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Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire #3

The Custodian of Marvels

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You’d have to be mad to steal from the feared International Patent Office. But that’s what Elizabeth Barnabus is about to try. A one-time enemy from the circus has persuaded her to attempt a heist that will be the ultimate conjuring trick.
Hidden in the vaults of the Patent Court in London lie secrets that could shake the very pillars of the Gas-Lit Empire. All that stands in Elizabeth’s way are the agents of the Patent Office, a Duke’s private army and the mysterious Custodian of Marvels.
Rod Duncan returns with the climactic volume of the Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire, the breathtaking alternate history series that began with the Philip K Dick Award-nominated The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter.

368 pages, Paperback

First published February 2, 2016

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About the author

Rod Duncan

16 books214 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 147 reviews
Profile Image for Carly.
456 reviews183 followers
January 20, 2016
~4.5 *

TL;DR: The Custodian of Marvels is alternate history--and steampunk--done right.

The basic setup: after the Napoleonic War, it was decided that technology, unleashed and unconstrained, had too much potential for destruction. The International Patent Office was constructed to perform the
"Separation of seemly science from that which is unseemly, through the granting or withholding of licenses to produce and sell technology."
Almost two centuries on, the Patent Office still has a stranglehold on technology, its mission to "confiscate and destroy the unseemly" effectively keeping the culture, technology, and even the societal mores of the Gaslit Empire at a standstill. In the best of alternate history, everything is different from our present, and the Gaslit Empire captures that to a tee. Rather than being relegated to a derogatory adjective for the technologically backward, Ned Ludd became the "father of the Anglo-Scottish Republic," which broke away from the still-monarchistic remainder of England and Wales. It's steampunk in the best way--not an unimaginative and under-researched "Victorian London but with steam," but a reimagined twentieth century where computers and their ilk were strangled in infancy. I adored it. Even more unusually, the distinctions from our reality extend to the perspectives of the characters. Their morality doesn't necessarily match the reader's. Although the reader, with presumed hindsight, can see the harm that the Patent Office has done, most of the characters are far more fearful of the unknown and feel that the Patent Office is "All that stands between us and the chaos that lies beyond the Gas-Lit Empire."

And speaking of the cast, I quite liked them. The main character, Elizabeth, makes for a sympathetic narrator, and the rest of the crew is exactly the band of misfits that makes a heist story entertaining. Did I mention that it's a heist story? I love heists. Admittedly, the plot has its share of refrigerator logic and plot-driven character stupidity, but hey, it's a heist. Did I mention I love heists? The Custodian of Marvels is the third in the series, and while I'm definitely planning to look up some of the earlier volumes, I can assert that Custodian was utterly an enjoyable entrance to the series. Perhaps the most problematic aspect of missing the backstory was the ongoing romantic tensions between Elizabeth and a patent officer; in this book, he's utterly irritating, so it's hard to sympathise with her interest.

As one might expect, the story is full of twists, including one at the end that I absolutely loved. Each chapter also begins with a quote from The Bullet-Catcher's Handbook, which is basically a conjuror's collection of aphorisms. A few of my favourites:
"If the catcher of the bullet chooses the moment, they call it conjuring. If the shooter chooses the moment, it is called murder."
"There was once a line marked out by God through which were divided heaven and hell. The devil created lawyers to make amends. They argued the thickness of that line until there was room within it for all the sins of men to fit."
If you're looking for a truly entertaining alternate history with a heist, secret passages, and sinister governmental officials, Custodian of Marvels is definitely worth a look. Count me in for the sequel--and for the first books, too.

* (Mixed between ~4 and ~4.5; going with 4.5 because alternate histories that don't bore or infuriate me are a seriously rare breed, and such steampunks are even rarer. Also, heist.)

~~I received this ebook through Netgalley from the publisher, Angry Robot Books, in exchange for my honest review. Quotes were taken from an advanced reader copy and while they may not reflect the final phrasing, I believe they speak to the spirit of the novel as a whole.~~

Cross-posted on Booklikes.
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,885 reviews1,922 followers
December 30, 2017
2017 UPDATE The first book in the new series featuring Elizabeth Barnabus, titled The Queen of All Crows, arrives at Author Duncan's home! Watch the Big Moment here!

New review! THE CUSTODIAN OF MARVELS http://tinyurl.com/jl478zw

This is a fine, 4-plus star end to Rod Duncan's trilogy, the Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire. Angry Robot, cruel cruel people, tantalize the readers with news of more books to come!

Review over on the blog for a week or so.
Profile Image for David Firmage.
216 reviews42 followers
January 5, 2019
My favourite of the trilogy, enjoyed the story even though I am still not into most of the characters.
Profile Image for Frank Errington.
738 reviews57 followers
February 22, 2016
Review copy

The first book in this trilogy, The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter (The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire #1), came out in August of 2014. At the time, I called it "a beautiful tale of mystery and intrigue.wildly imaginative, and entertaining,"

Unseemly Science (The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire #2) was released in April of 2015. Not quite as much fun as book one, but still a solid read.

Now comes The Custodian of Marvels: (The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire, #3), a near perfect end to the trilogy. All of the mysteries are resolved with a fresh story to conclude the adventures of Elizabeth Barnabus and her traveling companions.

In the tales that make up The Fall of the Gal-Lit Empire 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.

The patent Office, it all comes back to the Patent Office, where Elizabeth and her cohorts endeavor to break in, believing this is where all of their questions may be answered by the custodian of marvels. What they find is not what they expect, in more ways than one.

All three books in the series are published by Angry Robot Books and are available in a wide variety of formats for your reading and listening pleasure.

Although each story works as a stand-alone novel, I recommend reading to entire series for maximum enjoyment.

Rod Duncan is a British writer who grew up in Aberystwyth. Identified as dyslexic at the age of eight he made his way through the education system by avoiding writing as much as possible.

Being dyslexic, it was the invention of the word processor that enabled him to develop his storytelling and writing skills. He now cleverly uses dictation software as a tool in the writing process.
Profile Image for Sachin Dev.
Author 1 book42 followers
February 23, 2016
Originally reviewed here: http://goo.gl/Xibrop

The Custodian of Marvels marks the end of the amazing series that was Rod Duncan's successful foray into fantasy - with the Bullet Catcher's Daughter - bringing things to a satisfactory finish, tying up most threads introduced over the course of the last couple of books.

In the Gas-Lit Empire, Rod has built one of the most fascinating alternate historical settings, a world teetering on the edge of technological innovations, running on steam-punk somewhere in an alternate nineteenth century world, where the lines are drawn between the Anglo-Scottish Republic and the Kingdom of England and Southern Wales.

Into this setting, Rod gave us Elizabeth Barnabus - a child of a disbanded traveling circus, who grew up never compromising on her disgraced father's truths & principles, mastering the art of disguise and guile, hanging on to that desire to avenge the wrongs done to her. A clever, resolute and a very brave young woman who's learned to walk the tightrope of life in this hostile world solely through her resourcefulness and razor sharp mind. I was in love with this character right from book one - and all the hints about how she brought low the Gas-Lit empire, was fuel enough to keep me going from the first book till this dramatic finish to the events by Book three. Also, Rod kept me guessing about this strange and utterly fascinating undercurrent of love between her and the International Office Agent John Farthing - will they or won't they? Enemies on different sides of a war. But hey, am running ahead of myself here.

So Book three starts with Elizabeth trying to stay one step ahead of the duke's people & the agents of the International Patent Office - floating the canals of England, trying to save Tinker ( remember the boy from Unseemly Science?) and herself on her boat. And she soon realizes that she probably has the only copy of the Bullet-Catcher's Handbook - a manual recording truths and tricks as gained by performing artists from a long time ago - left in the world, unedited by the Patent Office - a prize that makes her a prime target for a lot of folks around. An unlikely savior arises in the form of Fabulo, a dwarf in the traveling circus from the earlier book - who proposes a daring plan of a heist - to rob the very headquarters of the International Patent Office. Elizabeth has nothing to lose - and jumps onto the plan. The only problem being - we are talking about the Patent Office here. Swarming with international guards. Dummy locks that cannot be picked. And on top of all, somebody called the Custodian of Marvels whose only duty is to protect all the marvels stored in that vault under the International Patent Court. Never an easy day in paradise, huh.

The book takes its time to get going - initially meandering along the canals of England without purpose - just as lost as Elizabeth, frustrated by her aimless life, trying to stay ahead of the Duke of Northampton's long hands. I have mentioned in my previous books reviews that I was really looking forward to some kind of a showdown between the Duke and Elizabeth. It did happen - and well, I was disappointed to a certain extent. But Rod very cleverly keeps the focus of the book, for large parts on this spectacularly planned and meticulously carried out heist - where a group of the most unlikely robbers hit the International Patent Court. Elizabeth of course has her own selfish interest to be a part - to clear her father's name wrongly convicted by the Duke.

Once the heist is planned, though - reading the book was like watching a trapeze artist in action. Making you gasp and shudder as each plan fails and the next contingency one kicks in. Fleeting highs, thrilling lows when the plan almost fails to get through. Elizabeth is still the focus of the whole narrative - though in addition to her, Fabulo the dwarf credited with the overall plan of the heist and Jeremiah, the talented locksmith around whose skillful hands the whole plan revolved, are the two main characters whom I absolutely loved.

Both have their own demons to slay - and with Elizabeth, a pivotal cog in their overall plans to defy their own authorities - they set their plans in motion. Elizabeth still remains the young woman given to selfless brave acts and flashes of absolutely ingenuity and brilliance that saves the day - I would leave you readers to find out more about the love-story of course.

Overall, this is a fitting end to the story of plucky Elizabeth Barnabus, the girl who defied the agents of the Patent Office more than once - and gave the slip to the determined soldiers of the duke. It's a clever book, a new direction for the story of how the Gas-Lit Empire came to fall. Stick with it through the slow start and you will be rewarded with a thrilling heist story with it's twists and turns. A series you shouldn't miss - a wonderful alternate history series come alive through the eyes of a kickass character you will come for root for against all odds. Rod Duncan, you made me a happy camper!
Profile Image for M. Jones.
Author 7 books33 followers
February 25, 2019
The third and final part of the first Elizabeth Barnabus [sic] trilogy (thankfully there is more: The Queen of All Crows) is a departure from the previous two - no Edwin, and a heist plot which culminates in a confrontation with the Custodian of Marvels at the centre of the International Patent Office's power.
It is written with just as much tight plotting as the others, with a gripping finale which ties up all the loose ends.
My quibbles, because I'm a glass half-empty kinda guy:
But I don't hold that any of that against Rod Duncan: he has crafted a wonderful tale in an engaging world. Hats off to him, and to the great Gemma Whelan as Elizabeth's voice. I look forward to The Queen of All Crows.
Profile Image for Wing Kee.
2,091 reviews29 followers
December 17, 2018
Once again, great world building and meh pretty much everything else.

World: I love me some lost world and ancient technology stuff and this has been the case for this book. The turn that this book takes in the world building is exactly what I like and the depth and the design of the world is something I really truly enjoy. There is less mad scientist stuff here and more steampunk and I really liked that. This world is great, I just wish the story and the characters in this world did it justice.

Story: The story is okay, it’s not bad and it does continue to the story that started in book one with the Patent office and also the Duke which are the strongest through lines for the series. We do get both of it here and it being a heist book made me happy and I enjoyed it quite a bit. The pacing was a bit off and the Patent office with it’s world building and portrayal in the book was kinda wishy washy (for obvious reasons at the end of the book) so that them being the ‘villain’ was not really handled all that well. Still, the two storylines were done well, a bit loose in the pacing but still a fun read.

Characters: Argh...this is where the wheels fall off every single time. Elizabeth is an okay character but has no personality to speak of and so through her point of view the world gets a bland lens covering it. Then there is the wishy washy romance which has been brewing since book one. I like slow boil romances cause I feel that they are more earned, but the humming and hawing from the male (I’ve already forgotten his name cause he was so forgettable) was annoying and the very visible hand of the author to squeeze as much dramatic tension there was in this boiled potato of a romance was not good to read. The rest of the cast was okay, on par with the series but with the history of the characters and the world it was putting into account they should have been better developed and at least more memorable. In the end the characters and how they were written was the downfall of this series.

I really wanted to like the book, the world is amazing and I love the turn it took this book and I want more stories in this world...but please fix the writing of the characters.

Onward to the next book!

Profile Image for Saphana.
143 reviews2 followers
March 14, 2016
Not going into details here.

Why would anybody plan and carry out a heist in a location, of which nothing you can steal is of any use to you? You can't sell it. Not even the information. Isn't a heist basically about getting fabulously rich. We know, the Patent Offices only has documents and objects, that don't carry their stamp. Which is exactly, why you can't sell them.

"Next time we meet, it shall be as enemies". Such drama. Needless to say, it's not happening. What is happening, is romance.

In this installment of the series, I have the impression, we're loosing political momentum. Which is actually really sad, because that was one of the major plus points of the first installment.

How come, Elizabeth get's robbed on her boat in plain daylight and on other occasions, she can let this boat be moored unattended for days on end and afterwards, it's still even there?

There is no realistical way, a government would leave people alive, who know facts which could bring the whole construct down in the blink of an eye. And, until now, the IPO made pretty sure, no such people can be found any longer. Suddenly, they exchange hostages and let everybody go home?

I will have to think about this a little longer.
Profile Image for The Speculative Shelf.
240 reviews66 followers
December 29, 2017
3.75 out of 5 stars

In this third and final book of the series, Elizabeth Barnabus gets swept up in a plot to conduct a daring robbery of the most protected location on earth. While the preceding two books were mysteries, The Custodian of Marvels is a heist novel at its heart. I appreciate that this book is trying to do something different and it ramps up to a conclusion that is satisfying, surprising, and left me wanting more. Luckily, Elizabeth returns in early 2018 to kick off a new series in what has become a very compelling alternate history story.

See this review and other at The Speculative Shelf.
Profile Image for Linda Robinson.
Author 4 books134 followers
February 22, 2017
Would be great if there were more books in this series. I like Elizabeth Barnabas. She's a regular everyday shero, on the run through no fault of her own, just hanging out female and good-lookng. John Farthing is less interesting, but every book has to have a romantic interest. I liked Yan better. And Fabulo has some interesting traits. We get to visit with Julia in this book, busy studying law in London, unlike the other women in her class who are after a lawyer husband. Tinker is excellent as a sidekick. The International Patent Office has a screwy and highly entertaining method of guarding its Republic stuff right smack in the middle of the Kingdom. Hope Duncan sets a new series back on the waterways aboard the Harry. And let's have a more interesting swashbuckling dangerous wild man as Farthing's foil.
Profile Image for Daniel.
2,382 reviews36 followers
December 16, 2015
This review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 5.0 of 5

Rod Duncan is a genius and his Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire series will be much read and discussed for years to come.

In this third volume in the series, The Custodian of Marvels, Duncan builds a tremendous crescendo to the adventure of Elizabeth Barnabus and her fight against the agents of the Patent Office and the iron rule of the Gas-Lit Empire. Helping her along the way this time is the circus dwarf Fabulo, whom we haven't seen since the first book, along with Lara, Ellie and Yan, other circus performers, and new-comer Jeremiah Cavendish - a locksmith who once worked inside the Patent Office. Elizabeth's faithful young friend Tinker is also at Elizabeth's side during most of the adventure.

The plan belongs to Fabulo and he assembled the motley band based on what each could bring to the table. Elizabeth is requested because she was the only one who has actually fired the machine that "can punch a hole clean through an iron gatepost. And that from a mile away" which they intend to use to get through to the Custodian of Marvels who guards all the secrets of the empire.

I have so many thoughts bursting within me that I hardly know where to begin. Suffice it to say that the day I saw it was available for review, I downloaded it and read it in three sittings. In part because I really wanted to read this story, but also in part because author Rod Duncan has set this book at a breakneck pace. I'm quite certain I could feel my heart racing at one point, about two-thirds of the way through the book, as the intrepid band of misfits were facing exposure and capture before they could execute their plan.

With only a couple of little side-tracks along the way, Duncan has really tightened the story with this book, focusing on the end goal and driving everything forward to that end. This adventure-thriller style is much more reminiscent of the first book ( The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter ) than the second ( Unseemly Science ).


Part of what I liked so much about this book (and the series) is that Duncan doesn't over-explain things. He trusts the reader to be intelligent enough to make discoveries and to put some of the pieces together. Some of us may be a little slower at seeing these pieces than others, but that's part of what makes this so fantastic to read. For instance, nowhere is it explained flat-out that the machine Elizabeth is to use to cut through to get to the Guardian is a laser. What we know is: "A faint whirring issued from the machine and a beam of light, pencil thin, hung in the air before my face" and after aiming at a door and snapping through the lock "I’d seen nothing, but knew that all the energy of the reagents had been consumed in a span so short that no eye could have detected it." How many authors would have felt the need for Elizabeth to find an 'instruction manual' or the writing on the outside of a box labeling the machine to make sure the reader gets it? To many, I'm afraid.

And while Duncan reveals much more about the Empire and the Patent Office, I realize that there have been clues all along the way, specifically the dates as to when this action is taking place, making this an alternative history steampunk story. Or is it?

Many questions were answered here, but for all those answered, there are still questions remaining. Some new, revealing themselves from behind closed doors. Even though I've warned of spoilers, I don't want to give too much away. This series is a journey that the reader deserves to enjoy from as innocent a perspective as possible. But I will say that some of the historical timeline doesn't quite add up, which is what makes me want to read still more. There's another puzzle out there and Duncan has given us a few new pieces to suggest what it might look like. Is there another book planned, or is this it?

A word or two on romance. Rod Duncan has teased us with a romance between Elizabeth and Patent Officer John Farthing through the previous two books. I thought Duncan's handling of this relationship was spot on in this volume. It was never too much, nor even too little. As Elizabeth says of Farthing, he is "a man who always confused my emotions" and that stays true here, but Elizabeth is much more focused now on a job ahead of her.

It is interesting to note that much of what we knew of Elizabeth from the first two volumes, specifically her talent at hiding her identity and being seen as her own brother, does not come in to play here (other than as a token moment when she uses her skills on someone else). Also, Elizabeth's friend Julia Swain has a much-reduced role here as well.

And while this story is pretty much straight-forward, one of the few little side paths is a revenge moment that will keep the reader on pins and needles all the way until a bit of humor lets the reader laugh and relax from the tension.

Let me finish here with a brief comment on Duncan's writing. It is so crisp and clean that he paints such a clear picture of his world. It is so easy to see this almost-Dickensian future. He captures details but manages to do so without it feel over-written. For instance:
Footmen hurried to open the doors, whereupon two women emerged, dressed in outfits of yellow and green. It was a wonder that such a volume of skirts could have fit within the carriage. The women seemed young to be carrying such a weight of clothing.

It's a small moment of observance, but it paints a picture so clearly. And later:
Sleeping in ditches and under hedgerows, I'd thought my clothes couldn't become more soiled. But rolling into London on the back of a wagon, I found a different kind of dirt. Oily, metallic and sulphurous, it insinuated itself through the air, coating every surface. And, by stages, it worked its way into the very pores of my skin.

Not only can I see this, but I can smell it as well. And for a moment when I can 'hear' it: "A breath issued from the room, like a sigh."

This was such a fantastic book and series of books. I think that there is so much more in here that I haven't discovered on one reading. Just writing this review I think back on moments and realize that there are puzzle pieces that I may have over-looked. And the fact that Duncan leaves some of the answers to the reader has me thinking that I may want to start a reading group just so that I we can read The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire series and share moments and discuss and argue about what the author 'really intended.' To me, this is the mark of a great book - one that will have me thinking about it long after I've read it. One that I want to talk about with others.

Looking for a good book? This is it: The Custodian of Marvels, by Rod Duncan. You'll want to read the first two books in the series, but this is a series that will amaze and delight. And just like the Bullet-Catcher who tries to misdirect your attention, there's a lot going on here and you will want to pay attention.

I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgally, in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Michael.
121 reviews1 follower
October 11, 2018
In a way, this novel is the follow-up to The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter that I expected Unseemly Science to be: back are the circus folks and the magical machine that may transmute minerals. However, there was no way to expect this novel to turn into an Ocean's 11-esque heist novel! Elizabeth Barnabus's life has settled into a pattern of being on the run, hiding from a police force, having her boat ransacked from time to time, and being a maternal figure for Tinker, the boy she had befriended while held captive at the circus in the first novel. Little did she expect, however, a visit from Fabulo, the dwarf from the circus, who was now free and has a plan to take down the Patent Office while stealing it's marvels of science at the same time.

This novel slows down at a few points while setting up the last act, but aside from that it is just as fun as the first two books in the trilogy.
Profile Image for Tricia.
274 reviews
September 28, 2019
Cracking finish to the Fall of The Gas-Lit Empire series. Mr Duncan achieves that rare delight - a series that just gets better and better with each book. Steampunk and alternative history done right, an absolute joy.

The crossover points in history are handled beautifully throughout the series but I have to say the alternate history of Waterloo is a masterclass in how it should be done. All pretence of working whilst listening was abandoned at that point in the book. There are so many nuances and elegant touches throughout this book making it an absolute joy. The ending was very satisfying, cleverly crafted and I was utterly devastated that it was over.

All the characters developed so well, revealing strengths, weaknesses and hidden depths - there is not one I would not follow into new adventures - and several I would like to.

Again beautifully read by Gemma Whelan, whose narration gives real depth to the characters.

In short - a triumphant conclusion to the series.
Profile Image for Talitha .
190 reviews61 followers
March 12, 2016
Marvelous! Full review to come.
If you haven't read the first book in The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire series, there may be spoilers in this review for you. My review of The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter is here.

You know the weird sense of satisfaction that comes with putting the final piece in a puzzle? Or when you finally polish off a crossword, without once resorting to frantic Googling? That's the only way to describe the feeling I had when I finished this book- way too early, as it happens, but I was unable to put it down. Everything came into focus- not the way I had predicted, but in a flawless manner nonetheless.

I'm one of those people who only grudgingly give a book five stars. It's difficult for me to rate something so highly, likely due to my perfectionistic tendencies. But when I was finished with this book, I knew there was simply no other rating for it- The Custodian of Marvels was simply the perfect book for me. Between a heroine I've admired from the first book and daring exploits that may involve some former characters I thought had been left behind, this book had my recipe for bookish success.

Elizabeth Barnabus has managed to evade or escape any sticky situations she's fallen into before- but this will prove to be her most audacious yet. She may be eminently resourceful, but she will need help to pull off the scheme. Tinker, her young friend, comes to her aid again in this story, helping to set her on the right path. I never truly thought having a younger boy as a sidekick would work out as well as it did, but he fits perfectly into the storyline.

I had thought on the role of the International Patent Office, but dismissed them as a quirk of nature in the first book of this series. As a fan of excessive worldbuilding, I assumed they had to do with the plot, but not in a paramount manner. Suffice it to say, the organization has a lot to do with the storyline in this book, bringing about the return of yet another key character.

The Custodian of Marvels surpassed my expectations, and not in a minor way. Whereas I had anticipated an exceptional book, I instead was gifted a rather extraordinary one, filled with action, suspense, and returning characters that left me cheering. If you find yourself in dire need of a steampunk or alternate history series, I sincerely endorse the Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire series for your next reads!

Rating: 5 of 5 Stars for an absolutely marvelous steampunk heist!

Disclaimer: I was given a free advance ecopy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My opinion remains as forthright as ever. (And this is the first review copy I've ever rated five stars, thank you very much!)
Profile Image for Online Eccentric Librarian.
2,906 reviews5 followers
January 17, 2016
More reviews at the Online Eccentric Librarian http://surrealtalvi.wordpress.com/

More reviews (and no fluff) on the blog http://surrealtalvi.wordpress.com/

The Custodian of Marvels is the third and final book in the Gas-Lit Empire series. In this volume, author Duncan does an excellent job of answering questions about the world and Elizabeth while neatly avoiding overwriting the denouement. The action is fast and furious throughout and this is much more a thriller than an urban fantasy. Admittedly, as much as I loved the other two books, I am not a fan of "Ocean's 11" type of heist stories and would have preferred more of the fantastical. But Duncan has crafted an intelligent and logical heroine in Elizabeth; following her story has been a treat.

Story: Elizabeth and Tinker live under the radar on a river barge, trying to make ends meet through small time shipping commissions. But that can only last so long since the Duke is continually raising the bounty on her head and others have taken an interest in what she knows. When the Dwarf Fabublo appears on her boat with a wild offer, Elizabeth sees a way she might be able to defeat both the Duke and the Patent Office once and for all.

As with all good trilogies, smoking guns or side characters from previous volumes unexpectedly become main players by the end. At the same time, other important people in Elizabeth's life only have 1-2 scenes as they mature and grow apart from her straightened circumstances. But as always, they are all distinctly defined and very unique. Even new characters, as with a keysmith in this volume, are grounded and real. The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire really is about the unique people and how deftly and intelligently they exist in this fantastical world.

There were many riddles to solve: the power behind the Patent Office, Elizabeth's relationship with the Patent Office Officer, the Duke's bounty, and the mystery of this alternate universe world. By the end, the answers/solutions/resolutions are all revealed, leaving a very satisfying read. Yes, there are several surprises but the writing is consistently subtle and this is much more a book of nuance than action.

Readers who enjoyed the first two books will find much more of the same strong writing and nuanced characters in The Custodian of Marvels. Duncan has created a winner here and concluded the series masterfully. I am sad to leave the story of Elizabeth behind. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.
883 reviews39 followers
January 25, 2016
I don't read many steampunk novels, but this series got me hooked because I enjoyed the main character so much. This is the third of the three books and yet the ending leaves the characters in such an unresolved position that I wouldn't be surprised to see this continue. It might take a stretch for it to happen, but this author is definitely talented enough to accomplish it.

The year is 2009, the country is the Kingdom of England and Southern Wales, and the Gas-Lit Empire is run by the International Patent Office to keep control over any Unseemly Science which would be detrimental to the good of all citizens. Control is absolute with the Patent Office being completely beyond the oversight of any group or organization. Incorruptible you might say. Or is it? Elizabeth Barnabus just wants to get justice for the crime committed by the Duke of Northampton against her father which brought about her being given to the Duke as a slave for life. If only she could look up the history of the court case in the Patent Office files. In order to make this come into being Elizabeth joins a boy named Tinker, a dwarf called Fabulo and other members of the defunct circus she was performing in. The only item Elizabeth has is a very old book, The Bullet-Catcher's Handbook, which gives hints of possible corruption of historical events in the past. She wants proof against the Duke, the rest of her band wants treasure. Together they plan to do the impossible.

As mentioned before this is the third book in what I presume to be a trilogy. If you haven't read the previous two novels, at least begin this one by reading the entries in the Glossary at the end of the book. There you will find explanations for the most important concepts in this alternate history novel. It was fascinating to see how this world had not progressed much at all since the war with Napolean. I was a little disappointed that there was not more attention given to some types of advances which would bring in the literary steampunk aspect, but when you (and I) read the book you do understand why. I enjoyed reading the series very much but I need to be honest and say that the ending was somewhat of a let down. If this is truly the end of the series, there is a lot left unresolved.

I received an e-ARC of this novel through NetGalley and Angry Robot Books.
Profile Image for Amy.
926 reviews47 followers
January 14, 2023
The Custodian of Marvels, the final book of The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire, was - as always - amazing! I very much liked how this book resolved most issues that have run through the series since the first book and allowed us to see more of supporting characters like Fabulo (I loved the reveal regarding his relationship with Harry Timpson), Tinker (I adore the parentification that Elizabeth has undergone for him), and John Farthing (especially as the romance between he and Elizabeth was allowed to grow organically over the course of three books, and - given the obstructions faced - has not progressed unbelievably far).

The Custodian of Marvels addressed one of my concerns. For the entirety of the first and second books, the Duke of Northampton has been an off-screen bogeyman: a driver of plot, but never seen and with unexplained motives that he will go to unbelievable lengths to fulfill. That in and of itself is not a bad thing, but the sheer financial lengths he was willing to go to in order to obtain Elizabeth started to feel a bit forced in Unseemly Science. One of my favorite things about The Custodian of Marvels is that (1) Elizabeth actually goes to face the Duke. This puts power back in her hands (where she hasn't had it for the prior two books). Granted that it's not much power (she doesn't go into the confrontation intending to survive it), but she is no longer running, and that's as good a place any to start to move on. Also, in going back to Northamptonshire to face the Duke, (2) the story allows the reader to get a sense for the Duke as a character. The scene with the young man-at-arms, Fitzwilliam, allows a chance to tell the backstory that regarding the Duke's obsession with Elizabeth, thus justifying his desperation to capture her and the amount of money he puts up in the name of that pursuit.

All in all, I love The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire series, and I think The Custodian of Marvels is my favorite of this trilogy. I am looking forward to reading more books in this world, whether they are from Elizabeth's point of view or not. After all, there is still the matter of erasing history and the index cards to be dealt with. :)
Profile Image for Kara-karina.
1,658 reviews252 followers
January 28, 2016
Every time! Every bloody time it happened to me with this bloody series, ladies and gents. First I'm not sure but keep reading, then it gets more and more interesting, and bam! There is this huge, exciting race to the end. Which finishes really quickly. Which is why I don't rate the books very high. The consistency is too choppy, but overall this is solid 4 star material.

Every book is very different. This time Elizabeth realizes that she is tired of running from the Duke and decides to confront her fears, but something or someone interferes along the way and forces her to adjust her goals.

Without meaning it or realising how the hell did she get there, our heroine ends up taking part in the heist of the century. While her companions want to rob the Patent Office for its marvels, Miss Barnabus is on the hunt for the files from her father's case to find out who the corrupt officials of the Patent Office was.

There is a lot of preparation in which Elizabeth either runs away from the agents or plays the role of a mediator between the hot headed companions, but overall when the heist starts halfway through the book the reader really pays attention and the tension level spikes really high.

I extremely enjoyed this book and especially its ending. It's happy-for-now type, but nothing else will suit Elizabeth Barnabus quite so well.

There is a plethora of secondary characters, among which the blacksmith definitely stands out, but generally the rest of them are already familiar to the reader.

Well thought, well researched book, a fascinating concept of alternative history and a steady, likeable heroine. Recommended. Might suit the fans of Karen Kincy.
Profile Image for Jonathan.
102 reviews5 followers
March 21, 2016
Sometimes a story just goes this way

I've read some of the other reviews both good and bad. None of them captured for me the reason this story "captured" me. First, The Duke's obsession follows a certain historical accuracy about the abuse of the lower classes in Europe--and what exactly the oppressed's options were during that time. Second, it doesn't gloss over human frailty or try to make everything turn out all right exactly.

Elizabeth is human, which means as much as the author knows how to do write it she's imperfect and doesn't always make the wisest decisions. She doesn't know everything, isn't James Bond of the underworld, nor does she get her way.

Still, this is story and fiction, one in which all of us participate to some degree. A "what-if" story always misses nuances or possibilities that any real history would dictate--human nature being what it is. That is not a criticism, merely an observation of the reality of writing a good story. Within this narrative lies a true heart for the wealth of the human experience as well as a decent grasp of various perspectives.

Happy endings are what we make them; the realities of politics and social strata cum mores bow to traditions which are far stronger than reason. In this, our author succeeds.

I loved the ending because (without giving anything away) it fits the narrative of the society imagined and most likely history. But most of all it continues in the vein of the woman who's fight to survive accepts all sorts of plot twists in her own life and flows with current when necessary.

I'm a fan.
115 reviews2 followers
February 20, 2016
Elizabeth Barnabas stole my heart in the bullet catchers daughter. I couldn't get enough of her. The second book in the series was not as good as the first and to me personally, the third was the worst.
Don't get me wrong- this is still significantly better than a lot of books out there, but in terms of my comparison with the first book, it does not live up to it.

I expected a lot more and perhaps that's just why I didn't enjoy it so much.
Profile Image for Jacey.
Author 26 books98 followers
June 14, 2018
The third Elizabeth Barnabus book set in the gas-lit Empire, following on from The Bullet Catcher's Daughter and Unseemly Science. Elizabeth is on the run from the authorities as both halves of Britain – independent and suspicious of each other – prepare to sign an extradition treaty that could send Elizabeth and all the Kingdom refugees back home against their will. If that happens the slimy Duke of Northampton will be waiting to snatch her into sexual slavery. Even before the treaty is signed Elizabeth is rounded up with other refugees and has to use all her skills to escape. But not to be outdone she takes matters into her own hands in a dangerous, last-ditch attempt to be free. We meet some old friends from previous books. There's a slow burn romance with Patent Office agent John Farthing, a daring heist, and a satisfying resolution. I've thoroughly enjoyed the whole trilogy and I see that Elizabeth is back in The Queen of All Crows, book 1 of a new trilogy. Excellent!
Profile Image for Katherine Hetzel.
Author 20 books11 followers
January 8, 2018
Just when you think Elizabeth holds her future in her own hands, it's ripped away in pursuit of the Custodian of Marvels.

Read again in two sittings - there's something about the way Rod writes that simply keeps you turning the pages.

Apparently this might also be the review that allows the author to add 'cat scarer' to his CV; when the Custodian of Marvels was revealed, I yelled aloud and made my moggy leap off the settee where he'd been happily curled up next to me while I was reading.

This one brings one phase of Elizabeth's life to a close...but I now can't wait to get started on The Queen of The Crows, which has just been published, to see where life next takes this feisty heroine.
482 reviews
March 12, 2018
This was an excellent finale to this series.

It didn't feel rushed in any way, I'm pretty sure all the loose ends were tied up and the ending was perfect.

I thoroughly enjoyed this series. I wasn't sure at first but once I got into it I thought it was excellent.

The idea is really interesting and I get the feeling there could be a much bigger 'universe' to discover.

Really liked the characters, I thought Elizabeth was bit cold at first and didn't really like her much. However as her character was filled out more I grew to understand her and was really rooting for her by the end.

Great Steampunk influences throughout and I would really love to read more in this vein.

Would highly recommend.
Profile Image for Bmeyer.
361 reviews2 followers
June 6, 2018
I was worried this was the last in the series, but it looked like at least 3 more are planned. I loved this story too. If the first book was a good mystery, the second social commentary on refugees and an good mystery, the third throws everything out the window and takes you along on a heist. I love heists, books or movies, so I was here for this story.
Good for Duncan! So few authors are willing to distance themselves from the set paradigms of their books that's it refreshing and exciting to read one who isn't. Although I have only read three books, I have seen his lead grow and develop more than many characters I have read 6 or 8 books about. Looking forward to reading more from this author.
Profile Image for MTK.
488 reviews34 followers
January 20, 2019
I would rate the series as a whole 3,5 stars. It is interesting, but hardly captivating (had I not bought it as boxed set, I doubt I would have goten around to buying the second and third book), the pacing can best be described as leisurely (not necessarily a bad thing, but these are steampunk adventure novels) and the characters can feel thinly drawn, it took me the whole three books to get a clear image of the protagonist.

I won't rush to get the sequel trilogy, but I might return to it in the future.
Profile Image for Sidsel Pedersen.
804 reviews52 followers
November 3, 2017
I am still not sure how Lizzie brings about the fall of the empire... but I am guessing her findings somehow sets things into motion. But I see that Duncan has planned up to nine books in this series, so that makes a lot of sense. I am looking forward to seeing how the revolution will happen.

It was a strange tale, but one I did quite enjoy. It is one of the most punk filled steampunk tales I have read in a long time. So much questing of authority.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Brendan.
Author 19 books170 followers
November 15, 2018
Exactly as much fun as I'd hoped it would be based on the first two. And this one's a heist story! Great twists and some really nice payoffs for things we've been wondering about through the series. Basically, if you liked the first two, as I did, you must read this one.

One complaint: oh, well, who cares, it's a great book.
Profile Image for Danny.
375 reviews3 followers
March 11, 2021
This series was fun and at times captivating and at times a bit slow. The ending felt anticlimactic to me personally. I liked the adventure and the revenge stories. Bringing in the locksmith was an interesting spin to be as well. This series had a fun spin, some cool new concepts but never really hooked me in entirely as a page turner must. I liked Elizabeth and what we learn about her but feel frustrated we never really get any solid answers about anyone and their back stories.
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