30 January 2018

Today's Read: The Queen of All Crows by Rod Duncan

Reveiw: The Queen of All Crows by Rod DuncanWhat would you do if you closest friend--your soul sister, your true family--were lost at sea and presumed kidnapped by notorious pirates? Elizabeth Barnabus disguised herself as a man and set sail on a whaler to find her.

Afternoon sun rendered every colour dazzling: the green and black of the Company flag, limp at the masthead; streaks of orange rust on the white-painted deck housing; the calm ocean, a teal blue; blood blossoming from the carcass of the whale.
The Queen of All Crows by Rod Duncan (Angry Robot, 2018, opening lines)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: an alternate contemporary world; England, the Atlantic Ocean
  • Circumstances: Elizabeth Barnabus appeals to the authorities, asking to be hired as a spy to not only find her friend but to gather intelligence about a colony of women pirates who have built a floating island community and live outside the law and society. The first step is to disguise herself as a male ship's scientist for a British whaling ship. Adventure and danger ensue.
  • Genre: steampunk women's fiction (is there such a genre?)
  • Themes: friendship, gender, women's issues, freedom
  • General thoughts: I thought I'd give The Queen of Crows a try because it was the first in a trilogy, and I've enjoyed a couple of steampunk books. To my disappointment, I quickly realized that this book is the beginning of a new adventure for established characters in an established universe: the Gas-Lit Empire. While I wasn't completely lost, the story assumed you knew things about the characters' background and their world.
  • The world: An organization called the International Patent Office maintains world peace by controlling (read: suppressing) technological advances. The year is 2012, and the world runs on steam. Society is very male-centric and has shades of the Catholic Church: the men who sign on to be agents for the Patent Office take vows of celibacy. There are a few outlaw countries: of the two we hear about, one has good intentions but operates under the idea of the ends justify the means. The other is just evil.
  • Plotting: Elizabeth's adventures on the whaler and then on the floating island are full of danger: she must hide her identity all the time and her gender sometimes, as she searches for her friend Julia. Her life is on the line a couple of times, but I never felt any true sense of impending doom. The story dragged in the middle, and the ending just, well, ended. It wasn't a cliff-hanger and it wasn't satisfying. The story just ended.
  • To be fair: I think if I had read Duncan's first trilogy set in the Gas-Lit Empire I would have appreciated this story more. But as it was, I didn't connect strongly to Elizabeth or her mission.
  • Final thoughts: If you're curious about a gender-fluid protagonist in a steampunk universe, then I suggest you read Duncan's books from the start instead of beginning here. Personally, I'm not curious enough to read more.
  • Audiobook: Genna Whelan's excellent narration of the unabridged audiobook (Random House Audio; 9 hr, 54 min) is what kept me going. I doubt I would have finished the book without her good characterizations and expressive performance. Thanks to Random House for the review copy; the audiobook itself was grand.


rhapsodyinbooks 1/30/18, 6:32 AM  

I too just read the first of a new trilogy based on a previous trilogy, and even though I did read the previous trilogy, it was 2 years ago, and when you have all that world building and character development, it really is hard to get into the story without a refresher or recap or re-read or something. I always appreciate the rare occasions when authors provide a preface with sufficient background to enable even new readers to proceed.

Amanda 1/30/18, 9:04 AM  

Yeah I'm thinking I'll go back and investigate that first trilogy. Thanks for the tip!

Kathy Martin 1/30/18, 9:23 AM  

I enjoy steampunk usually but this one doesn't sound like the place to start. I really dislike it when I pick up a book thinking it begins a series to find that there are other books before it that should be read. I just had that experience with the latest Lora Leigh. This week I have Look for Me by Lisa Gardner - a thriller from my review stack. Happy reading!

Alice Audrey 1/30/18, 11:06 AM  

That old woman-pretending-to-be-a-cabin=boy theme has been around quite a while. I was surprised just yesterday to learn there is actually an old sea chantey along those lines. Makes me wonder if it didn't really happen a time or two.

Laurel-Rain Snow 1/30/18, 11:59 AM  

I do love the sound of this one...it's different than my usual read. Thanks for sharing...and for visiting my blog.

sherry fundin 1/30/18, 12:03 PM  

I find the cover very interesting and I enjoyed your review.
sherry @ fundinmental

Margot 1/30/18, 12:17 PM  

The first paragraph didn't call to me at all. I don't think this one is for me.

Sandra Nachlinger 1/30/18, 1:27 PM  

The idea of women's steampunk appeals to me, but the story line doesn't. When women pose as men, I always wonder how they take care of their "necessities" and get away with the ruse. It's hard for me to suspend my disbelief.
My Tuesday post features Faultlines.

Vicki 1/30/18, 5:45 PM  

I usually don't read steampunk, but I liked the first paragraph so I'd keep reading. I like the cover a lot!

Yvonne 1/30/18, 7:12 PM  

This sounds like a good one. I'd keep reading.

Nise' 1/30/18, 9:00 PM  

I like the premise of this book.

Greg 1/31/18, 12:19 AM  

It's hard to start a series when it builds on previous books. Sounds like it was promoiing as far as the premise is concerned, but the ending definitely sounds like it fell flat! Sorry to hear that.

Daryl 2/5/18, 11:16 AM  

ummm ..thanks ...

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