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Book Recommendations

This is where you can find my recommendations for books.
The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire     Piranesi

The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire
First Book: The Bullet Catcher’s
Daughter (2014)
Language: English
Author: Rod Duncan
Length: 375 pages
Publisher: Angry Robot
Other Books: Unseemly Science,
The Custodian of Marvels
Follow-up Series: The Map of
Unknown Things

Honestly, I was a little hesitant as to whether or not to recommend these books. They have some definite weaknesses. The first one is that the first book in the series – The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter – is definitely not the best of the series. It is a serviceable introduction to the world and the characters, but the plot is a little weak and entirely too predictable. But it was good enough to make me continue reading, and I didn’t regret it! The second weakness is the world building, which runs entirely on rule-of-cool and falls apart if you look at it funny. Whether that bothers you or not depends on what type of reader you are. I could tolerate it because of the plot and characters. And the third weakness is that the romance is just bad. It’s not that annoying, though, because it’s also barely present and not central to the plot. And now that I’ve got the caveats out of the way:

The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire is a series of three books (The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter, Unseemly Science and The Custodian of Marvels) that follow the adventures of Elizabeth Barnabus, who had to run away from her home in a travelling circus to escape an evil lord who had forced her to become indentured to him. To make ends meet, she masquerades as her twin brother, since women aren’t allowed to hold property in the country she seeks refuge in, and works as an intelligence gatherer – a mixture of spy, fixer and detective. In the first book, she gets hired by a countess to find her missing brother and has to go undercover in a different travelling circus to do so. In the second book, she helps her friend Julia solve the mystery of missing shipments of ice while trying to avoid being sent back to the lord who still hunts her. And in the third book, she joins a bunch of misfits to rob the world’s most powerful entity: the International Patent Office.

As I already mentioned, the first book is definitely the most predictable and weakest in the series, but the second and third book more than make up for it. While the author still tries to find his footing with Elizabeth, the steampunk aesthetic and a mystery plot in the first book, it all comes together in the second book, while the third abandons the mystery plots in favour of a heist. Some of the plots span several books, like Elizabeth’s rocky relationship with John Farthing, her love interest and an agent of the Patent Office, and her continued quest to keep free of the man who ruined her family. Aat least the latter gets a satisfying conclusion by the end of the third book.

Several of the minor characters are another highlight of the series. First of all, there’s Julia, Elizabeth’s friend and confidante, who starts out as her pupil who has a crush on Elizabeth’s fictional brother, but who by the second book is her friend who joins her in an adventure. The cast of the travelling show Elizabeth joins in the first book is also interesting, especially the members we get to see again in the third book. And then there’s Tinker, a young boy who attaches himself to Elizabeth and becomes something of a little brother and accomplice to her.

Piranesi Title: Piranesi
Language: English
Author: Susanna Clarke
Year: 2020
Length: 245 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing

A Man lives in a House. He has lived there for as long as he remembers. The House covers the entire World, a maze of Vestibules and Halls, build to a greater scale than a human’s. The Walls are lined with Statues depicting all sorts of Creatures and People, and the Man has made it his life’s work to catalogue them all in his diaries. He also assists the Other, the only other known living person to live in the House, while thirteen Dead also dwell within it. Now, they are about to be joined by the Sixteenth Person…

Susanna Clarke’s second novel, Piranesi, is an epistolary novel and at just about 250 pages substantially shorter than the mammoth of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, with a much smaller cast, but it is no less captivating. At its centre stands the mystery of where the main character (called Piranesi by the Other) is, why he is there, and who he is. And through his diary entries, we join him as he unravels the secrets around his life.

Be warned, the first few pages take some getting used to. The main character is fond of using Capitalization, and the House is entirely alien in almost all ways. Its basements are flooded with an ocean ruled by numerous tides, while its upper halls are in the clouds, not fit for habitation. The main character mainly lives off seaweed and fish, and his main company are the many birds that live in the House. And of course the Other, a man who wishes to uncover the secret knowledge hidden within the House to gain powers unknown to man.

I could not put this novel down while I was reading it, which happens to me rarely, so I cannot help but recommend it and hope you’ll feel the same!