The Fugitive and the Vanishing Man – by Rod Duncan (Review)

The Map of Unknown Things #3

Fantasy, Steampunk, Alt-History

Angry Robot; January 14, 2020

400 pages (ebook)

4.8 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished with a copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Angry Robot for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

Beware spoilers for the previous Elizabeth Barnabus books! Though hopefully Fugitive and Vanishing Man spoiler-free!

While I was divided on my intro to Elizabeth Barnabus in Queen of All Crows—the next book in the Map of Unknown Things completely blew me away. The description, the setting, the world-building, the tension all sold me on continuing the series. While the characters changed, two things remained constant—Elizabeth, and her devotion to the Gas-Lit Empire. In fact, while we have seen some detractors over the past two books, none have really taken center stage like they do in The Fugitive and the Vanishing Man.

The Fugitive and the Vanishing Man (FatVM) follows directly on the heels of The Outlaw and the Upstart King (OatUK), picking up after Elizabeth and her friends escape Newfoundland to the (relative) safety of the mainland. There, they are immediately confronted by the Patent Office who are very interested about their time upon the difficult-to-reach island. And while Elizabeth isn’t interested in talking, the Patent Office holds all the cards to ensure that she eventually will.

But when Julia and Tinker break free from their hold, Elizabeth herself is left out in the cold. And even Patent Agent and her lover John Farthing can’t help her this time. Elizabeth is left with just two options: to flee the Gas-Lit Empire and set her old life behind, or to find something they want even more than her. Then she realizes that these two choices may yet become one. With just her mysterious pistol and a stolen wallet for company, Elizabeth heads west.

Enter Edwin Barnabus, Elizabeth’s long lost brother.

While the Patent Office is keeping the Gas-Lit Empire mired firmly in the past, those outside it are pushing innovation. None as much as in Oregon, where a kingdom built on both new innovation and old magic waits. The same kingdom that had its hands in Newfoundland’s advancement. The same kingdom where Elias manufactured his deadly explosive. And the very kingdom Elizabeth approaches, seeking her brother.

Years prior, Edwin and his mother fled the confines of the Gas-Lit Empire, leaving behind Elizabeth and her father for reasons unknown. Now, Edwin serves as the court magician to the King of the Oregon Territory, seeking to destroy the very empire that he once called his home. And with their weapons and innovation, war is not just a possibility. More like a certainty. But how and when is still up in the air. And when his sister comes knocking, how will her views affect Edwin’s own? Or will the ties that once held them together fray under the differences of their beliefs, leading not only the siblings—but the world itself—to war?

⚙ ⚙

I want to begin at the close. No spoilers, though. While Rod Duncan has stated that this is the final Elizabeth Barnabus novel, the ending itself isn’t cut and dry. It’s definitely open-ended. And there’s certainly room for a sequel. While the ending of the Fugitive and the Vanishing Man wasn’t the ending I was expecting going into the book, it IS an ending, finishing the tale of Elizabeth and her friends. At least, there’s resolution. For them, if not the world. And while Elizabeth may (or may not) return in the future, I was more than satisfied with the conclusion of FatVM. And yet, as I expected the FatVM to conclude the war that had been brewing since Book 1 of the Map of Unknown Things, the ending disappointed me.

And that both begins and ends my issues with this book. Though it may have faltered somewhat in the end, FatVM is still an amazing read—and one that cannot be missed.

Where Queen of All Crows begins the series with a stumble, the Fugitive and the Vanishing Man ends it with a flourish. In my opinion, the second book is where nearly everything came together: the world-building, the detail, the story. QoAC was a bit of a mixed bag—a faltering story, an uneven pace, a shaky lead. OatUK improved across the board, with only its character development lacking success. And that’s because only Elizabeth really returned, and there was a major disconnect between the events of Books #1 and 2. The same thing can’t be said of the break between #2 and 3. Mostly, because there really isn’t any break. Only a short time separates the events in Newfoundland from those in America, and nothing important is skipped over in the interim. Thus, the character that is Elizabeth continues to develop—her story continuing to unfold even while Edwin’s own fills in around it.

The interaction between the two siblings is fascinating. I was really wondering how they’d get on when they met, as Edwin’s views are night and day from Elizabeth’s own. They share blood, but little else. While I can’t go into any detail without spoilers, just take my word that their interactions alone make the entire story worth reading. Will it be a fight to the end, or a hug-of-war? Read it to find out!

Again, I haven’t read the original trilogy—the Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire—but I’ve heard that the entire thing takes place with England. Meanwhile, every book in The Map of Unknown Things takes us somewhere new, beyond the borders of the Empire. First it was the Atlantic Ocean, next Newfoundland. FatVM finds us across the continent in Oregon. It’s a very well constructed adventure when told from multiple POVs, as the last two books prove. Where the Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire showed us what life was like within, the Map of Unknown Things shows us life without—all setting up what I have to imagine will be an epic conclusion (if Duncan chooses to write it). Otherwise, it’s left to the imagination to fill in the gaps.

Neither the story nor world-building faltered at all from its high in Book 2. While we’ve moved location, the attention to detail did not wane in between, casting Oregon in an interesting and unique light. Though not much time is spent in the forest, the mountains and weather of the Pacific Northwest play a major role in setting the mood. And progressing the story. And while I didn’t feel transported to the Pacific NW in the same way I did to Newfoundland, I found that it didn’t bother me. The castle—where a good portion of the story takes place—is full of intrigue and is story-rich, making the time outside feel like exciting side-trips rather than breaks from a stifling prison. While not relevant to the story itself, the area surrounding the Kingdom of Oregon is a fascinating place (as I well know)—and one that I would’ve liked to see more of. Perhaps… in the future?

If I haven’t raved enough about how much I loved this book til now—don’t be fooled. I absolutely adored it, despite its few faults. Up to 90% mark, it was looking like a solid 5-star read. And while it let my expectations down in the final pages, the Fugitive and the Vanishing Man is a triumph, ending Elizabeth’s story in style—albeit in a manner that also leaves the door very much open for more. An intensely satisfying conclusion that satisfies while somehow leaving the reader wanting for more. But more of the world itself, not of the text.

TL;DR

The Fugitive and the Vanishing Man finishes Elizabeth Barnabus’s journey with a flourish—her greatest adventure yet, both involving her brother and a war not yet fought. But be forewarned: while this DOES end Elizabeth’s own story, it DOES NOT tie up all the loose ends of the world itself. If you went into this expecting war, prepare to be disappointed. If you went into this expecting an amazing story that tugged at the heart-strings, prepare to feel vindicated. And if you went into this with no illusions whatsoever, prepare to be surprised. While it does falter slightly at the end, the Fugitive and the Vanishing Man is an amazing read throughout, building upon the Outlaw and the Upstart King’s improved story, world-building and character development, while somehow adding its own unique flair. If you haven’t yet begun Elizabeth’s story, maybe start at the beginning. If you’re up to date but waiting to see if Duncan laid an egg here—don’t worry, he didn’t.

4 thoughts on “The Fugitive and the Vanishing Man – by Rod Duncan (Review)

    1. Yeah, I know! I never actually got around to the original three and picked the series up halfway through! And I honestly don’t think I’ll ever make it back to the old ones.

      Like

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