The Fugitive and the Vanishing Man by Rod Duncan (Cover Reveal and Guest Post)
What would have happened if breech-loading muskets had been used in the Napoleonic Wars? How would the Battle of Waterloo have turned out? And what impact would that have had on the many insurrections going on in Britain at the time?
Such questions are the arena of alternate history. It is like playing with a set of dominos, standing them in a row and knocking one over to watch the way the others fall. Serious historians call it counter-factual history.
What if the Luddites had sparked a full-blown revolutionary war in the midlands of England? What if Britain had ended up divided between a republic to the north and a kingdom to the south?
This might sound like a frivolous game. Especially if you are a serious historian. After all, these things didn’t happen. But to me, it is an examination of the processes of history, which may ultimately help us to understand what is happening in the world today. Can the endeavours of ‘great’ people change the way things work out, or are we all being swept along on an inescapable tide?
To explore that question, I imagined a character and created a world that she might want to change. Her name is Elizabeth Barnabus. She is an outsider, born and raised in a circus conjuring show. She doesn’t fit into any of the roles that polite society might allow for a woman. To work as a private investigator, she has learned to pass herself off as a man.
Sometimes it takes an outsider to see the world clearly. But seeing can get you into trouble. Her work becomes tangled with the intrigue of the age. In the first trilogy, The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire, she is pursued by the mysterious International Patent Office – an agency created to restrict the progress of science and technology to only such fields as will be ‘to the benefit of the common man’. For almost 200 years, they have held sway. A kind of uneasy peace has settled over most of the world and social progress has been stifled.
If you want to read those books, the place to start is The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter, which was shortlisted for the Philip K. Dick award in 2014.
The Map of Unknown Things trilogy follows, offering another jumping-on point for readers who want to immerse themselves in this alternate history. In these books we see Elizabeth forced to venture into the wilds that lie beyond the reach of the Patent Office. Here she discovers a world consumed by the opposite vices of the Gas-Lit Empire. Back home, society was stifled by a lack of law and order. Here there is anarchy and warfare and the sciences are focused on the creation of terrible weapons. The chaos of these lands has held them back. But they are now on the brink of being able to launch their war on the rest of the world.
If you want to begin with this series, you can start with The Queen of All Crows, where Elizabeth becomes aware of the cracks that will signal the end of the age. As the perpetual outsider, she realises what is about to happen. But it is another discovery that shakes her more deeply. It is in the wilds that she will find the answer to a puzzle of her own history – the fate of the family she lost.
Through all six books Elizabeth has held onto an heirloom, a flintlock pistol inlaid with a turquoise leaping hare. It is a touchstone for her to remember the father who raised her. But she, and the gun, each had a twin.
In this final novel of the trilogy, The Fugitive and the Vanishing Man, that long-running mystery reaches its conclusion. In the wilds of the Oregon territory, those two flintlock pistols will be brought together once again, and the grand illusion of her family’s conjuring show will be recreated one final time.
I’m delighted to be revealing the cover of the new novel today, and that a pair of flintlocks feature on it so prominently. Here is what it will say on the back cover:
Fugitive conjuror, Elizabeth Barnabus, escapes to the wilds seeking her lost family. There she discovers an army preparing for war. In a land where politics and prophecy are intertwined, the fate of an empire may come to rest on the perfect execution of a conjuring trick.
Ladies and gentlemen, for the very final time, Elizabeth and Edwin Barnabus will perform the grand illusion of the Vanishing Man.
And here is the cover itself:
The Fugitive and the Vanishing Man is the last book in the Map of Unknown Things trilogy, and brings both this series and the previous Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire to a close.
It will be released by Angry Robot Books on 14th January 2020. You can pre-order it here.