Review: The Outlaw and the Upstart King

TheOutlawtheUpstartKing_144dpi.jpgTitle: The Outlaw and the Upstart King (January 1, 2019)
Author: Rod Duncan
Pages: 384
Series: The Map of Unknown Things #2, Gas-Lit Empire #5 (Series Tracker)


After leaving the Gas-Lit Empire behind and surviving a run-in with a floating city of pirates, Elizabeth Barnabus has landed on the inhospitable island of Newfoundland in less than ideal circumstances. While seeking a seemingly impossible escape to the Free States of America she runs across Elias, a thumbless outlaw who hungers for revenge against those who wronged him.

I appreciate that each book in this series does something markedly different while remaining true to the spirit of the overall saga. Here, in a brand new setting, Elizabeth takes a backseat to newcomer Elias and he drives the narrative for most of the book. Elias adds a new element to this story as his bitterness and reckless nature serve as a nice counterbalance to Elizabeth’s kind heart and sharp mind.

Author Rod Duncan continues to convey atmosphere in an engaging way. You can smell the brine, feel the mud, and hear the gulls in the sky, which is a testament to Duncan’s skills as a storyteller. Even if I wasn’t always enraptured by the story, I could enjoy the vivid imagery and worldbuilding that Duncan employs.

Overall, this is a strong entry in the ever-expanding Gas-Lit Empire saga and I enjoyed this one slightly more than the first book in this new trilogy. I’m excited to see how the story rounds out in the final book.

★★★¾ out of 5

My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Advertisements

Review: Arm of the Sphinx

Bancroft_ArmoftheSphinx-TPTitle: Arm of the Sphinx (2018; first published 2014)
Author: Josiah Bancroft
Pages: 380
Series: The Books of Babel #2 (Series Tracker)

In my reading life, I want to get sucked into stories, invested in characters, enraptured by action, and delighted by prose. If only one or two of those boxes can be checked by any given book, I’m perfectly satisfied. Josiah Bancroft’s books check a fifth box — all of the above. Every page of Arm of the Sphinx is a delectable treat, with countless delightful passages, characters, and a story that gets more intriguing as mysteries build and questions are answered.

The Tower of Babel and its surrounding airspace feels pulled from a fairy tale. Bancroft has created a fantastical setting that remains beguiling and limitless in terms of storytelling possibilities. I’m enjoying learning more about the Tower and the direction that the story seems to be going in that regard.

This book expands upon the backstories of each character, doles out meaningful motivations, and pairs the characters up in fun and refreshing ways. The story hits a few lulls leading up to the sections involving the Sphinx, but things pick up again and finish with a satisfying flourish.

Like Senlin Ascends before it, Arm of the Sphinx is inventive, clever, and imbued with a sense of virtuousness and humanity. Bancroft is weaving together a wonderful series that has all the makings of a modern fantasy classic. I cannot wait to get my hands on The Hod King later this year.

★★★★½ out of 5

Review: The Queen of All Crows

The-Queen-of-All-Crows-coverTitle: The Queen of All Crows (2018)
Author: Rod Duncan
Pages: 370
Series: The Map of Unknown Things #1, Gas-Lit Empire #4 (Series Tracker)

My thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Fresh off her battle with the International Patent Court, Elizabeth Barnabus finds herself working on behalf of that very organization that brought her so much trouble in the past. She sets sail to investigate the disappearance of an airship that went down in the Atlantic.

The concept of the worldwide alliance that maintains world peace at the cost of technological advancement continues to be a fascinating one. This novel explores the parts of the world untouched by this alliance and the consequences of unrestrained progress.

Having raced through and enjoyed Rod Duncan’s previous trilogy, I was excited to see what new direction he takes with Elizabeth in this new series set in the same world. Sure enough, Duncan has crafted a solid adventure story that featured some superb scenes and passages. I remain impressed by Duncan’s skills as a writer. His prose is clean, readable, and rich. There’s a great theatricality infused into his stories that make the mundane seem grand.

My main issues with the story had to do with the third act, where some lulls in pacing emerge and some steam is lost from the first parts of the book. Overall, though, this is another enjoyable adventure featuring a great protagonist and set of side characters. I look forward to seeing what comes next.

★★★½ out of 5

Review: The Custodian of Marvels

the-custodian-of-marvels.jpgTitle: The Custodian of Marvels (2016)
Author: Rod Duncan
Pages: 368
Series: Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire #3 (Series Tracker)

In this third and final book of the series, Elizabeth Barnabus gets swept up in a plot to conduct a daring robbery of the most protected location on earth. While the preceding two books were mysteries, The Custodian of Marvels is a heist novel at its heart. I appreciate that this book is trying to do something different and it ramps up to a conclusion that is satisfying, surprising, and left me wanting more. Luckily, Elizabeth returns in early 2018 to kick off a new series in what has become a very compelling alternate history story.

★★★¾ out of 5

Review: Unseemly Science

UnseemlyScience-144dpiTitle: Unseemly Science (2015)
Author: Rod Duncan
Pages: 368
Series: Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire #2 (Series Tracker)

Unseemly Science picks right back up with Elizabeth Barnabus attempting to solve a new mystery involving blocks of ice, body-snatchers, and an enigmatic charitable foundation. I found this to be a worthy sequel that lost only a bit of the magic from the first book. Author Rod Duncan has crafted an amusing, well-drawn story with a wonderful protagonist. The overall story has yet to feature much in the way of empires falling, as the series title suggests, so perhaps the third book is more towards that end. I look forward to finishing out this series in time for Rod Duncan’s new Elizabeth Barnabus series coming in 2018.

★★★¼ out of 5

Review: The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter

TheBulletCatchersDaughter-144dpiTitle: The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter (2014)
Author: Rod Duncan
Pages: 375
Series: Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire #1 (Series Tracker)

In this steampunk series-starter, protagonist Elizabeth Barnabus uses the powers of illusion and deception to evade capture while simultaneously solving the mysterious disappearance of a missing aristocrat. While never crossing the threshold from “good” to “great,” The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter tells a compelling story in a fresh world with a likable heroine. I think I’d like to see how this series plays out…moving on to book 2!

★★★¾ out of 5

Review: An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors

31702733Title: An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors (2017)
Author: Curtis Craddock
Pages: 416
Series: The Risen Kingdoms #1 (Series Tracker)

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

In a floating world filled with airships and royal sorcerers, Princess Isabelle and her trusty musketeer, Jean-Claude, fight against a sinister plot that has been thousands of years in the making.

I was immediately drawn in by the wondrous setting and Curtis Craddock’s beautiful prose. The humor and clever turns of phrase were perfectly matched to such a fantastical story.

Isabelle and Jean-Claude are wonderful protagonists to follow as they are cunning, capable, and easy to root for. Their bond is a joy to witness, so it was a shame that they spent so little time together in the story. To that end, I wish character relationships, in general, were more at the forefront of this novel. The political maneuverings and motivations were a bit hard to follow and full immersion into the political theater becomes difficult when you only have access to the POVs of two outsiders.

These misgivings aside, this was an entertaining adventure in a fresh new setting. I look forward to seeing where Craddock takes the story next, as he has started (world)building a sandbox with loads of untapped potential.

★★★¾ out of 5

Review: Brother’s Ruin

brothers-ruinTitle: Brother’s Ruin (2017)
Author: Emma Newman
Pages: 160
Series:
Industrial Magic #1
My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.


The Royal Society of Esoteric Arts provides stability and prosperity to Great Britain through the tireless work of their Magi. Latent magi are highly sought after, but, once discovered, must forgo their normal life for one solely in service to the Crown. With her autonomy threatened, Charlotte, a young mage, hides her abilities from the world. When her father foolishly offers Charlotte’s feeble brother up to the Royal Society in desperate hopes of landing the large windfall that comes with selection, Charlotte must use her abilities to save brother, her family, and her entire way of life.

This novella, very much a Part 1 to a larger story, did not hook me from the start. It seemed that Emma Newman’s flair for storytelling was not on full display at the outset and may have been hampered by the novella format. Slowly, but surely, as the narrative unfolded, I was more and more invested…until it all ends abruptly — just when I was ready for more!

With such an interesting gaslamp sandbox to play in, I had hoped for more worldbuilding and a wider scope. Hopefully that comes in future installments, as Brother’s Ruin feels like the appetizer to a (potentially delicious) five-course meal.

★★★ out of 5

While I was reading this I was delighted to see the news that Emma Newman will pen two more Planetfall novels. I first discovered Newman through those novels, and I look forward to seeing where she goes next in that world.