The Outlaw & the Upstart King: Danger & Daring in the North

The Outlaw & the Upstart King reunites readers with Elizabeth Barnaby and the world of the Gas-Lit Empire. Gone are the trappings of England and a sea-bound nation of women, replaced by the wilds of Newfoundland and a society more reminiscent of King Arthur than modern day. Duncan is a grade-A storyteller, taking us deeper into this fascinating world with strong characters, a darker villain, and twists at every turn. It’s a fitting sequel to The Queen of All Crows, and will leave you eager to discover the fate of our favorite trickster-turned-pirate-turned-escape artist.

NOTE: I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest, unbiased review, and I only publish reviews of books I enjoy!

A Few of My Favorite Things

Given the rip-roaring events of The Queen of All Crows and the tenuous ending, I wasn’t sure what to expect with the second book. Would it be more of the same, filled with pirates and strange technologies? I was surprised to find a completely new setting, filled with danger and treachery. The Outlaw and the Upstart King feels like a standalone novel in the best way, reuniting me with a character I loved in an entirely new story and setting, adding another protagonist and a villain who makes your skin crawl. Everything about this world is fascinating, and you’ll be hooked from page one.

Elias is a fascinating lead character. He’s completely unreliable, given his history as a cheating gambler and his life’s goal to stick it to those who cast him out. He continues to grow from a desperate stowaway to a sly confidant of our villain to the hero of the day. He finds love along the way, and that seems to play a big part in how he views his life. It’s inspiring to watch a character transition from a deep sadness to a hope for the future. 

My biggest takeaway from the series so far is how different this world is from our own. Imagining our modern-day society without the technologies that run our lives, without the connectedness of every country through planes and trains and cars, is baffling and hard to grasp. The Outlaw & the Upstart King presents a society where men rule through family-led clans, riding around on horses and fighting with swords. Just across the river is a modern society filled with machines and factories, yet here Elizabeth and her friends remain, somehow stuck in a King Arthur-style region. It’s a brilliant juxtaposition of ancient vs modern life, and it really makes you think about how connected our various societies are. 

I’m a sucker for a love story, and the Elias/Charity plot line made for an interesting variant on a typical love story. We have a man who has been cast out by his family, left to die in the wilderness, falling in love with a married woman (though her story is not what it seems). They keep coming together through new obstacles and it adds a heartfelt touch amidst the war and treachery. 

The Outlaw & the Upstart King

By Rod Duncan
Angry Robot

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