image for Stephanie Swint.
165 reviews41 followers
May 11, 2016
Rod Duncan’s created a world known, incorrectly, as ‘The Gas-lit Empire.’ Part of what makes Duncan’s alternate history complete is the complexity of it including scattered inaccuracies through its revolutions, wars, offices, and political systems. The Anglo-Scottish Republic is mashed up against The Kingdom of England and Southern Wales splitting at Leicester. The flaws and benefits of both societies are uniquely viewed by Elizabeth Barnabus, daughter of a Bullet Catcher, fugitive, Intelligence Gatherer, and main character. While I am entranced by Duncan’s world, the core of this book is a mystery. Elizabeth, resident of ‘The Republic’, takes a job to find a missing Aristocrat. An invention of his, and scientific leanings, make him dangerous. He is wanted by many, not the least by ‘The Patent Office.’ Elizabeth is uniquely qualified for the task, but if she had any option she would not/should not take it.

Elizabeth is resourceful and intelligent. That does not mean her life is easy. She found a way to survive as a 14-year-old girl, alone, without money, in a new land. This is not an easy task in ‘The Republic’ where women can not own property. She relies heavily on skills her parents taught her. As the daughter of a Bullet Catcher, and child of Traveling Shows, she has relied heavily on illusion to survive. Her parents conjured a twin brother for her as a child. He plays heavily into how Elizabeth is able contract work, and procure her houseboat. The book includes excerpts from The Bullet Catchers Handbook at the beginning of every chapter. They are lessons of illusion that pertain to the chapter, but also to Elizabeth’s past and future. It helps the reader connect to the larger story. The book is centered on her work as an Intelligence Gatherer searching for a missing Aristocrat from the Kingdom, but taking work in The Kingdom is risky for her. As a fugitive, she can not be caught in its borders. This contract also brings danger by drawing the scrutiny of The Patent Office. Elizabeth does not need anyone inspecting her closely. What she does need is the promised money – badly.

The political system Duncan created is a backdrop to this book. It is integral, however, to the greater story of the series hinted at in the expanded title, ‘The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter: The Fall of The Gas-lit Empire.’ The ideologies of the Kingdom and Republic don’t seamlessly match their cultures. The Republic has strict social standards, very conservative and monotone, contradictory to its democratic political freedoms. The Kingdom isn’t a true monarchy, but the Council of Aristocrats hold to the political structure of Old England. While there is a great deal of unfairness swayed heavily in favor of those Aristocrats, women have more rights than those in ‘The Republic’. Duncan’s alternative history has several parallels to historical Victorian democracies and monarchies of our world. Some ideas Duncan acted on, such as a world where Scotland split from the United Kingdom, were wished for by various parties but did not come to fruition. His world is well-built. It gave me a deeper level of respect for the book and author. Take some time looking at it, including reading the glossary. You can see there are many words, offices, treaties, etc. that are unique. I usually skip glossaries. Honestly, I’m too lazy to read them, and you can usually infer the meanings/content from the writing. You can do that here too, but I appreciated the material included.

The book can be enjoyed on two levels. You can read or listen to it on a shallow level. I do not say this dismissively. I’ve enjoyed several stories wanting to only pay attention to the surface. This story can be enjoyed on a deeper level too. The political structures, the history Duncan created, and the detail of the illusions make this story much more than the intelligence job. I liked Elizabeth going undercover to find the Aristocrat and the twists that individual story holds, but Elizabeth’s own history and what is intimated for the future made me pick up the second book without pause.
Profile Image for Simone.
18 reviews5 followers
June 27, 2014
**ARC provided by Angry Robot and Netgalley**

I had no idea what to expect from The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter – but boy, was it a nice surprise!

Intriguing characters?


Exciting plot?


Meticulous world-building?


This novel has it all.

It's beautifully written too - Rod Duncan has a way with words.

Edwin Barnabus is a private detective, a good one at that, hired by the Duchess of Bletchley to search for her missing brother. Respectable enough...except Edwin Barnabus isn’t really who he says he is. He isn’t even a he. Edwin Barnabus is actually Elizabeth Barnabus, a young woman who escaped to the Anglo-Scottish Republic, safe from the clutches of the Duke of Northampton.

Elizabeth Barnabus sets out on her journey to find the missing aristocrat, encountering strange machines, shifty circus folk and a fair few sticky situations, oh, and that agent of the Patent Office..

The world building in The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter is spectacular, really well thought out. I read a lot of dystopian fiction, so I’m used to alternate societies (some questionable), and Rod Duncan manages to create a world which is not only compelling but incredibly believable (I even googled some history at one point because I was that convinced…oops). There’s a glossary at the end, which is helpful, although I managed to pick up most of the history through Elizabeth’s narration and occasional flashbacks, which were nicely placed within the story.

I’ll admit that it took me a couple of chapters to really get into the story, but I did find myself hooked, refusing to put my kindle away in spite of my phone telling me that it was in fact 4:30am. I had to get to the end (which rewarded me with a very nice plot twist that I did not see coming – although maybe I should have, with all the allusions to, well, illusion.).

Looking forward to the sequel!
Profile Image for Cobwebby Eldritch Reading Reindeer .
5,030 reviews260 followers
August 12, 2014

An engrossing steampunk series which takes a divergent turn and becomes Alternate History instead of embracing the more common steampunk trope of a twisted background of Victorian and/or Edwardian England (specifically London), THE BULLET CATCHER'S DAUGHTER inaugurates an all-new series. Much world-building goes into the story, but the author starts with a sharp and catchy reader's hook, and interweaves the background world gradually. I found the novel fascinating, and eagerly await the next to follow.
Profile Image for HBalikov.
1,694 reviews628 followers
December 29, 2014
Fantasy? Duncan imagines a world where, to save the world from the disasters of technological warfare, the industrial revolution was stopped in its tracks. Instead of (our world) enduring a Luddite period of several years of organized violence against "the machines," Duncan pictures a world that has agreed to keep innovation to a minimum and creating the World Patent Office to make sure that nothing happens.

This doesn't mean that the world is all of one piece. In Duncan's "Gas-lit Empire," even England (the backdrop to this book) is divided into two realms: One, an almost puritan republic; and, the other, an aristocracy of flash and dash.

Into this comes Elizabeth/Edwin Barnabus. In a world where women are not supposed to be private investigators (or much else), leading a double life is a way for her to make it on her own. And she needs to because she has had to flee from a duke who has conspired to ruin her father and purchase her servitude. She qualifies as "The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter" by virtue of being brought up in her father's traveling carnival/circus. She knows many of the trade's tricks and this allows her to travel in disguise and discover the information her clients hire her to track down.

In the present story, she is hired to search for a lost device and a young man who fled with it. It takes her into some very shady places and on the trail of the most celebrated tent of marvels in her world, Harry Timpson's Laboratory of Arcane Wonders. It takes all her ingenuity to track it down while staying ahead of officials of the Patent Office. There are times when she isn't quite up to the task and she is captured and restrained, but her dogged determination (pluck) is a very important asset for her and her clients.

This could have been an ordinary quick-read, but Duncan has spent the time to make it more by: thoroughly imagining his world premises and what would be their consequences and, creating several memorable characters who bring this speculative world into solid reality. He give appropriate care to what is possible and impossible in his world. Ms. Barnabus can find things for her clients, but can she find a solution for her own vulnerability or resolve the warrant that hangs over her head? Will she be able to clear the family name and reclaim its stolen assets? That is what Duncan dangles to temp us toward book #2.
Profile Image for Nicky.
4,138 reviews1,003 followers
June 8, 2016
I’ve been meaning to read this book for ages, and seeing that there are now three books in the series (which I think I read is complete as a trilogy?), I thought it was about time I got round to it. I’m not necessarily a reader of steampunk for steampunk’s sake, but the set-up intrigued me, and especially the double life lived by the protagonist.

I have to say that I missed some things which other reviewers spotted, like the date this is set, but I enjoyed it all the same. It does feel a bit gimmicky and faux-Victorian, and I’d like to see more of the whys and wherefores of the level of technology maintained, but overall it works quite well.

I’m not majorly entranced by the story, but I’m curious enough to read on. Elizabeth is a fun character – capable, determined, intelligent – and the fact that the title defines her as someone’s daughter feels all the weirder because that person never appears and doesn’t really define her as a person at all. She’s independent and, in fact, so much of the novel is driven by her determination to be her own person and keep her own freedom.

The supporting characters are okay; it’s great that Elizabeth has a female friend who, though different from her, ends up drawn into her adventures and helping her. There’s also a good range of characters helping and hindering her, for many reasons, and sometimes the hindering is well-meaning. That makes it feel all the more real; things don’t go smoothly for Elizabeth, and sometimes that is due to well-intentioned people.

Originally posted here.
Profile Image for Frank Errington.
738 reviews56 followers
August 23, 2014
4.5 of 5 Stars Review copy

First I'd like to make note of the stunning and eye-catching cover by Will Staehle. Very nice work.

How best to describe The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter? Well, there are certainly some elements of Steampunk, there is an Alternate History going on, and there is the feel of a classic Sherlock Holmes story as told by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Rod Duncan weaves these elements deftly into a beautiful tale of mystery and intrigue.

The author has created a not so United Kingdom following a civil war which left England split into two separate countries, the Kingdom and the Anglo-Scottish Republic. Then there's the all-powerful Patent Office meant to protect the citizenry from technology and mechanical devices.

When she was fourteen, Elizabeth Barnabus, lived in the Kingdom with her father. Through no fault of his own, and thanks to the Patent Office, his daughter is forced into the servitude of a Duke of the Kingdom. Before that can happen, Elizabeth escapes to the Republic where we find her six years later helping her "brother" in his business as a private detective.

In an effort to find the missing brother of a client, Elizabeth infiltrates Harry Timpson's Laboratory of Arcane Wonders, a traveling circus of sorts. The scene where Elizabeth wins a job with the troupe through a game of Wild Eights is brilliantly plotted.

The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter is wildly imaginative, entertaining, and a complete story. However, this is not the end of the line for Elizabeth Barnabus, since The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter is just book 1 in The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire series from Angry Robot Books. Unseemly Science is due in February of 2015. This is welcome news and I look forward to returning to the world Rod Duncan has created.

On sale in print and e-book formats from a variety of online retailers on August 26, 2014.

Highly recommended
Profile Image for Rose.
795 reviews44 followers
August 9, 2017
I honestly thought this story would be more exciting than it was. The synopsis makes it sound like a lot happens but it’s like a movie trailer that gives you the best stuff leaving nothing big for the story itself. It started out feeling a bit like The Lies of Locke Lamora but then the exciting stuff became a lot less exciting. It was still a good story and I did like it, but I should have loved it. Really. Just look at the cover. It just screams “Read me, I’m amazing”
Profile Image for Ian Mond.
476 reviews75 followers
January 23, 2015
What’s It About

The novel is set in an alternate history where, as a result of the 1811 Luddite Rebellion, the UK has been divided into the Kingdom of England and Southern Wales and the Anglo-Scottish Republic. Keeping a keen eye on The Kingdom and the Republic (and a good chunk of Europe and America) is the International Patent Office. Their job is to ensure that only the right sort of technology is developed and introduced.

In amongst this mishigas is private detective Elizabeth Barnabus, formerly of the Kingdom, who lives a dual life as herself and her brother. She’s been requested to find an aristocrat who has disappeared into the Republic. An aristocrat who has ownership of a device that the Patent Office would like to get their hands on.

Should I Read It?

A qualified no. Here’s the thing, if you like novels with a strong female lead and a steam-punk flavour, then The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter might be worth the four days you’ll spend reading it.

Personally, while I appreciated the alternate history – the Patent Office is a neat idea – the actual “private detective searches for a missing person plot” is thin and predictable. More annoying is that as this is Book One of a duology – one that promises the fall of an Empire – it feels like Duncan has held back the genuinely interesting stuff for the second novel.

Representative Paragraph

An insight into the all seeing, all knowing Patent Office:

“Do you know what that means – illegal? The Patent Office has built great libraries of books, the only purpose of which is to attempt to divide the seemly from the unseemly, the legal from the illegal. Two centuries of precedent. The wisdom of generations of lawyers and judges. They drew a line, but the harder they laboured to sharpen it, the wider it became. It’s now a chasm into which the entire Gas-Lit Empire might fall and be lost forever. The question is not whether my machines are illegal, it’s whether our glorious Patent Office is positively disposed to my case. As it happens, they are not.”


At the heart of the The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter is this fantastic idea, namely the International Patent Office. Set up to “protect and ensure the well-being of the common man,” the Patent Office is tasked with restricting those technologies that could potentially upset the natural order. The seemly from the unseemly. Essentially then, the Patent Office embodies our deep-seated suspicions and fears about all things science and scientific. If these guys existed today they would be denying climate change and forcing people to use dial-up modems.

Unfortunately, though, the Patent Office and its sinister workings is not the main focus of The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter. Its presence is most definitely felt but more as an obstacle to be avoided then a concept to be explored.
Instead the novel centres on cross dressing private detective Elizabeth Barnabus. To Duncan’s credit, Elizabeth is a layered, engaging character. In a world where women are definitely second or third class citizens, Elizabeth relies solely on her skills of deception and disguise to reach her goals. If she needs a man to help, she dresses up as a her brother. And when a man does come to her rescue toward the end of the novel, it’s only because Elizabeth has planned it that way.

The cross dressing is, thankfully, played entirely straight. Elizabeth identifies as a woman but takes seriously her ability to become a man both in terms of look and body language. Where this element stumbles is in Elizabeth’s relationship with her student Julia. On accidentally meeting Elizabeth dressed as her brother, Julie becomes enamoured with him. If this isn’t clichéd enough, when Julia, again accidentally, sees Elizabeth transform into a man she reacts in horror. Julia’s response to the truth about Elizabeth is genuine given her conservative upbringing, but there’s something forced and offensive about the whole situation. The infatuation, which is only a minor sub-plot, didn’t need to be in the novel, and it unintentionally sends a negative message about cross dressing.

However, my biggest disappointment with the book is its uninspired search for a missing person plot. Considering how strongly the ideas of illusion and magic feature throughout the novel I expected there to be a major reveal at some point, a reversal I didn’t see coming. And there’s definitely an attempt at this toward the novel’s conclusion. Except it’s a reveal so obvious that it makes Elizabeth look foolish for not figuring it out earlier.

What ultimately hurts The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter is the same thing that hampered Maplecroft. As the first book of a duology it does feel like that Duncan has kept back all the interesting stuff for the second novel. It’s not even clear how the events of this book could lead to the promised fall of the Gas-lit Empire. In anycase I won’t be sticking around to find out.

One last thing – The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter is described as steampunk and yet the novel is devoid of steam or steam-driven technology. Am I missing something here? Or is it enough for a book to feature a dirigible for it to be called steampunk?
1 review1 follower
August 22, 2014
Rod Duncan's fabulous writing takes you to places you never knew you wanted to go. He has created a world in the Gas-lit Empire that is so completely believable, it affects you long after you've put the book down. Elizabeth Barnabus is a heroine for our time; Lizzie Bennet meets Lara Croft. She finds adventure between the grinding difficulties of life in a misogynist world and with constant threats from overbearing authorities. Well which of us hasn't been there. To these problems she finds solutions that are intelligent and elegant, but is not above tucking a pistol into her stocking top should the need arise.
Profile Image for MTK.
482 reviews33 followers
January 5, 2019
A solid steampunk adventure story, excellent worldbuilding, but too slow-paced. If I had bought only this book, I doubt I would have rushed to buy the two sequels,but as it is I got the entire trilogy on sale for a couple of euros, so I will read them. I am reserving final judgement till then.
July 30, 2014
Bell, Book & Candle | Book Reviews

The cover art of this book is as creative as the actual story. It gave me the feeling that I was reading a combination of The Master of Disguise and She's the Man, except this was more of a detective mystery with a steampunk element to it. I was definitely on the edge of my seat while reading. Also, the characters were likable for the most part.

Elizabeth is a pretty street-smart and cunning character. How she manages to lead a double life as her "twin brother Edwin, the detective" with none the wiser, is a mystery to me. There wasn't a lot of her past shown in the book, but what the reader does learn about her past is shocking indeed. Her strength of character is admirable, and I enjoyed her scenes with the illustrious John Farthing. The reader certainly doesn't know anything about Agent John
Farthing except that he's American; we do, however, see his attraction to Elizabeth. Tinker and Julia might be my favorite characters thus far. Julia's loyalty to Elizabeth is quite refreshing, and Tinker's cuteness is endearing. There are some sketchy characters as well..you'll see.

As for the story, "woah" is all I can say. I liked the "dancing bear trick" that was pulled on a certain character; it surprised me since I usually can guess the outcome of a story. The tie-in with the book's title was very clever as well. I am definitely tuning in for the next book. On a side note: I am still questioning if there was ever a brother? I have no idea.

Profile Image for Danie Ware.
Author 50 books170 followers
November 19, 2019
Neatly plotted, elegantly phrased, and enough of a tight conclusion to keep you guessing right to the end... I don't read 'steampunk' as a general rule and really enjoyed this. The main character was smart, capable, utterly believable in both guises and human enough to make mistakes. And the difference between her dress/behaviour/freedom as a woman and as a man brought the restrictions of both garments and gender sharply home.

Plus a nice spinning of chemistry, metallurgy and circus flair all adding up to a read that's both uncomplicated and rewarding.
Profile Image for Tammy.
800 reviews134 followers
September 2, 2014
The nitty-gritty: A rollicking steampunk adventure, filled with intricate twists and turns, top-notch world building, and a heroine that quickly became one of my favorites ever.

Illusion was my inheritance, fed to me on my mother’s lap as the drowsy rocking of the caravan and the slow rhythm of iron-shod hooves lulled me. It was a ripe strawberry conjured from the air, or a silver coin caressed from my soft cheek by the touch of a loving hand.

The first great illusion given me by my father was the gift of being, when needed, my own twin brother. I learned by stages to move as he moved and to look as he looked. My voice would always be the weakest part of the illusion, but even this could be covered by misdirection. At a distance of twenty paces, under the deceiving illumination of the stage lights, my friends could not tell me from a man.

From the opening paragraph of The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter, I was enchanted by just about everything this book has to offer. Duncan’s novel takes place in an alternate history UK that feels very much like Victorian England but with the steampunk addition of airships. Elizabeth Barnabus is the young narrator, and her voice was so clear and, frankly, feminine, that I kept having to remind myself that the author is male. I’ve run across several brilliantly written books with a male narrator written by a female author, but I think this might the best male author writing a female character that I’ve ever read. A delicious air of mystery and hijinks pervades this story, and I was immediately drawn into the unique world Duncan has created. True, there are many steampunk novels out there with airships and mechanical devices, but this book has much more, including a circus of illusion, a menacing organization called the Patent Office, and two lands divided by a hard-to-cross border.

Elizabeth, our heroine, lives in exile in the land of the Republic, an old-fashioned and oppressive place where women aren’t allowed in bars or out on the streets unchaperoned. Her true home, the Kingdom, lies just out of reach on the other side of the border. After the ruin of her family, she barely survives by eking out a living as an “intelligence gatherer,” except there’s a twist—Elizabeth makes her living at night by dressing up as a man and pretending to be her twin brother.

After the Duchess of Bletchley approaches “Mr. Barnabus” and begs him to find her missing brother, offering a king’s ransom for completing the job, Elizabeth agrees, knowing the money will get her out of debt for good. But Mr. Orville’s (the Duchess' brother) trail proves hard to find, until Elizabeth stumbles upon Harry Timpson’s Laboratory of Arcane Wonders, a wondrous circus that just might hide clues as to his whereabouts. Elizabeth finagles herself into the ranks of the circus-folk and gets a job cleaning out the lion pens, but the mysteries keep piling up. Why is the dreaded Patent Office after Mr. Orville? Who is John Farthing and why is he following Elizabeth? And what does the mysterious contraption, a box that Mr. Orville supposedly stole, do anyway? There are dangers aplenty, as well as adventure, all wrapped up in a lively narrative that whisks the reader along with barely time to take a breath.

I have to begin by talking about the character of Elizabeth, because she was such a bright and vivacious part of this story. Many of the other characters were strong and engaging as well, but none can compete with Elizabeth, who really steals the show. One of the ongoing and unexplained mysteries of The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter is whether or not Elizabeth’s twin brother actually exists (and by the end of the book, I still wasn’t sure!). She has been taught by her father from a very young age the art of “becoming” a man, in dress, makeup, hair and attitude, and in this way she conceals herself and is able to move among men and conduct her intelligence gathering. Duncan’s descriptions of how quickly she can change into her brother, and back again, were fascinating. Elizabeth is never without her battered old case that hides the clothing and wigs necessary for her illusion.

But disguising herself as a man isn’t without its challenges. Elizabeth’s friend Julia, who believes there are actually two siblings, begins to fall for the brother (awkward!). And throughout the story, not everyone is fooled by the disguise. Eventually Elizabeth’s dual life becomes rather complicated, and you can imagine the hilarity that ensues.

The details of Elizabeth’s back-story and the reason she now lives in the Republic are slowly doled out over the course of the book. Duncan does a great job of avoiding “info dump” by letting the story unfold in its own way and allowing the reader to fill in the blanks.

Part of the plot revolves around the circus that Elizabeth briefly joins, but this is by no means a “circus story.” However, she meets several colorful and endearing characters while working there, most notably a young boy named Tinker who melted my heart, who also used to live in the Kingdom, and a fortune-teller named Tania who seems to know exactly what Elizabeth is up to.

The steampunk elements were so interesting, and Duncan goes into detailed description at one point about exactly how an airship runs. In fact, there were so many interesting touches that remind you this world is very unfamiliar. Details like the avian post (birds that deliver letters) and the hub ship that Elizabeth lives on (an old boat no longer in use) and even a strange holiday called Ned Ludd Day (which explains the meaning of the word “Luddite”) were so charming. Even though at its heart this story is what I would call a “caper” and is filled with chase scenes and misdirection, it’s also an alternate history story that is rich with colorful details.

The author includes a glossary called "The Bullet Catcher’s Handbook" at the end of the book, which explains some of the unfamiliar terms used in the story (including “bullet catcher”) which I found very useful. He also begins each chapter with short excerpts from the handbook, like this pithy statement:

“Lying is an art form. It becomes sin only if the deception is discovered.”

By the end of the story, many of the mysteries are solved. But Duncan teases us with a hint of what’s to come in the next book, which luckily for us is not that far away (January 2015!). Run, don’t walk, and pick up this wonderful adventure tale with one of the most clever and resourceful heroines you’ll ever meet.

Many thanks to Angry Robot for supplying a review copy. Above quotes were taken from an uncorrected proof, and may differ in the final version of the book.

This review originally appeared on Books, Bones & Buffy.
Profile Image for Ann-Marie "Cookie M.".
1,051 reviews119 followers
June 17, 2020
A fairly slow start to what I hope will become a grand adventure in the books to come, "The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter" lacked a level of excitement and came close to the feeling of intrigue it aimed for, but missed it by millimeters. The premise is interesting, though, so I will try the second book, "Unseemly Science." I might as well. I already own a copy.
Profile Image for AH.
2,005 reviews370 followers
September 8, 2014
Initial Thoughts: This was so much fun to read. If you are a fan of steampunk and alternate histories, The Bullet Catcher's Daughter should appeal to you. Nicely written, fantastic story, resourceful and brainy heroine, and such an interesting world.

The Review:
Steampunk and alternate history fans will adore The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter. Set in England, but not really the England that we know from our history lessons, The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter is the story of Elizabeth Barnabas, a private investigator reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes. Elizabeth grew up in a traveling carnival and was trained to be a master of illusion by her father. Elizabeth spends most of her time as her alter-ego and twin brother Edwin, as it is easier to travel around as a man. There is also a price on Elizabeth’s head as she was to become an indentured servant as a payment for her father’s debts.

I loved the atmosphere of this book. It’s dark. It’s sombre. Even the clothing lacks bright colors. The England of this world is very Victorian. Women wear long dresses and are accompanied by chaperones. No wonder Elizabeth dresses as a man. England is split into two countries – The Anglo-Scottish Republic and the Kingdom of England and Southern Wales.

The world is nicely fleshed out. The author spent a lot of time and research developing the world of The Gas-Lit Empire and the attention to detail is wonderfully done. If after reading the book you still have questions about this world, there is a handy glossary at the end which adds even more details. In fact, I spent a long time perusing the glossary just because it was very interesting.

Each chapter begins with a quote from The Bullet-Catcher’s Handbook. I think that I enjoyed these the most because they gave a glimpse of the world that Elizabeth grew up in. Here’s an example of the wisdom from the pages of this book:
“To perform the impossible is to show that you have mastered trickery. But to perform the improbable is to leave a suspicion of genius.”
Elizabeth was a perfect heroine. She is resourceful, street-savvy, and she always had her wits about her. Think of how hard it must be to live a double life – Elizabeth did it extremely well.

Oh, and did I mention that there are airships in this book? Yup, airships!

The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter is a fantastic story, complete with a richly detailed world, colorful characters, and interesting contraptions. The writing is wonderfully done and I can’t wait to read the next book in the series Unseemly Science, scheduled for release next August. More, please!

Thank you to NetGalley and Angry Robot for a review copy of this book.

Review posted on Badass Book Reviews. Check it out!
Profile Image for Kara-karina.
1,636 reviews251 followers
September 10, 2014
A curious thing happened to me while reading this book. I couldn't get through the very beginning and got stuck on the first few chapters for a couple of months. The writing felt heavy, unwieldy.

And then I picked the book up again in mid September and read it in one sitting! Go figure. All I'm saying, give The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter a chance to charm you before giving up.

Elizabeth Barnabus is an exile from the Kingdom where women can be owned as property and lives in The Republic now, a much more conservative country which with its rigid manners and strict adherence to the law protects womenfolk somewhat more successfully.

Of course, The Kingdom and The Republic are actually Great Britain split into two, and in Leicester where Elizabeth lives that means that the city itself is literally split into halves.

Elizabeth leads a double life masquerading as twins - by night she is a private intelligencer, her non-existent brother, and by day she is his spinster sister looking after the household and helping him with his correspondence.

When The Duchess of Bletchley from The Kingdom begs her to take on the case of her missing brother who ran into The Republic, Elizabeth knows that this is bigger than her and much more than she can chew, but the reward is tempting - a promise to be able to return from her exile freely is so hard to resist...

Soon she is forced to take on a job in a travelling circus remembering her own childhood in her father's caravan; dodge around the powerful agents of The Patent Office looking for the same target as she; and at last venture into the forbidden for her territory, - the country of her birth, where she is a wanted women, and the men-at-arms of The Duke of Northampton are waiting for her with not-so warm welcome.

There is danger in the air, one curious device turning lead into gold, colorful and so different traditions of The Kingdom, old friends and new enemies, and at last, John Farthing, a meddling, persistent agent of The Patent Office.

If it's steampunk, it's a very muted one. There are a few gadgets, but the spirit of the world created by Rod Duncan strongly reminded me of Planesrunner by Ian McDonald. If you don't mind a steady pace, less dashing heroines and very little gadgetry in lieu of alternative history exploration, this book is for you. Recommended!

Profile Image for Karen.
19 reviews
July 16, 2014

The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter by Rod Duncan

Elizabeth Barnabus lives with her brother on a barge in the Republic having fled a life of servitude in the Kingdom – or does she?

The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter is a riveting tale which moves swiftly and the reader will be gripped from the first page when Elizabeth has taken the persona of her brother, Edward Barnabus, a private intelligence gatherer. Disguised as a man for her work, Elizabeth meets with the Duchess of Bletchley who hires her, as Edward, to find her brother who has fled with an arcane machine, sought after by The Patent Office.

Set just after the British Revolutionary War and the Luddite Revolution, when Britain is divided into two nations - the Kingdom of England and Southern Wales and the Anglo-Scottish Republic, The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter enthralls and there is no point at which I wanted to skip to the next point of interest as every sentence is compelling and so well written, that each is the next point of interest.

Elizabeth encounters agents from the Patent Office, a travelling circus of curious, and frightening, characters, allies and tricksters. An exile in the Republic, she needs to cross the Boarder to The Kingdom in the knowledge that she could be caught and returned to a life of enslavement.

The chapter headings are in themselves, intriguing and this first volume of The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire really is unputdownable.

Rod Duncan has successfully written an absorbing tale from the perspective of a woman in the early nineteenth century. This is science-fiction with the sub genre of Steampunk, so technology is unorthodox and fascinating.

A cracking read, but I would advise beginning withThe Glossary at the end of the book before settling down to enjoy The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter and your reading experience will be further enriched.

Publisher: Angry Robot (26 Aug 2014)
Date: 26th August 2014
ISBN: 9780857665294

Karen Ette
Profile Image for Tricia.
274 reviews
September 19, 2019
Alternate history is always a challenge as it can often verge on the ridiculous however Rod Duncan has risen to it beautifully in the first of the Gas-Lit Empire series. Add in a Steampunk world, more than a touch of intrigue, a political system crying out to be pulled down seasoned with a social structure ripe for destruction in parts of said Gas-Lit Empire and you have a recipe for a fascinating tale. Our heroine, Elizabeth Barnabus is feisty and determined if a little naive at times, always entertaining as she rattles her way round The Republic and The Kingdom, doing her best to thwart the all powerful Patent Office, save her home and her skin and solve a mystery all in one fell swoop.

It may not be the greatest writing but it is highly readable, not a little thought provoking and flows well. The references to common points in our own and the alternate history are deftly handled and almost always logical in the route taken. Gemma Whelan narrates the audio version with a light touch and excellent characterisation.

A tale well told and I am looking forward to the next in the series.
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