The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter by Rod Duncan. ★★★1/2
I’ve had a bit of a hit or miss history with steampunk, but The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter was certainly a hit. It’s a fast paced start to a series taking place in an alternate timeline where all new technology was outlawed by the all powerful Patent Office. With technology stagnant, societal mores stagnated as well. Thus to live independently, Elizabeth Barnabus has to pull of the greatest illusion of her life – by day she is herself, by night she is a fictional twin brother, who works as a private detective. When she takes a case involving a missing aristocrat, she suddenly finds herself in a world of trouble with the Patent Office on her tail.
If you’ve been following my reviews for a while, you’ll probably have gathered that I like rogue type characters. These tend to be some variant of con artists or thieves, but Elizabeth fits the bill in an unusual but satisfying manner. She grew up in a circus, learning illusions and slight of hand. These are the skills she uses in her information gathering. My favorite parts of the book involved Elizabeth using some form of deception to escape pursuers or gather intel.
Elizabeth lives in what in our world is Scotland. Her version of the Britain has been split in half between the Republic and the Kingdom (Republic in the north, Kingdom in the south). The two have varying cultures, although women don’t have it great in either of them. There’s some of the technology you’d expect from steampunk – say, airships – but there’s not a huge amount of steampowered gadgetry since the Patent Office keeps a tight lid on new inventions. The most impressive feat was that the world building never became info dumpy. You just sort of gently glide into the world and its rules.
While I loved seeing how Elizabeth used her stage magic training to get her way out of sticky situations, I never grew that attached to her as a character. The same can be said for the supporting cast. I don’t think it was to the point where it hampered my enjoyment of the story, but without a strong connection to the characters I doubt I’d ever give this one a reread.
I’d recommend The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter for anyone looking for a fun, fast paced steampunk story with a very canny female lead.