The Custodian of MarvelsThe Custodian of Marvels is Book #3 in Rod Duncan’s Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire trilogy (links to our reviews of Books #1 & #2 are below this review). This dystopian steampunk mystery series features a world shaped by an alternate history in which Luddites succeeded in their rebellion against the industrial age – at least in the part of the world we know as the UK.

If you haven’t read Books #1 & #2, you’ll want to check out those reviews below because this is a series that I strongly believe needs to be read in sequence to get a real sense of how this world came into being, as well as the effect its divisions and the Patent Office’s powerful reach have had on the people in it. It is also a series that builds gradually, with side stories and characters coming together in this last installment. The Bottom Line: If you like kick-butt, fearless heroines determined to persevere against all odds in genre-bending novels then I predict you’ll like this series even if you’re not a dystopian or steampunk fan.

Caution: If you haven’t read the first two books in this late-Victorian alternate reality series, go to the review links at the bottom of this page instead of reading this review to avoid spoilers – and because this review will likely not make much sense to you.

The all-powerful Patent Office has always confounded Elizabeth Barnabus for many reasons. She knows it holds the key to clearing her father’s name and her indentured servitude predicament if she can only get access to the records stored there. And that’s the rub. How can she get into the Patent Office without getting caught and turned over to the Duke who wants to make her his slave? And even if she does get in, how will she find what she needs and then get back out again without getting caught? Minor details, right? *insert sarcasm font here*

So let’s see what Elizabeth is up against:
Well, first there is the Duke’s private army, which is formidable to say the least. And there’s the bounty on her head, which the Duke keeps increasing. Bounty hunters and the Duke’s army are actively searching for her in every nook and cranny of the kingdom, making her life hauling freight with Tinker increasingly difficult at best and impossible at worst. That she can pose as her imaginary brother seems great on the surface but it’s not likely to hold up if she gets detained for any reason – and being detained has become increasingly likely. In other words, the noose just seems to keep getting tighter around her as the search gets closer and closer. It’s just a matter of time before her path and the army’s path cross, and then she’s done for. She worries that Tinker will get caught in that same net, and that would be unforgivable.

Secondly, there’s the impregnable Patent Office building itself. It’s a puzzle to everyone who’s ever even thought of attempting to get into it. It’s closely guarded and seems to have security that even someone of Elizabeth’s abilities could never breach. That is going to be one tough nut to crack if she plans to survive cracking it.

Thirdly, even if she somehow manages to get into the Patent Office without being arrested (game over) then she’s got to get past the Custodian of Marvels, who she only knows is the officer who is in charge of ensuring the technological marvels locked away within the Patent Office never see the light of day. His duty? To ensure no one gets to see the marvels tucked away from the world. Gulp.

Elizabeth has to get past him somehow because somewhere in his vault is the information she needs to clear her father’s name and prove the Duke is lying. Then she can use that information to secure her freedom from lifelong servitude and a fate worse than death.

Okay, so she’s got to get past someone who’s deemed impossible to fool and then, if she can succeed at that impossible task, somehow find what she needs in what’s likely to be a huge bureaucratic pile of stuff. And she’s got to do that before anyone else at the Patent Office senses something is amiss.

Then, once she’s pulled off all of these seemingly impossible tasks, she’s got to get away from the Patent Office with no one knowing she’s been there. Right…no problem…no big deal…gulp.

Although I won’t say what happens to Elizabeth or her predicament, I will say that The Custodian of Marvels ties up some of the loose ends that were dangling from Books #1 & #2. I think it will please fans of the first two books. Should you read this trilogy if you’re a steampunk fan? It has a different feel to it than many formulaic steampunk novels, which I found refreshing. It contains elements of science fiction, techno-fiction, fantasy (magic), as well as mysteries and thrillers. It also contains conspiracy elements and highly political elements. And there isn’t just one mystery in this trilogy – there are several interlocking ones. In short, it defies classification. IMHO that makes it an even better read than if it strictly adhered to one or two genres. The key to this story is Elizabeth and her persistent determination to prevail despite overwhelming odds in a world stacked against her. I loved this trilogy and can’t wait to see what Rod Duncan comes up with next!

Can’t wait to read it? The Custodian of Marvels is available from your favorite online bookseller below. Just click the link and you can have it to read asap.

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I’d love to get your comments on The Custodian of Marvels, Rod Duncan and/or his other work, and/or this review.
Click here to read our review of Book #1 in The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire series, The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter, and here to read our review of Book #2, Unseemly Science.

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No Ordinary LifeAnyone who’s worked even marginally in the Entertainment Industry knows fame may look like a fairy tale from the outside but it can easily become a trap for those unprepared for what it entails in reality. What would you do if your precocious young child was “discovered” and suddenly became a household name? Most people have no idea of the realities of fame. Suzanne Redfearn’s new novel, No Ordinary Life, does an excellent job of showing exactly what it’s like for an ordinary family to suddenly be thrust into the spotlight. Do you think you would know what to do and how to handle that level of unprecedented 24/7 attention, and everything that comes with it?

Fame is a dangerous drug and should be kept out of the reach of children.” Paul Peterson, child actor.

“The world of celebrity is fascinating. It is the topic of thousands of magazines, talk shows, news shows, reality shows, and websites. But what would it be like to be swept up into that world? Or to have your child swept up into that world? Thrilling? Terrifying?
…The story I wanted to tell was about someone real who finds themselves catapulted into superstardom and what that does to them.” Excerpt from the Author’s Note for No Ordinary Life.

Faye Martin was happy with her life in Yucaipa, California, a rural ranching community in Southern California. Her children had lots of freedom to run wild, ride horses, and live a carefree lifestyle. And then one day, that world got turned upside down when her husband, Sean, left without a word. At first she thought he was coming back since he traveled a lot with his job. But he didn’t. What is she going to do now?

“’My mom and I can’t survive five minutes together. How am I going to live with her?’
‘Because there ain’t no other choice. Sean ain’t coming back, and you in a pickle. That’s life, full of more pickles than cucumbers, but that’s the way it is.’
‘He called last night.’
Bo’s hairless brows rise, his black eyes looking straight into the back of my brain. ‘You talk to him?’
I shake my head. ‘I hung up.’
Bo nods his approval and returns to his work…
‘You tell him you was leaving?’ Bo asks, working another hole through the tough leather, his hands impressively deft and strong for a man so old.
‘I told you, I hung up,’ I snap.
A smile plays on his thick lips. ‘Finally getting some fire in your belly. That’s good.’
I sneer at him, and his smile grows.”

Faye’s got three children and no way to support them financially, and she’s got to make some heart-wrenching decisions. She can’t find a job in Yucaipa so she has to eat crow and move back to Los Angeles to live with her mother, who is never going to stop saying “I told you so” about her decision to marry someone her mother considered completely unsuitable. That is enough of a bitter pill to make anyone cringe but Faye is going to have to find some way to earn a livelihood so she can get her family settled eventually into a place of their own. And she has no clue how she’s going to accomplish that because Los Angeles is one of the most expensive places on the planet to live.

On top of that, Faye is facing a rebellion from her children, who understandably don’t want to leave the place where they’ve grown up and which they love. All of their friends are there, and her oldest daughter will have to leave the horse she loves more than life itself. Faye isn’t happy about it either but she’s realistic enough to know it’s her only option if they’re to survive. She only hopes she can earn enough to move back someday, even if part of her knows that’s probably only a pipe dream.

One of her concerns about being back in LA is that her kids are not street smart and her youngest child in particular, four-year-old Molly, is not only precocious but never met a stranger she didn’t automatically befriend. Molly loves everybody and to say that could be dangerous in LA is an understatement.

While Faye is applying for a job one day at the Santa Monica Promenade outdoor mall, Molly sees a man dancing for spare change and her eyes begin to sparkle. Molly loves to dance and she quickly joins him. Soon they’re doing a dance move challenge and she’s matching him move for move. A crowd forms and, as is often the case these days, cellphone cameras are trained on this amazing sight. At least one enterprising soul posts a video of this impromptu dance-off on YouTube and it takes the Internet by storm.

If this were the end of the story, the tag line would be…and a pint-sized star is born. Fortunately, it’s just the beginning of this cautionary tale because Suzanne Refearn shows us what it’s really like when fame and money suddenly descend out of nowhere upon people who never saw it coming.

Faye is not a stage mom and she does worry about what this kind of attention might do to her daughter and her family. At the same time, that level of money would tempt a saint – especially a saint who can barely feed her family, much less clothe and provide shelter for them. And the person she turns to for advice, her mother, is starstruck by Hollywood’s PR image of what fame is like so her advice is suspect at best (even though she loves her family and wants what’s best for them).

So Faye signs Molly up with a powerful agent and they’re off on the golden brick road that is child stardom. No one in the family is in the least prepared for what will happen to each of them. Faye is ill equipped to stand up for Molly, Molly is only four years old and ill equipped to be a working actor, Faye’s two other children suddenly feel left out, and life rapidly gets extremely complicated. And that doesn’t even address the public’s reaction to this adorable child everyone has seen on the Internet. Remember, all kinds of people see what’s posted online and some of them are not people you’d want within 100 miles of a small child. Need I say more?

What will happen to Molly, to Faye, and to their family? Can they survive Molly becoming a star? Is fame worth the price they’ll all pay?

Faye is a young mom doing the best she can in one of those awful situations life can throw at any of us. Does she always make the best decisions? No, but then no one ever does. We all do the best we can with what we have to work with at the time. Molly is one of those adorable kids everyone falls in love with and it’s easy to see how special she is from Page 1. That Hollywood wants to turn that into a commodity is just what Hollywood does…seriously. How the rest of their family members react makes sense when you think about how fame upends the family’s dynamics. Oh, and I’m not forgetting Faye’s ex-husband – just not telling you what happens with him. Are there any villains in this story? Not intentional villains…not really.

Suzanne Redfearn has written a very realistic look at child actors and Hollywood fame in No Ordinary Life. She’s taken us behind the curtain to see what’s really going on in the Oz of Hollywood. Most people don’t see that side of Hollywood until they’re already well inside of the system, so I’m saying a big thank you to her for that. Do people really get discovered like Molly did? In the age of the Internet/YouTube, instant fame does happen but it’s rare. That said, the old Hollywood myths of so many “drugstore” discoveries, etc., is just that – a PR myth that’s far more glamorous than the truth. Anyone who wants to know how Hollywood really works should read this novel. Even if that’s not a burning desire for you, it’s a great story with lots of twists and turns, and heartwarming moments. I loved it and I hope you will too!

Can’t wait to read it? No Ordinary Life is available from your favorite online bookseller below. Just click the link and you can have it to read asap!

Barnes & NobleBuy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

I’d love to get your comments on No Ordinary Life, Suzanne Redfearn and/or her other work, and/or this review.

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