Elizabeth Barnabus is in exile in the Republic, making a meager living as a private detective. Since women are prohibited from owning property or businesses in the Republic, she uses her carnival skills of illusion to create a male identity for trade purposes. Her 'twin brother' is able to sign contracts, buy property, and move freely in areas where Elizabeth is limited by her gender.
In desperate financial trouble, she takes a missing person case for an aristocrat from the Kingdom, knowing she's placing herself in great danger. She's wanted in the Kingdom. Five years ago she ran from a sentence of indentured servitude, and one step across the border would almost certainly place her in the Duke's hands.
I liked a lot about this book. Traveling circuses, illusions, deceptions. I like that the steampunk elements aren't over the top, and it isn't romance-heavy, either. By the end of the book I had a good understanding of the world and politics, mostly revealed through Elizabeth's travels and narrow escapes. I wish for a little more depth of characterization in the secondary characters.
The next installment in The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire series is Unseemly Science, due out May 2015.