Monday, February 22, 2016

The Custodian of Marvels by Rod Duncan

The Custodian of Marvels marks the end of the amazing series that was Rod Duncan's successful foray into fantasy - with the Bullet Catcher's Daughter - bringing things to a satisfactory finish, tying up most threads introduced over the course of the last couple of books.



In the Gas-Lit Empire, Rod has built one of the most fascinating alternate historical settings, a world teetering on the edge of technological innovations, running on steam-punk somewhere in an alternate nineteenth century world, where the lines are drawn between the Anglo-Scottish Republic and the Kingdom of England and Southern Wales.

Into this setting, Rod gave us Elizabeth Barnabus - a child of a disbanded traveling circus, who grew up never compromising on her disgraced father's truths & principles, mastering the art of disguise and guile, hanging on to that desire to avenge the wrongs done to her. A clever, resolute and a very brave young woman who's learned to walk the tightrope of life in this hostile world solely through her resourcefulness and razor sharp mind. I was in love with this character right from book one - and all the hints about how she brought low the Gas-Lit empire, was fuel enough to keep me going from the first book till this dramatic finish to the events by Book three. Also, Rod kept me guessing about this strange and utterly fascinating undercurrent of love between her and the International Office Agent John Farthing - will they or won't they? Enemies on different sides of a war. But hey, am running ahead of myself here.

So Book three starts with Elizabeth trying to stay one step ahead of the duke's people & the agents of the International Patent Office - floating the canals of England, trying to save Tinker ( remember the boy from Unseemly Science?) and herself on her boat. And she soon realizes that she probably has the only copy of the Bullet-Catcher's Handbook - a manual recording truths and tricks as gained by performing artists from a long time ago - left in the world, unedited by the Patent Office - a prize that makes her a prime target for a lot of folks around. An unlikely savior arises in the form of Fabulo, a dwarf in the traveling circus from the earlier book - who proposes a daring plan of a heist - to rob the very headquarters of the International Patent Office. Elizabeth has nothing to lose - and jumps onto the plan. The only problem being - we are talking about the Patent Office here. Swarming with international guards. Dummy locks that cannot be picked. And on top of all, somebody called the Custodian of Marvels whose only duty is to protect all the marvels stored in that vault under the International Patent Court. Never an easy day in paradise, huh.

The book takes its time to get going - initially meandering along the canals of England without purpose - just as lost as Elizabeth, frustrated by her aimless life, trying to stay ahead of the Duke of Northampton's long hands. I have mentioned in my previous books reviews that I was really looking forward to some kind of a showdown between the Duke and Elizabeth. It did happen - and well, I was disappointed to a certain extent. But Rod very cleverly keeps the focus of the book, for large parts on this spectacularly planned and meticulously carried out heist - where a group of the most unlikely robbers hit the International Patent Court. Elizabeth of course has her own selfish interest to be a part - to clear her father's name wrongly convicted by the Duke.

Once the heist is planned, though - reading the book was like watching a trapeze artist in action. Making you gasp and shudder as each plan fails and the next contingency one kicks in. Fleeting highs, thrilling lows when the plan almost fails to get through. Elizabeth is still the focus of the whole narrative - though in addition to her, Fabulo the dwarf credited with the overall plan of the heist and Jeremiah, the talented locksmith around whose skillful hands the whole plan revolved, are the two main characters whom I absolutely loved.

Both have their own demons to slay - and with Elizabeth, a pivotal cog in their overall plans to defy their own authorities - they set their plans in motion. Elizabeth still remains the young woman given to selfless brave acts and flashes of absolutely ingenuity and brilliance that saves the day - I would leave you readers to find out more about the love-story of course.

Overall, this is a fitting end to the story of plucky Elizabeth Barnabus, the girl who defied the agents of the Patent Office more than once - and gave the slip to the determined soldiers of the duke. It's a clever book, a new direction for the story of how the Gas-Lit Empire came to fall. Stick with it through the slow start and you will be rewarded with a thrilling heist story with it's twists and turns. A series you shouldn't miss - a wonderful alternate history series come alive through the eyes of a kickass character you will come for root for against all odds. Rod Duncan, you made me a happy camper! 

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