Unseemly Science, by Rod Duncan, is the second book in “The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire” series and I felt that book one was one of the most original sci-fi/fantasy novels I had read in a long time (see that review here). This second venture into Duncan’s world definitely takes a darker turn, but holds on to much of the magic that made book one so unique.
Elizabeth Barnabus, raised in a circus, is a master at the mis-direct. She lives on a boat with her brother … who is actually herself in a male disguise. She’s a refugee from the Kingdom, now living in the Republic, and with her disguise, she should be safe. But Elizabeth gets word of an extradition policy about to take place which would send her back to the Kingdom, where she is a wanted criminal.
Elizabeth’s friend, Julia Swain, has begun to work with a charitable organization, run by a Mrs. Raike. Elizabeth knows a showman when she sees one, and she suspects there is more to Mrs. Raike than meets the eye. And when Mrs. Raike is accused of stealing from ice farmers, Elizabeth, needing a means to escape the attention of the Republic and the Patent Office, and feeling some sympathy toward the hard-working farmers, Elizabeth investigates.
But her investigation leads her to discover a terrible secret that is hidden behind the name of medical science … the one area that is not overseen by the protective Patent Office … and her life is at stake and not just because she could be deported if captured.
This book takes on a very different tone than the first book. The first book was full of action and adventure with an interesting story. The action takes a back seat here to develop a thoughtful, in-depth story … and not just one for the book, but for the bigger picture of multiple books. Which is not to say that there is no action. There is plenty of action sprinkled throughout, including a nail-biting, gut-wrenching climax.
At the very beginning, I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy the book. I was looking for a follow-up that was similar in tone, recreating the same magic. But Duncan is smarter than I am and instead builds upon what came before and makes it bigger and better and much more powerful. Elizabeth Barnabus has grown and is less impulsive and more wary. But she’s still intelligent and clever and forward-thinking.
What is incredibly fascinating here is the story arc that Rod Duncan is building. The key to this, the reminder of what we are reading, is the title – not of the book – but of the series itself. This is the “Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire.” I didn’t quite understand that title after book one, but I do now! And what’s more, it makes Duncan remarkably clever.
The first book, The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter, tells us in the very title what we are getting … we are getting a character study. We are establishing the WHO that will be a catalyst in the ‘fall.’ This second book also gives us a hint in the title, and the book provides the WHAT the spark is that will bring about the fall. And together we have a really remarkable series. I can’t wait for the next book.
This book provides a very unique world that is part steampunk and part alternate history. It is part sci-fi and part adventure/thriller. It features a very strong, wholly original female protagonist that is sure to be admired by many. I recommend this book very highly.
Looking for a good book? Unseemly Science, by Rod Duncan, is a great follow-up to The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter and is a very unique, and highly imaginative adventure/sci-fi novel.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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author: Rod Duncan
series: The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire #2
publisher: Angry Robot
paperback, 368 pages