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Book Review: Unseemly Science

Unseemly Science by Rod Duncan, The Fall of the Gas-lit Empire #2

In the divided land of England, Elizabeth Barnabus has been living a double life - as both herself and as her brother, the private detective. Witnessing the hanging of Alice Carter, the false duchess, Elizabeth resolves to throw the Bullet Catcher’s Handbook into the fire, and forget her past. If only it were that easy!

There is a new charitable organisation in town, run by some highly respectable women. But something doesn’t feel right to Elizabeth. Perhaps it is time for her fictional brother to come out of retirement for one last case…? Her unstoppable curiosity leads her to a dark world of body-snatching, unseemly experimentation, politics and scandal. Never was it harder for a woman in a man’s world…

Last year saw Rod Duncan's first fantasy novel, The Bullet-Catchers Daughter, after having written four hard crime novels. This was one of my favourite book of 2014 in the Steampunk category. The Bullet-Catchers Daughter for me was a perfect mixture of the normal and the arcane. The whole setting and ambiance that Rod Duncan had created with Elizabeth Barnabus was just a pleasure to read. In this second book that stakes are once again placed pretty high on Elizabeth, as if her adventures in the first book weren't enough!

Unseemly Science picks up almost directly after the events of The Bullet-Catchers Daughter, Elizabeth had found a new life in the Republic, after having fled the Kingdom. There she lives on her boat close with her friend Julia Swain. One day when Elizabeth is out and about she witnesses the hanging of the duchess Alice Carter, which quite frankly shocks her core. After this her friend Julia informs her that she wants to sign up to work for a new charitable organization run by Mrs. Raike. For this new job Julia has to travel north to the ice-farmers and missing ice. However Elizabeth had to stay "home" and we see occasional letter correspondence between Julia and Elizabeth. During Julia's stay in the north Elizabeth encounter a lot of problems on her own. She, as an Kingdom immigrant, has to report every other week at the office. Now with a lot more rules coming to pass, living circumstances aren't that great, with this comes the fact that the person she relied the most on, Julia is now far away. Torn with many things, Elizabeth decides that it might be better to go up north as well and she from the start isn't quite taken by the charm that Mrs. Raike has. Now from this part the story really starts, as Elizabeth uncovers a whole can of "unseemly science" and truths that many people would have prefered not to have been made to see the daylight. We all know that Elizabeth is not all that she seems to, doubling as her brother Edwin Barnabus, other character aren't also all that they seem to say they are... Elizabeth is once again head over heels in an adventure... an adventure that requires all her skills and knowledge gained from The Bullet-Catchers Handbook, but will it be enough?

Rod Duncan has a really good way of writing, it will get your attention from the start and places you directly in the story. Unseemly Science does have a much darker storyline than what was shown in The Bullet-Catchers Daughter, but looking at Rod Duncan's background it might have been expected, and just a note, it is note for the worse at all, the divided England that he is showing isn't a pretty place to live so why cover it with roses and make it shine when it really is a bad place to be in, well when you are in the position of Elizabeth that is. Overall the story picks up with a much easier pacing that the first and it takes a while for the actual investigation to start but in the early stages of the book there was for me a really nice exposition found in how Rod Duncan went about and described the current setting and something that were related to the world. 

As for the characters, I am really impressed with Elizabeth, she is precisely the feisty girl that I got to meet in the first book, of course the things she has been planning and the situation that she has been through have definitely shaped her personality. This transition is clearly noticable and continues all throughout this book as well. She is placed into more than once precarious and highly dangerous situation, the one in which she was captured still sticks with me, Rod Duncan described this is such a grim way, but Elizabeth kept to her cheery and spirited self. With Elizabeth there comes a second character, that of her brother, Edwin, who she also plays. I liked how Elizabeth navigated the streets with this 'alter-ego' it gives a glimpse of how women are looked down and frowned upon. Elizabeth is a wonderful character, full of wit, a lot of fun to read about. Next to Elizabeth, her friend Julia also gets more time to her development and Rod Duncan develops her into a worthy and in the short and long run as an important character. Though the seperation of Julia and Elizabeth wasn't that nice, the early letter communication showed that both parties admitted that they didn't act in the right way. This must be true friendship.

Every element in Unseemly Science make this book a terrific addition to The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire series. With Unseemly Science Rod Duncan ventures into a new direction when it comes to the setting of the book, it is darker it is grimmer and I think that with the third book it might become even more so, as the world that Elizabeth lives in, is on the brink of a change, of a revolution. The world that Rod Duncan showed in the first book is is greatly build upon and explored further. Just as with the world, Rod Duncan neatly keeps on developing his characters to the fullest and makes them even more lovable. Rod Duncan is definitely on the right track with this series. I am eager to find out what the third book, The Custodian of Marvel will have in store for Elizabeth as well as for me. 


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