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The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter by Rod Duncan

There was once a line marked out by God, 
through which were divided Heaven and Hell...
It's been a while since I took a crack at any so-called steam punk; longer still because I forgot I had this on my e-reader. A downside of e-books is that their very incorporeality means they cannot remind you that they are yet to be read by their presence on the night table.

It was picked up at the same time as that other rather magnificent novel from Angry Robot for a similarly magnificent price [editor's note–it still seems to be discounted rather heavily as of 23rd June 2017; see the link below!], and appears to be the first in a series featuring Elizabeth Barnabus, daughter of destitute (and dead) erstwhile travelling circus owner. Miss Barnabus is an intelligence gatherer, or rather when disguised as her own brother she is, as the Leicester in which the novel takes place exhibits a particularly Victorian attitude to the work that a young woman might enter into.

Not all like the modern, equitable, meritocratic Britain of today, no.

Ahem.

The country, divided as if into Fattypuffs (the monarchy) and Thinifers (the Republic) is a Luddite paradise, literally, with new technology strictly controlled by The Patent Office, a transnational security organisation bigger and more powerful than any given government. Progress was stalled around the time of the invention of the steam engine.

Without giving away too many details, what emerges is an entertaining and convincing whodunnit involving a magic show, alchemy, the discovery of an impossible machine, and lots of lovely Victorian machines and machinations. Barnabus is believable, her flight from an old and contrived family debt adds to the dramatic crisis and eventual resolution, and Duncan manages to show off his science background without unduly boring the reader* (this reader anyway). Well worth 50p if you ask me, and I may go on and look into books two and three, once I've got all my Michael Marshal Smith out of the way.

*Reading the first paragraph of his Wikipedia entry is quite entertaining in no small measure.

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