The word Luddite is now a gentle insult for someone who doesn’t like technology. Two hundred years ago, it referred to people who smashed the “infernal machines” of the Industrial Revolution and followed the fictional Ned Ludd. This is the point of divergence in Rod Duncan’s Gas-Lit Empire series. In The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter, set about 150 years after the Luddites managed to grind technological advancement to a standstill, the United Kingdom has been split into two countries: the Kingdom of England and South Wales and the Anglo-Scottish Republic. The Kingdom was home to our protagonist, Elizabeth Barnabas, until a corrupt aristocrat bankrupted her father’s circus and she was sold into indenture to pay off her father’s fabricated debts. She fled north.
During the five years between her escape to the North and the opening of The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter, Elizabeth has been working as an intelligence gatherer. Or, to be more accurate, she has been disguising herself as a man and pretending to be her own twin in order to make a living. We meet her as she is meeting (as her brother, Edwin) with the Duchess of Bletchley, from the Kingdom. The Duchess asks Elizabeth to find her missing brother. Their meeting is interrupted by armed men. This is just the first time we see Elizabeth having to make a quick change and a quick escape.
Elizabeth is in sore need of money. Her houseboat payment is coming due. If she can get enough money, she can return home to the Kingdom and leave the repressing Republic behind. Though she receives many warnings, Elizabeth takes the case. Clues lead her to Harry Timpson’s traveling show, the Laboratory of Arcane Wonders. She is far from the only person on the trail of the Duchess’s missing brother. The International Patent Office—which squelches technology and scientific innovation—are after him. Timpson is after him. The chase leads all over the border zone between the Republic and the Kingdom.
I was immediately hooked by the world Duncan created. What would the world look like if the Industrial Revolution had been halted, even reverse? What really made this book for me was Elizabeth Barnabas. Her unusual upbringing in a traveling circus and her five years of forced independence have made her clever and strong. She’s a wonderful character and it was a treat to watch her work through the challenges the cropped up as she find out why everyone wants to get their hands on the Duchess’s missing brother.
The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter is the opening book in a series and I will be eagerly waiting for the next installment of Elizabeth’s adventures.
I received a free copy of this ebook from NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. It will be released 26 August 2014.