Nov 28, 2017

[Books] The Bullet Catcher's Daughter (Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire Book 1)

So I'm majorly playing catch up with my book review queue, particularly all the great genre fiction from Angry Robot Books. I've been a member of their review group for some years now but they certainly do a great job of releasing more books than I can read comfortably. But hey free geeky books deserve some love.

In the case of The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter, it has actually reached a point that the books came up on sale as part of an Amazon Kindle Deal and I ended up buying an official copy of the book even before getting around to reviewing the advanced copy I had been giving. This is far from ideal but I do hope that this review helps the book's continuing success in the long run, even if terribly late.

And there's a lot to be excited about this title as it's an interesting venture with a steampunk setting but it doesn't let the trappings of the genre distract you from the story.

And what an interesting story premise it is.

Synopsis: The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter is a mystery / detective novel set in a Victorian-style version of Leicester and Lincolnshire as part of a generally steampunk dystopian setting. This is the first book in his Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire trilogy of titles and was nominated for the Philip K. Dick award in 2014. Disclaimer: While I am an active reviewer for Angry Robot Books, I did not receive an advanced reading copy for this title. This reflects the final Kindle version of the book that I had purchased for myself.

Elizabeth Barnabas is an exile of The Kingdom and now lives in the Republic where women aren't expected to earn a proper income as it is not their role in society. And thus Elizabeth also poses as her supposed twin brother, Edward, who is a detective. It's the only way that she can make ends meet but cases are not as common as she'd like and her floating home, the house boat Bessie is under threat of foreclosure.

Enter a most wealthy client who has crossed over from the Kingdom with a simple task of seeking out her missing brother along with an offer for a generous advance. But that first meeting is interrupted by men from the International Patent Office, who in this world are a group with sweeping powers to control technologies and ideas that may be somehow harmful to the world. The involvement of the Patent Office makes this case difficult in addition to the fact that Elizabeth cannot return to the Kingdom without risking arrest. She isn't particularly keen on taking the case but her need to pay her bills will override her instincts related to this case.

What I Liked: Elizabeth is a fascinating character with a rich backstory including growing up in a circus (where she learned the art of disguise) and her escape from her homeland to avoid becoming the property of nobleman. The story is told from her perspective and the way she approaches this is generally methodical and on the whole fascinating. She's quite the fully realized character with a whole lot of potential.

The larger premise of the world is intriguing although it's not fully clearly how things go to this point. This is not some book set in an alternate past but is actually an alternate present and the events that led to this point have yet to be fully discussed. But it's enough to have me curious about how things developed in this manner and I do hope to learn more in future books.

What Could Have Been Better: The actually "mystery" of the book was a little weak and it wasn't so much as following clues to figuring out where the brother had gone to merely just following a trail and pushing on. It didn't really give that sense of fulfillment and a lack of understanding of the sort of ideas that the Patent Office chooses to control sort of narrowed the potential for also figuring out what was going on. Instead I feel we got a little side-tracked with the creep circus characters standing in Elizabeth's way.

Other characters didn't quite get as much development, like the young girl Julia. She's somehow Elizabeth't student and has a fascination for learning the law and how to become an investigator of sorts - both of these subjects being not meant for women, as far as this rigid society is concerned. But apart from this desire to learn and her fascination for Elizabeth's brother, there's not much else to her character in this first venture, and that feels like a waste. I feel the same way about the leader of the circus troupe that Elizabeth investigates as we spend more time with the less than savory folks working for him.

TL;DR: The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter is an interesting take on a steampunk setting that doesn't let the trappings of the genre become its focus to the point of distraction. There's a lot of potential for this protagonist to grow into something extraordinary but we'll only really find out in the subsequent books. Thus the title gets a good 4 circus tricks that Elizabeth employs to stay ahead of her pursuers out of a possible 5.

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