Had I been a man, I could have strolled into that dark warren of narrow streets, blind alleys and iniquity, letting the steel tip of my cane tap out a leisurely report of my progress, receiving winks and catcalls from barkers and gamblers, gin-sellers and rowdy girls.
Elizabeth Barnabus lives in the Anglo-Saxon Republic, where women are not allowed to own property. But she lives with a secret. Her twin brother, an intelligence gatherer, does not really exist. Instead, she uses the tricks she learned during her past life in the Circus of Mysteries to change her appearance. When she is hired by a duchess from the country she may never return to, she finds herself tracking the mysterious Laboratory of Arcane Wonders. What’s worse – the infamous Patent Office is looking for the same man she is. And you don’t stand in the way of the Patent Office.
The story pulled me in and kept me going. I really liked Elizabeth.
Men have died for not believing a woman would shoot them in the heart. So I chose instead to press the pistol to his groin.
I have a weakness for girls disguising themselves as men and in this book the transformation is well-written and believable.
I do not willingly expose my disguise to brighter lights.
I also really enjoyed the world of the Gas-lit Empire. I like steampunk worlds with airships and odd mechanisms and in this one, there was a circus thrown into the mix. It made for a very colourful, interesting setting.
However, the book also feels fuzzy in a lot of aspects.While I really enjoyed the world, the worldbuilding isn’t fleshed out. While reading, there are a lot of holes in the worldbuilding and a lot of questions that never get answered. There is a glossary at the end that remedies some of that but a glossary at the end of the book doesn’t count ans proper worldbuilding.
Then, in the Anglo-Scottish Republic’s 155th year, being equivalent to 1973 in the Kingdom of England and Southern Wales, the Grand Union Letter and Parcel Distribution Company transferred the last of its network to airship and the fleet of boats was sold at auction.
The world feels Victorian but all of a sudden 1973 is thrown into the mix and we never really get a proper explanation for the Civil War in England that caused the split into Republic and Kingdom or what the Infernal Devices were that the Luddites destroyed.
One more thing that annoyed the hell out of me about the glossary was that we get a whole new development that was nowhere in the actual text:
A woman regarded by historians as having had a formative role in the fall of the Gas-Lit Empire. […] Yet had it not been for this most unlikely of revolutionaries, the manner of its fall would have been entirely different.
Bam. The book is a nice mystery about a girl dressing as a guy looking for a man that has a weird machine the Patent Office wants. That’s it. There is absolutely no inkling of a revolution. Then it gets thrown in in the glossary.
That’s another weakness of the book: the plot is fuzzy. A lot of developments come out of nowhere and many times the plans that Elizabeth or others make are weird and don’t make much sense. But in the end, they work out anyway. At one point, her great plan to find where the mysterious circus is headed is to get into the post office and ask if one of the workers remember letters sent to the circus. And it works.
The characters were another thing that could have used a bit more fleshing up. They were likeable and had a lot of interesting traits, it was their reactions that were odd. Characters that disliked Elizabeth all of a sudden like her, seemingly out of the blue.
A good, quick read with some plot holes and fuzzy worldbuilding. Still, the story draws you in.