Elizabeth Barnabus is her own twin brother, a freelance intelligence agent, with a troubled past. She is hired by a duchess to locate the duchess’s missing brother, but stumbles into something much larger than a missing aristocrat.

“Which is easier to switch— the bullet into which the josser has scratched his name or the gun that is to fire it?”

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Pursued by the Patent Office, an all-powerful international organization that catalogs and enforces the lawful use of various inventions throughout the world, Elizabeth must outfox an alchemist seeking a device in the possession of the missing aristocrat, and his pantheon of circus freaks and rogues.

Why is this on our bookshelf?

Steampunk novels are a fascination of mine. Most are set in the Victorian era, the industrial revolution stymied by some unforeseen development, be it war, government intervention, or pure chance. In this case, a second British civil war in 1816 ended in an armistice that divided the island nation in two, and led to the development of the Great Accord, which created the International Patent Office, charged with “protecting the wellbeing of the common man”.

The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter was nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award

Rating (4 stars)

Being the first of a triology, some plot threads are left unresolved, but this doesn’t affect the reading of the book. The story is well-developed, with twists that will leave you guessing without relying upon a deus ex machina.

The main character has a troubled past, but isn’t a “rogue with a heart of gold” whose backstory is left unexplained. The way the world turned out is explained without being a history lecture, and the International Patent Office is an entirely believable organization (imagine the United States Patent and Trademark Office, only with actual law enforcement officers).

One of the characters is clearly a foil for Elizabeth who will return in later books, and I’m hoping that character will be better fleshed out in the future, but it doesn’t detract from the story.