The 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.
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.