The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter by Rod Duncan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Bullet Catchers Daughter (The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire-book 1) by Rod Duncan
I'd like to say this is a great addition to my steampunk library, but in truth it just adds to the confusion of trying to understand Genre's in general. Truth be told the best way to understand them is to realize they are for publishers and book stores and possibly even libraries; to help them slot the work into a place that might maximize the discovery by readers with common interest in the story. In a nutshell this novel falls closer to the definition of Gas-Light or Gas-Lamp than it does Steampunk and that's where a majority of what I've read from the steampunk genre actually fall. That much said I can say this is a fine addition to my Gas-Light collection of books. And upon sampling the second book in the series I can see that it's a Gas-light Alternate Universe that is occurring in present times and I'm not sure that this first book The Bullet Catchers Daughter was that clear in it's world building to have established that distinction as I read.
But in the first two chapters of the next book, the Unseemly Science, there is a declaration during an execution that the date is the Forth of March 2009 so I have to keep that in mind as I try to slot this novel in some category; so Gas-Light Alternate Universe is good.
I'm not at all sure that the thread about Elizabeth's disguise as a man is anywhere near to cross-dressing in any conventional sense. The story and the fact that the world has frozen in place and time against specific social conventions demands that she cannot own a number of things on her own and certainly she would not be allowed to run a business out of a houseboat; so the disguise is the simple means through which she stays free in a world that would have her married and under the thumb of whatever capricious desire her husband might have; or in this case possibly ruined by a Duke who thought nothing of abusing his privilege and imposing himself upon her. The whole concept of a woman investigator posing as a man to gain clients is nothing new if one remembers Remington Steel from television (Though she had less of the constrictions upon her than Elizabeth does). And I think that it's clear from both the storyline and the character herself that she only does this for the convenience of obtaining work and in this instance some measure of freedom which can hardly equate to the thoughts derived from the normal usage of the notion of cross-dressing. Although when stepping progress back so far it becomes cross-dressing in a greater sense than today in a society where the normal attire of women tends to criss-cross across the cross-dressing lines to become fashion.
An interesting side note to all of this is the unmentioned, though possibly implied, notion that circumventing industrial progress and limiting invention and innovation might have retarded any movement toward suffrage. In this instance I would wonder where Christianity fell if not somehow to the wayside when the Ludite movement takes hold. The reason I say this is that despite much of Christianities insistence on remaining dogmatically in the past on such issues, it also manages to account for the revolution of many of the aspects necessary for the development of all the steps that led to the rapid rise of intellect and dissemination of knowledge that were instrumental in furthering the industrial revolutions that may or may not have helped bring us all to a level that still has a way to go before we can truly expect to claim that woman are equal to men. Still this notion makes for an interesting reason for man to be still living in the dark ages.
One of the main things this story has going for it is the fine characterization of Elizabeth and it's weaker point is that it almost falls into a thin mimic of a Sherlock Holmes tale and could easily have been entitled The Case of the Bullet Catchers Daughter. Unfortunately Elizabeth lacks the seeming innate insight into human nature; or she might not have failed to see what was happening around her. On the other hand had the character of the Duchess of Bletchley been portrayed a bit stronger than she was; then it may have easily become something to compare with some of Holmes more notorious cases and the reveal of an ultimate deception may have been forgivable.
A second strong point is the world building of the traveling shows, which are heavily figuring into the very character of Elizabeth. Because of that: this thread monopolizes a majority of the reader’s time muddling along with the circus and almost using this portion as an excuse to withdraw any focus on the Duchess who is unfortunately very integral to the whole plot of the story. So instead of using some of that time to create the subtle foreshadowing that might help a mystery like this, we have a character with no shadow at all that unfortunately should be heavily shaded for when everything comes to light. In a way the threaded notion of diverting the attention of the audience to facilitate the illusion seems to have crossed over to the whole novel trying to divert the reader from the illusion within the plot. But to say any more would be to spoil the whole.
I really did enjoy the novel as a whole and would have loved to give it a five star, unfortunately if I were to look back at Steampunk and or Gas-Light or Gas-Lamp stories that I've read this one falls in the middle somewhere. This causes a double problem for me in that because it is published by a traditional publisher of sort it normally would be overpriced from my standpoint. Most especially for me in that I have available many books in his muddled genre that shine and are usually priced in a much lower range where these are being price just on the lower side of the usual traditional ebook and if I'm to believe the projection for the third novel the price remains the same when the novel has been whittled down to one third the narrative of the first two books. Though these prices are probably lower than some traditional publishers, with the overabundance of equal quality books in this genre the price becomes questionable and for now I'll likely go to other authors works rather than continue with this series that for me is overprice both for the genre and its overall quality.
Keep in mind that this still is a fair offering in the genre and for those that don't like to take the risk of self published books and have fewer choices in this genre; it might well be something they can add to their library. Also the pricing issue is only my opinion and in honesty I have to admit that the price falls quite fair when compared to other traditional offerings. I tend to have this problem with all traditionally published books and have to see a lot of promise in the sample I read before I'm even tempted to purchase them as e-books and often the sample is inadequate to that task, which means that it is the rare thing that I buy traditionally published e-books; but for a handful of authors that I know well.
This is reasonable Steampunk and Gas-Lamp fiction that makes for a fair light read that is good for any fan of the Genre. Keeping in mind that those favoring the dark and seedy side of the genre might be disappointed, though that was one of the things I did find refreshing about the entire piece.
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