The Fall Continues
Created by ggrihn on 3/23/2018 6:40:42 PM

The Queen of all Crows, by Rod Duncan

Reviewed by Gregory G.H. Rihn, Steampunk Chronicle Literary Editor

clip_image001The Queen of All Crows is the first book of “The Map of Unknown Things,” a new series by the author of “The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire.” (The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter, Unseemly Science, and The Custodian of Marvels.)

Commencing shortly after the events of The Custodian of Marvels, The Queen of All Crows follows the further adventures of Elizabeth Barnabus as they take her for the first time outside the Gas-Lit Empire.

Elizabeth’s friend, Julia Swain, leaves Britain to study in America, travelling by airship. The airship is shot down over the North Atlantic by a mysterious attacker, and is presumed lost with all hands. Elizabeth is not one to accept other people’s presumptions, and, over the objections of John Farthing, she arranges a precarious alliance with the Patent Office, to become their agent and to discover what threat from beyond the borders of the Empire is making itself felt at sea.

Making use of her ability to disguise herself as a man, she gets a precarious position as a “science officer” on a whaling ship. However, she is no sailor, and endures the contempt of the captain and the crew. Eventually, she learns that the supposed purpose of the Atlantic Fleet is itself a ruse, and the real purpose is to serve as a floating bulwark against the supposed savages of the south—“savages” whose unrestricted technology now menaces the Empire.

When a Fleet gunboat is sunken by an underwater enemy, the reader will be reminded of 20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea. Nemo and his crew, though, were a bunch of near-monastic recluses who only made war on the surface world sporadically. The “Sargassans,” by contrast, have a society, a sort of political structure, and a plan to make aggressive war on the Empire that is already in motion. They also, it soon appears, have perilous ambitions and intrigues of their own for Elizabeth to navigate.

This adventure is rather grimmer than “The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire” books, which in themselves were not sweetness and light. Elizabeth Barnabus is literally out of her depth at sea, and the claustrophobic confines of ships restrict her customary freedom of action. This adds a very realistic tension to the story. The atmosphere of gathering gloom and threatened violence marks the next stage of the decline and fall begun in the first trilogy.

Good for followers of the series. I would not recommend it as a jumping-on point, as you need too much of the backstory to understand Elizabeth’s actions and motivations.

The Queen of All Crows at Amazon

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