Some authors really find a groove in their series where each new book is more enjoyable than the last. But Rod Duncan has done even better with The Queen Of All Crows: he’s taken the Gas Lit Empire series into a completely new direction that is both wonderful and wondrous. Gone are the canals and dirty London streets, now replaced with high seas adventures with female pirates and fantastical new weapons. As well, The Gas Lit Empire’s philosophy of technology stifling is proving to be unmanageable in that it cannot be enforced outside of their sphere of influence. It’s a big world out there and technology will always eventually end up in martial use.
Story: When Elizabeth’s best friend Julia is presumed lost at sea when her airship is shot down by pirates, Elizabeth will use all her connections to get out to the ocean in the hope that Julia is still alive and can be rescued. Even if it means betraying her lover and forcing him to break his Patent Office vows in order to get her information, Elizabeth will do anything to save Julia. Including posing as a science officer on a whaler to track down her beloved best friend to the heart of the ocean and a band of inventive female pirates.
It’s clear Duncan does his homework before writing and there are interesting concepts explored in this modern day AU universe. Most importantly, that the Patent Office isn’t necessarily as evil as Elizabeth believed. But also that there are worse things out there and technology is leading the advancement toward scarier forms of war. Shades of the Uboat fears of WWII to ocean garbage patches are among the topics explored. As well, there was even a bit of “Waterworld” that was both imaginative and scary at the same time.
But with all the concepts, this is still very much a character driven story. Main character Elizabeth is one of those rare heroines that isn’t suffering under “TSTL” syndrome (Too Stupid To Live). Rather, just the opposite, she’s the other kind TSTL – Too Smart To Live. Brave, inventive, intelligent – she’s also living in a world where none of those qualities are appreciated in a woman. It leaves the story with a very strong feeling of hopelessness that can be dreary at times but still very much worth the read. Duncan definitely puts Elizabeth through the wringer and it makes all the much better a story for it. For me, I especially enjoy the psychological dances and character readings that Elizabeth does throughout the series.
The Queen of All Crows begins a completely new storyline. Although the book finishes its arc, it’s clear there is a lot more to come. I greatly look forward to where Duncan will take the story, and the characters, next. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.