I’ll begin by saying that I think Rod Duncan is one of the freshest voices currently writing in science fantasy. If I see Duncan’s name on a book, I’m probably going to buy it (and there aren’t many authors about whom I would say that).
The Outlaw and the Upstart King is the second volume in Duncan’s The Map of Unknown Things series, and is the fifth book in the Elizabeth Barnabus series. But this is also the first book in which Elizabeth plays a more background role, which definitely had me feeling a little off-balance for awhile as I’ve really grown to liking the character.
Here we find ourselves on the coast of Newfoundland – a savage territory where warlords control clans and those who serve the warlords are marked by special tattoos. Elias is a man marked, but by his missing thumbs … severed as punishment … and he now looks for his revenge on those who have crippled him.
We spend a fair amount of time getting Elias’ story before Elizabeth makes her appearance (enough so that I stopped twice to look back at the beginning to make sure I really was reading a book in the Elizabeth Barnabus series). It is a strange diversion and reads almost like a spin-off, but the deeper we get into the story the more realize the masterful touch Duncan is putting on this, giving us three stories (that for Elizabeth, Elias, and warlord Patron Jago) that intersect and we are allowed to be there to see how each uses the others to further their own goals. This is a really fascinating study in conflict and character and patience and we don’t always know who is using whom or who has the upper hand.
Duncan provides an intricate literary dance and he does so with strong, believable characters and in a world that is tremendously familiar and yet oddly foreign at the same time. It is this ability to bring this kind of story into the home of the reader that makes Duncan such a masterful story-teller.
I think that you could pick up this book and read it without having read any of the other books in the Elizabeth Barnabus series … but why would you? Allow yourself to take the journey in the Gas-Light Empire with Rod Duncan as your guide.
Looking for a good book? The Outlaw and the Upstart King by Rod Duncan is a tightly woven story with three strong protagonists, each trying to get the upper hand, within the steampunk-like Gas-Light Empire series and it is well worth reading.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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The Outlaw and the Upstart King
author: Rod Duncan
series: The Map of Unknown Things #2, Elizabeth Barnabus #5
publisher: Angry Robot
paperback, 377 pages