Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Book Review - Burton and Swinburne in the Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder



Burton and Swinburne in the Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack

Mark Hodder

Pyr (2010)

Trade Paperback

373 pages

ISBN 1616142405 / 9781616142407

While not a true aficionado of steam-punk I can say that I’ve read a fair share of this genre lately and have yet to be disappointed. George Mann’s The Affinity Bridge (see review September 05, 2009), Drood by Dan Simmons (see review March 30, 2010), The Wind-up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, Perdido Street Station by China Meiville, and almost anything by Cherie Priest lead the pack in pure unadulterated Victorian Era steam-punk fun. Burton and Swinburne in the Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack continues that tradition. Let it be known that I have scoured the four corners of the Internet looking for information and reviews concerning this book and the legend that spawned it. I have yet to find a single bad review of this book. Nor will you find one here.

Spring-Heeled Jack does not really set any new precedents but the concept of engaging real historical figures together to solve a series of crimes committed by a mythological creature/criminal is brilliant. The title character, trapped by his own folly, is a wonderfully written individual but a miserable human being. Complex but tortured we find that Spring Heeled Jack is simply a lost man searching for a way back home. In the end, you may be surprised to find yourself feeling sorry for him. Of course, Hodder’s work has that little extra punch that I, as a book reviewer, am always looking for. First, this is his debut novel (and I wish you a long and prosperous career, Mr. Hodder), secondly, the plot twists and turns through time in short vignettes that are creatively layered over the main story and then coalesces together to complete a tightly woven story that completes itself perfectly in a beautifully created epic, yet tragic, finale.

Hodder’s prose will lift you up and drop you down in the midst (and mists) of Victorian Era London. You’ll hear the clickety-clack of the steam driven coaches on the cobbled streets and the zzzzzz of overhead gondolas as they whizz by on compressed air. DNA altered animals will appear as second nature and the unlikely pairing of Sir Richard Burton, the adventurer, and Algernon Swinburne, the poet, will emerge to solve a number of crimes. From time travel, and automatons, Rakes, aero-copters, sword fights, Libertines, to genetic engineering on a bizarre scope, the underbelly of London, and characters whose brains have been removed Spring Heeled Jack never once failed to entertain.

4 out of 5 stars

+ add ½ star for being a debut novel

StarStarStarStar 1/2

Additional Reading:


Burton & Swinburne

1. The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack (2010)

2. The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man (2011)


Pyr’s webpage for Spring Heeled Jack

Literary Landscape’s Review

Well-written Review at “Mell’s Words on Words” blog

Mark Hodder on Sir Richard Francis Burton

Mark Hodder’s Sexton Blake tribute site

Pyr’s Blog site


redhead said...

Springheeled Jack was so much fun, I think I read the 2nd half of it in one sitting! and I just loved loved loved the "twist". Although I'm sorry the title character probably won't be returning in future books in the series, I can't wait to see what adventure Burton and Swinburne find next. especially Swinburne. the man is a little freak and I love it.

The Alternative One said...

Ah, but remember Springheeled Jack can travel through time. It wouldn't be outside the realm of reality to bring him back. Especially if the series becomes popular. And I really hope it does. As a debut book this one stands out.