Thursday, 23 August 2018

Review: The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter by Rod Duncan

The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter is a fast-paced adventure novel set in an alternative, steampunky Britain, where the industrial revolution has slowed to a crawl and a civil war has split the country into a puritan Republic in the North and a flamboyant Kingdom in the South.

Elizabeth Barnabus, our heroine, is a refugee from the Kingdom, living in the Republic. She has fled because she was about to be enslaved due to family debts, and being the (sex) slave of an evil old Lord did not appeal to her. In the Republic, she leads a double life, running a detective agency dressed as a man (her supposed brother), while managing the home (a boat) and neighbours as herself. Here, too, she has financial problems, and unless she can earn a huge sum within a few months, she'll lose her home.

Enter a mysterious Lady from across the border, with an assignment that promises to be richly rewarded: find her missing brother (who has left the Kingdom with a circus now touring the Republic), and all Elizabeth's troubles will be solved.

Of course, things never quite go to plan.

There's a lot to like about The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter. The pace is fast. The tropes are fun. (Femme fatale! Circus! Detectives and spies! Mysterious strangers! Women dressing as men to outsmart the Patriarchy!) ... It's never boring and Elizabeth is kept busy chasing her quarry and being chased by nefarious villains.

There's also a lot that could be a bit better. (One of the defining features of Angry Robot books is that they have a portfolio of interesting, promising books, many of which could have used a bit more editorial massaging to polish into shape). For example, the world building is a bit wonky. The history is drip fed into the story, but feels like it only exists in the very broadest strokes. The plot paints a sinisterly powerful Patent Office, but after reading it I still have no idea why the patent office has powers, what its motives are in the present, nor what it was set up to do in the first place. Our hero is supposed to be very good at leading her double life, undiscovered for five years, but in the space of the novel a surprising number of people find out her secret. And ultimately, the resolutions of the plot around the missing brother and the McGuffin felt rushed and a bit... inconsistent. (Pretty much everything about the McGuffin was a bit odd).

So: a pleasant steampunky caper, good fun, but a little rough around the edges.

Rating: 3.5/5

3 comments:

LJ Conrad said...

It does sound like a good premise. There's quite a trend for this sort of title though, 'the something's female-noun'.

Federhirn said...

Yes, I agree, the title is off-putting. Mostly I try to avoid any book with that tired title format - "The blablabla's daughter /wife /niece /aunt /grandmother /dominatrix".

LJ Conrad said...

Yeah, it's a strange attempt to objectify a female lead.