London, 1861. Sir Richard Francis Burton - explorer, linguist, scholar, and swordsman; his reputation tarnished; his career in tatters; his former partner missing and probably dead. Algernon Charles Swinburne - unsuccessful poet and follower of de Sade, for whom pain is pleasure, and brandy is ruin! They stand at a crossroads in their lives and are caught in the epicenter of an empire torn by conflicting forces: Engineers transform the landscape with bigger, faster, noisier, and dirtier technological wonders; Eugenicists develop specialist animals to provide unpaid labor; Libertines oppose repressive laws and demand a society based on beauty and creativity; while the Rakes push the boundaries of human behavior to the limits with magic, drugs, and anarchy. The two men are sucked into the perilous depths of this moral and ethical vacuum when Lord Palmerston commissions Burton to investigate assaults on young women committed by a weird apparition known as Spring Heeled Jack, and to find out why werewolves are terrorizing London's East End. Their investigations lead them to one of the defining events of the age, and the terrifying possibility that the world they inhabit shouldn't exist at all!
About the Author
Mark Hodder is the author of The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack-winner of the Philip K. Dick Award 2010-and its sequel, The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man. He's the creator and caretaker of the Blakiana website (http://www.sextonblake.co.uk), which he designed to celebrate, record, and revive Sexton Blake, the most written-about fictional detective in English publishing history. A former BBC writer, editor, journalist, and Web producer, Mark has worked in all the new and traditional medias and was based in London for most of his working life until 2008, when he relocated to Valencia in Spain to de-stress and write novels. He has a degree in cultural studies and loves British history (1850 to 1950, in particular), good food, cutting-edge gadgets, cult TV (ITC forever!), Tom Waits, and a vast assortment of oddities.
Read an Excerpt
The strange affair of Spring Heeled Jack
By MARK HODDER
Prometheus BooksCopyright © 2010 Mark Hodder
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE AFTERMATH OF AFRICA
Everything Life places in your path is an opportunity.
No matter how difficult.
No matter how upsetting.
No matter how impenetrable.
No matter how you judge it.
An opportunity. -Libertine Propaganda
"By God! He's killed himself!"
Sir Richard Francis Burton staggered back and collapsed into his chair. The note Arthur Findlay had passed to him fluttered to the floor. The other men turned away, took their seats, examined their fingernails, and fiddled with their shirt collars; anything to avoid looking at their stricken colleague.
From where she stood on the threshold of the "robing room," hidden by its partially closed door, Isabel Arundell could see that her lover's normally dark and intense eyes were wide with shock, filled with a sudden vulnerability. His mouth moved spasmodically, as if he were struggling to chew and swallow something indigestible. She longed to rush to his side to comfort him and to ask what tidings had wounded him; to snatch up that note and read it; to find out who had killed himself; but such a display would be unseemly in front of the small gathering, not to mention embarrassing for Richard. He, among all men, stood on his own two feet, no matter how dire the situation. Isabel alone was aware of his sensitivity; and she would never cause it to be exposed to others.
Many people-mostly those who referred to him as "Ruffian Dick"-considered Burton's brutal good looks to be a manifestation of his inner nature. They could never imagine that he doubted himself; though if they were to see him now, so shaken, perhaps it might strike them that he wasn't quite the devil he appeared, despite the fierce moustache and forked beard.
It was difficult to see past such a powerful façade.
The Committee had only just gathered at the table, but after glancing at Burton's anguished expression, Sir Roderick Murchison, the president of the Royal Geographical Society, came to a decision.
"Let us take a moment," he muttered.
Burton stood and held up a hand in protest. "Pray, gentlemen," he whispered hoarsely, "continue with your meeting. The scheduled debate will, of course, have to be cancelled, but if you'll allow me half an hour, perhaps I can organise my notes and make a small presentation concerning the valley of the Indus, so as not to disappoint the crowd."
"That's very good of you, Sir Richard," said one of the Committee members, Sir James Alexander. "But, really, this must have come as a terrible blow. If you would rather-"
"Just grant me thirty minutes to prepare. They have, after all, paid for their tickets."
"Very well. Thank you."
Burton turned and walked unsteadily to the door, passed through, closed it behind him, and stood facing Isabel, swaying slightly.
At five eleven, he personally bemoaned the lost inch that would have made him a six-footer, though, to others, the breadth of his shoulders, depth of his chest, slim but muscular build, and overwhelming charisma made him seem a giant, even compared with much taller men.
He had short black hair, which he wore swept backward. His skin was swarthy and weather-beaten, giving his straight features rather an Arabic cast, further accentuated by his prominent cheekbones, both disfigured by scars-a smallish one on the right, but a long, deep, and jagged one on the left, which tugged slightly at his bottom eyelid. They were the entry and exit wounds caused by a Somali spear that had been thrust through his face during an ill-fated expedition to Berbera, on the Horn of Africa.
To Isabel, those scars were the mark of an adventurous and fearless soul. Burton was in every respect her "ideal man." He was a wild, passionate, and romantic figure, quite unlike the staid and emotionally cold men who moved in London's social circles. Her parents thought him unsuitable but Isabel knew there could be no other for her.
He stumbled forward into her arms.
"What ails you so, Dick?" she gasped, holding him by the shoulders. "What has happened?"
"John has shot himself!"
"No!" she exclaimed. "He's dead?"
Burton stepped back and wiped a sleeve across his eyes. "Not yet. But he took a bullet to the head. Isabel, I have to work up a presentation. Can I rely on you to find out where he's been taken? I must see him. I have to make my peace with him before-"
"Of course, dear. Of course! I shall make enquiries at once. Must you speak, though? No one would fault you if you were to withdraw."
"I'll speak. We'll meet later, at the hotel."
She kissed his cheek and left him; walked a short way along the elegant marble-floored corridor and, with a glance back, disappeared through the door to the auditorium. As it swung open and closed, Burton heard the crowd beyond grumbling with impatience. There were even some boos. They had waited long enough; they wanted blood; wanted to see him, Burton, shame and humiliate the man he'd once considered a brother: John Hanning Speke.
"I'll make an announcement," muttered a voice behind him. He turned to find that Murchison had left the Committee and was standing at his shoulder. Beads of sweat glistened on the president's bald head. His narrow face was haggard and pale.
"Is it-is it my fault, Sir Roderick?" rasped Burton.
Murchison frowned. "Is it your fault that you possess exacting standards while, according to the calculations John Speke presented to the Society, the Nile runs uphill for ninety miles? Is it your fault that you are an erudite and confident debater while Speke can barely string two words together? Is it your fault that mischief-makers manipulated him and turned him against you? No, Richard, it is not."
Burton considered this for a moment, then said, "You speak of him so and yet you supported him. You financed his second expedition and refused me mine."
"Because he was right. Despite his slapdash measurements and his presumptions and guesswork, the Committee feels it likely that the lake he discovered is, indeed, the source of the Nile. The simple truth of the matter, Richard, is that he found it while you, I'm sorry to say, did not. I never much liked the man, may God have mercy on his soul, but fortune favoured him, and not you."
Murchison moved aside as the Committee members filed out of the robing room, heading for the presentation hall.
"I'm sorry, Richard. I have to go."
Murchison joined his fellows.
"Wait!" called Burton, pacing after him. "I should be there too."
"It's not necessary."
"Very well. Come."
They entered the packed auditorium and stepped onto the stage amid sarcastic cheers from the crowd. Colonel William Sykes, who was hosting the debate, was already at the podium, unhappily attempting to quell the more disruptive members of the restless throng; namely, the many journalists-including the mysterious young American Henry Morton Stanley-who seemed intent on making the occasion as newsworthy as possible. Doctor Livingstone sat behind Sykes, looking furious. Clement Markham, also seated on the stage, was chewing his nails nervously. Burton slumped into the chair beside him, drew a small notebook and a pencil from his pocket, and began to write.
Sir James Alexander, Arthur Findlay, and the other geographers took their seats on the stage.
The crowd hooted and jeered.
"About time! Did you get lost?" someone shouted waggishly. A roar of approval greeted the gibe.
Murchison muttered something into the colonel's ear. Sykes nodded and retreated to join the others.
The president stepped forward, tapped his knuckles against the podium, and looked stonily at the expectant faces. The audience quieted until, aside from occasional coughs, it became silent.
Sir Roderick Murchison spoke: "Proceedings have been delayed and for that I have to apologise-but when I explain to you the cause, you will pardon me. We have been in our Committee so profoundly affected by a dreadful calamity that has-"
He paused; cleared his throat; gathered himself.
"-that has befallen Lieutenant Speke. A calamity by which, it pains me to report, he must surely lose his life."
Shouts of dismay and consternation erupted.
Murchison held out his hands and called, "Please! Please!"
Slowly, the noise subsided.
"We do not at present have a great deal of information," he continued, "but for a letter from Lieutenant Speke's brother, which was delivered by a runner a short while ago. It tells that yesterday afternoon the lieutenant joined a hunting party on the Fuller Estate near Neston Park. At four o'clock, while he was negotiating a wall, his gun went off and severely wounded him about the head."
"Did he shoot himself, sir?" cried a voice from the back of the hall.
"Purposefully, you mean? There is nothing to suggest such a thing!"
"Captain Burton!" yelled another. "Did you pull the trigger?"
"How dare you, sir!" thundered Murchison. "That is entirely unwarranted! I will not have it!"
A barrage of questions flew from the audience, a great many of them directed at Burton.
The famous explorer tore a page from his notebook, handed it to Clement Markham, and, leaning close, muttered into his ear. Markham glanced at the paper, stood, stepped to Murchison's side, and said something in a low voice.
Murchison gave a nod.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he announced, "you came to the Bath Assembly Rooms to hear a debate between Captain Sir Richard Burton and Lieutenant John Speke on the matter of the source of the Nile. I, of course, understand you wish to hear from Sir Richard concerning this terrible accident that has befallen his colleague, but, as you might suppose, he has been greatly affected and feels unable to speak at this present time. He has, however, written a short statement which will now be read by Mr. Clement Markham."
Murchison moved away from the podium and Markham took his place.
In a quiet and steady tone, he read from Burton's note: "The man I once called brother today lies gravely wounded. The differences of opinion that are known to have lain between us since his return from Africa make it more incumbent on me to publicly express my sincere feeling of admiration for his character and enterprise, and my deep sense of shock that this fate has befallen him. Whatever faith you may adhere to, I beg of you to pray for him."
Markham returned to his chair.
There was not a sound in the auditorium.
"There will be a thirty-minute recess," declared Murchison, "then Sir Richard will present a paper concerning the valley of the Indus. In the meantime, may I respectfully request your continued patience whilst we rearrange this afternoon's schedule? Thank you."
He led the small group of explorers and geographers out of the auditorium and, after brief and subdued words with Burton, they headed back to the robing room.
Sir Richard Francis Burton, his mind paralysed, his heart brimming, walked in the opposite direction until he came to one of the reading rooms. Mercifully, it was unoccupied. He entered, closed the door, and leaned against it.
* * *
"I'm sorry. I can't continue."
It was the faintest of whispers.
He'd spoken for twenty minutes, hardly knowing what he was saying, reading mechanically from his journals, his voice faint and quavering. His words had slowed then trailed off altogether.
When he looked up, he saw hundreds of pairs of eyes locked on to him; and in them there was pity.
He drew in a deep breath.
"I'm sorry," he said more loudly. "There will be no debate today."
He turned away from the crowd and, closing his ears to the shouted questions and polite applause, left the stage, pushed past Findlay and Livingstone, and practically ran to the lobby. He asked the cloakroom attendant for his overcoat, top hat, and cane, and, upon receiving them, hurried out through the main doors and descended the steps to the street.
It was just past midday. Dark clouds drifted across the sky; the recent spell of fine weather was dissipating, the temperature falling.
He waved down a hansom.
"Where to, sir?" asked the driver.
"The Royal Hotel."
"Right you are. Jump aboard."
Burton clambered into the cabin and sat on the wooden seat. There were cigar butts all over the floor. He felt numb and registered nothing of his surroundings as the vehicle began to rumble over the cobbles.
He tried to summon up visions of Speke; the Speke of the past, when the young lieutenant had been a valued companion rather than a bitter enemy. His memory refused to cooperate and instead took him back to the event that lay at the root of their feud: the attack in Berbera, six years ago.
* * *
Berbera, the easternmost tip of Africa, April 19, 1855. Thunderstorms had been flickering on the horizon for the past few days. The air was heavy and damp.
Lieutenant Burton's party had set up camp on a rocky ridge, about three-quarters of a mile outside the town, near to the beach. Lieutenant Stroyan's tent was twelve yards off to the right of the "Rowtie" that Burton shared with Lieutenant Herne. Lieutenant Speke's was a similar distance to the left, separated from the others by the expedition's supplies and equipment, which had been secured beneath a tarpaulin.
Not far away, fifty-six camels, five horses, and two mules were tethered. In addition to the four Englishmen, there were thirty-eight other menabbans, guards, servants, and camel-drivers, all armed.
With the monsoon season imminent, Berbera had been virtually abandoned during the course of the past week. An Arab caravan had lingered, but after Burton refused to offer it an escort out of the town-preferring to wait instead for a supply ship that was due any time from Aden-it had finally departed.
Now, Berbera was silent.
The expedition had retired for the night. Burton had posted three extra guards, for Somali tribes from up and down the coast had been threatening an attack for some days. They believed the British were here either to stop the lucrative slave trade or to lay claim to the small trading post.
At two thirty in the morning, Burton was jolted from his sleep by shouts and gunfire.
He opened his eyes and stared at the roof of his tent. Orange light quivered on the canvas.
He sat up.
El Balyuz, the chief abban, burst in.
"They are attacking!" the man yelled, and a look of confusion passed over his dark face, as if he couldn't believe his own words. "Your gun, Effendi!" He handed Burton a revolver.
The explorer pushed back his bedsheets and stood; laid the pistol on the map table and pulled on his trousers; snapped his braces over his shoulders; picked up the gun.
"More bloody posturing!" He grinned across to Herne, who'd also awoken, hastily dressed, and snatched up his Colt. "It's all for show, but we shouldn't let them get too cocky. Go out the back of the tent, away from the campfire, and ascertain their strength. Let off a few rounds over their heads, if necessary. They'll soon bugger off."
"Right you are," said Herne, and pushed through the canvas at the rear of the Rowtie.
Burton checked his gun.
"For Pete's sake, Balyuz, why have you handed me an unloaded pistol? Get me my sabre!"
He shoved the Colt into the waistband of his trousers and snatched his sword from the Arab.
"Speke!" he bellowed. "Stroyan!"
Almost immediately, the tent flap was pushed aside and Speke stumbled in. He was a tall, thin, pale man, with watery eyes, light brown hair, and a long bushy beard. He usually wore a mild and slightly self-conscious expression, but now his eyes were wild.
"They knocked my tent down around my ears! I almost took a beating! Is there shooting to be done?"
"I rather suppose there is," said Burton, finally realising that the situation might be more serious than he'd initially thought. "Be sharp, and arm to defend the camp!"
They waited a few moments, checking their gear and listening to the rush of men outside.
A voice came from behind them: "There's a lot of the blighters and our confounded guards have taken to their heels!" It was Herne, returning from his recce. "I took a couple of potshots at the mob but then got tangled in the tent ropes. A big Somali took a swipe at me with a bloody great club. I put a bullet into the bastard. Stroyan's either out cold or done for; I couldn't get near him."
Something thumped against the side of the tent. Then again. Suddenly a veritable barrage of blows pounded the canvas while war cries were raised all around. The attackers were swarming like hornets. Javelins were thrust through the opening. Daggers ripped at the material.
"Bismillah!" cursed Burton. "We're going to have to fight our way to the supplies and get ourselves more guns! Herne, there are spears tied to the tent pole at the back-get 'em!"
Excerpted from The strange affair of Spring Heeled Jack by MARK HODDER Copyright © 2010 by Mark Hodder. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This
"The usual superlatives for really clever fantasy (imaginative, mind-bending, phantasmagorical) aren't nearly big enough for this debut novel. With this one book, Hodder has put himself on the genre map....incredibly ambitious, and the author pulls it off like an old pro: not only is the setting exciting and fresh, the story is thrilling and full of surprises. Hodder's only problem now is to find a way to follow up this exhilarating debut, which will appeal not only to sf/fantasy readers but also to mystery and historical-fiction fans." --(David Pitt )
"When is the last time you've been so thoroughly delighted by a book that the moment you finished reading it, you weren't quite sure what you wanted to do more: quickly phone, e-mail, or text every friend, relative, and passing acquaintance whose contact information you can reach, gleefully tripping over yourself with excitement while explaining to them why they must run to the store and get a copy to read this very moment, because ordering from the internet would just take too long...?" -- Rob Will
"takes the genre to a new level...Would-be Steampunk writers will now have to work double duty to top this one!" --Astro Guyz
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Curious Case of Spring Heeled Jack is a fun read, very well written and researched. Not knowing the Spring Heeled Jack legend I was completely confused at the beginning of the book, but Mr. Hodder does a great job of stringing the reader along until things start to become clear. The author does a masterful job of weaving the events in such a way to make them seem confused and random until nearly 3/4 of the way through the book, at which point he begins to let the story unravel and ties up all the loose ends, well almost all of them, he has to leave room for sequels. Overall a well written and very enjoyable mystery novel.
Not Everyone is Gonna Like It The premise of this title is an interesting one: Sir Burton is hired by Buckingham Palace to investigate the mysterious figure, Spring Heeled Jack who's actually a time-traveler that messed up big time which caused Victorian England to become steampunk England. The highlight for me was the tragic character of Spring Heeled Jack and his journey through time and all the fascinating paradoxes that comes with time travel. Everything else was a bit lack luster. The author goes into overkill detail of each invention or London's layout. This book will appeal to die hard fans of Steampunk fiction.
I came across this book because I was interested in fictional uses of the historical figure Richard F. Burton. I also enjoy time travel fiction to a certain extent. The combination of two of my interests made this a great read. The imagination displayed by the author went well beyond what was needed but the book is better for it. No sense stopping at the improbable or surreal when the absurd is within reach. Hodder's knowledge of Victorian London is excellent and he made his vision of London even more interesting and remarkable than the real city. It's a place I'd like to see more of as well as other parts of the world in this alternate history. My only niggle is that like other authors (William Harrison, Philip Jose Farmer, Iliya Troyanov, Win Blevins, etc) who've used Burton in a prose setting he becomes more an idealized heroic verson of the authors themselves than a strict historical portrayal. Still I can't wait for the next one.
By 1861, Britain is radically changing due to technology; enhanced by the eugenicists creating specialized beasts to do the labor. Four groups emerge to challenge the power structure. The Libertines demand no laws insisting government impedes creativity; the Rakes agree with no government interference as they are anarchists demanding the use of magic fueled by sex and drugs to create a super human, the Engineers use technology to transform the world into a marvelously polluted realm in their image; and finally the Eugenicists create specialized beasts of burden. British Prime Minister Lord Pamerston hires Sir Richard Burton, just back from the Nile expedition, to serve as the "King's Spy". His first investigation is to look into the reported sexual assaults by an apparent apparition Spring-Heeled Jack. At the same time Algernon Charles Swinbourne is doing an inquiry of his own. Meanwhile apparently hybrid canine-humans are kidnapping chimney sweeps while terrorizing the East End. Richard also plans to learn what happened to his injured former friend, John Speke, who vanished. This is a fascinating tongue in cheek alternate historical thriller that grips the reader throughout. The story line pays homage to Dickens and Wells in a setting in which the moral fiber that kept the sun from setting on the Empire is waning from the extremes demanding the establishment of their Eden regardless of the cost to others. As the threads converge into a great twist, readers will want to join Burton and Swinbourne discovering the truth of Mark Hodder's Victorian England. Harriet Klausner
Wanting to try something new, a colleague of mine recommended this book, defining it as steampunk. First time reading that type of book, and I have to say, I was a bit disappointed. The amount of steampunk in the book isn't that great, and I found myself struggling with 2/3 of the book. At that point things became interesting, but struggling through the first 2/3 was a nightmare. I enjoyed the last part, more interested in the story of Spring-Heeled Jack, rather than Sir Richard Burton.All in all, a well written book, but for a fantasy-person such as me, simply not interesting enough.
¿With blood and with iron, shall a nation be moulded.¿ And what blood and what iron! Hodder doesn¿t exactly give us a steampunk world. There are too many biological grotesqueries like swans big enough to carry men into deepest Africa, huge dray horses, greyhounds who deliver messages to every memorized address in London, and parakeets who deliver voice messages ¿ liberally laced with insults and profanity. Mendel¿s work, in this world, was not ¿lost¿ and men like Darwin and Francis Galton have plenty of ideas about using the new science. This is no Victorian Age of freakish steam powered machines (though there are plenty, here). Indeed, Hodder gets rid of Queen Victoria in 1840.Technically, that sort of makes this an alternate history, but Hodder cheerfully does such violence to history and the many historical personages he has here ¿ not to mention throwing in werewolves and the bizarre legend of Spring Heeled Jack ¿ that it feels very different.Explorer Richard Burton and poet Algernon Swinburne, author of the above quote, make a good duo of investigators for King Albert. Swinburne, with his small stature and masochistic tendencies, provides a lot of comic relief. Burton, after an early encounter with Spring Heeled Jack, realizes that his life could take an alternate path and that provides a quite satisfying scene towards the end of the book.Burton paces his novel very well, wraps up all the plot ends. While this may be the first of a trilogy ¿ which gets more complicated as it goes, this book is pretty self-contained.Definitely recommended for steampunk fans or those interested in the Fortean figure of Spring Heeled Jack.
Not bad for a first novel. Derivative. The characters and the milieu are rather cartoonish. Surprising that it won the PKD.
From raygunreviews.wordpress.comIt¿s London, 1861. Sir Richard Burton, the explorer, is about to debate his former partner, John Speke, over the location of the Nile¿s source, but word quickly comes that Speke has suffered from a gun shot wound that has left him at death¿s door (but not quite dead). However, he soon disappears from the hospital.Burton is soon thereafter hired on as a secret agent to His Majesty, King Albert, to take on cases that require someone of his abilities. He is given two cases to start with: look into reports of wolf-like men in London¿s seedier districts, and try to discover the truth behind stories of bogeyman Spring-Heeled Jack, who has recently reappeared in London, years after his initial appearances during the assassination of Queen Victoria.Things, of course, are never as simple as they seem, and Burton takes poet and friend Algernon Swinburne under his wing to help him sort out what is happening in this strange, steampunk alternative to the Victorian Age.I¿m a bit of a Victorian-era junkie, so I¿ve welcomed the recent fad of steampunk books that combine the Victorian with SF/F. There are many aspects of the Victorian era that I enjoy, but more than others, the story of Burton and Speke has fascinated me ever since I saw the film ¿Mountains of the Moon.¿ So when I received a review copy of The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack and read the back blurb ¿ steampunk! Burton! Spekes! ¿ I was hooked. What more could I ask for?But did the book hold up to my expectations? Yes, and no. It starts out very, very strong, pulling the reader in from the first page. To readers familiar with Victorian history, things almost immediately don¿t sit right. (Speke died in 1864, not 1861.) But Hodder quickly brings in the fantastic to alert the reader that something is wrong: this is not the expected Victorian Age. But exactly what has gone wrong is only gradually and slowly revealed. As he unravels what went wrong, Hodder builds a captivating character in Sir Richard Burton.However, the book starts to collapse in the second half when Hodder¿s narrative shifts from a focus on Burton, to explaining the background of Spring-Heeled Jack. Instead of working the explanations into the main narrative thread, Hodder chooses to weave a new thread. Unfortunately, the central character in the history of Spring-Heeled Jack is nowhere as captivating as Burton ¿ quite despicable, actually ¿ and so the reader¿s attention flags. The last quarter of the book returns the narrative to Burton, but the damage has been done and the forward movement just can¿t be recovered.As a first effort, The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack is mostly well done, although flawed in places. It¿s a strong start to what looks like is the first novel in a series of espionage/mystery/thriller adventure tales. I look forward to more to come.
As the long title suggests, Sir Richard Francis Burton and Algernon Swinburne, real Victorians, are the lead characters in this novel that is at once mystery, fantasy, alt history and steampunk. And possibly a few other things, too. It includes not just not just real people Burton and Swinburne, but also Darwin, Galton, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Florence Nightingale and Oscar Wilde, among others. Add airships (but not, alas, dirigibles), flying arm chairs, foul mouthed parakeets that act as messengers, letter carrying dogs that eat constantly, spontaneously combustible wolves, pneumatic railways and the rather adorable broomcats -the only genetically modified critter that didn¿t end up with a rather gross side effect. The novel gets off to a rather slow start- I almost gave up on it during Burton¿s backstory. I¿m glad I didn¿t, though, because it soon evolved into nonstop action. So much action, and so many characters, in fact, that at times I had to stop and think back for a moment before going on. It¿s a fine adventure, and a grand example of the time traveler¿s paradox. And in the middle of all this action and fantasy, the author gives us characters that really work. One character goes from villain (there are multiple villains in this book, so I¿m not giving anything away) to example of pathos. And he¿s not the only character to change- I¿m not sure any of the main players escape change or growth. I recommend this book, even if I can¿t quite figure out what to call it.
I just finished reading the book this afternoon, and I think I'm interested in the character of Sir Richard Burton enough that I might check out the second book. A couple of days when I was half-way through it, I wondered whether I wanted to finish it. I just didn't see where it was going, and the character of Swinburne annoyed me so much that the author just about lost me. When I got to the true story of Spring-Heeled Jack (no big surprise that this is a time-travel story), my interest picked up again, so I pushed on to finish it. Having finished it, I felt like I accomplished something just to have gotten through it, which I think I should not feel. I'm not sitting here saying to myself, "I can hardly wait to get my hands on The Clockwork Man!" It's more like, "Maybe later I'll check out The Clockwork Man."I really think the book could have been tightened up to keep the action going from beginning to end. The book gets off to a slow start in part, I think, because of the choice of main character. By choosing a somewhat peripheral character like Burton as the hero, the author needed to educate a reading public who may know little or nothing about the real Burton. And I also felt sidetrack by the the time spent on Burton's engagement. There were ways to ignore or rewrite the real Burton's connection to Isabel Arundell if she wasn't going to be important in the book. The only thing I can think is that the author means to re-introduce her in a future book (Lady Isabel Arundell, Adventurer!).
Unfortunately, I cannot give this book even one star due to the author's latest post on facebook. No, it has nothing to do with the quality of the book but I cannot support anyone who feels this way. ******************* Cards on table. Time for a cull. If you are religious and can't keep it to yourself, then I ask that you de-friend me right now. Fact is, I regard you as a threat to my children. I intend to teach them that faith in god is stupid, harmful and dangerous. I intend to teach them to take active responsibility for themselves, for their environment, and for those around them. I intend to teach them love, respect, ethics and morals and shall do so without the aid of hateful books that are filled with spite, gender and racial discrimination, vengeance, and cruelty. If you choose to follow a religion, then I extend to you that right, but you need to know that I have no respect for you, I pity you, I fear you, I scorn you, I want to avoid you, and I am NOT your Facebook friend. You can unfriend me via the little downward pointing arrow on the upper right of this status update.
An amazing twist on people who really did exist in history and a legend that few people outside of the British Isles have ever heard about...Spring Healed Jack. It starts out slow as the book sets up the back ground of these explorers and then explodes into a fast moving story of how The Spring Heeled Jack came into the world and why, and what he may have done to time. The whole story line is a unique take on real history, people, and places all wrapped into a fast moving steampunk story. At the end of the book are brief biographies of the people and places in the book. Which sent me looking for more about the poet, the explorers, and history in which this story is set. It has been a long while since I found a book that entertained and taught at the same time. A great read.
I am only halfway through reading this book and it has yet to let me down. The characters are quite unique and I can't wait to see how it ends.
I truely recommend this to anyone who is big into syfy. I dont eant to reveal the story but it is a good brain twister and can cause you to image whats haooeing as you read
I was disappointed with this. The premise and the characters sounded interesting, but the story couldn't seem to live up to expectations. I do like the characterization of Richard F. Burton, and I could see how he might grow on a reader as a lead in a series. And although Swineburne, as a Libertine and follower of de Sade, may have been intended as the more interesting character, I found him tiring and, surprisingly, flat. It is an imaginative story, and I did develop some sympathy for the title character, but this one just didn't do it for me. I am a fan of historical science fiction and time travel, and expected to really enjoy this, but I can't strongly recommend it. Maybe I'm just still too much in love with Felix Palma's superb The Map of Time and am (unfairly) comparing everything else to it.
Mark Hodder's first Burton and Swineburne is an ingenious blending of history, victorian folklore and crazy gonzo streampunk wildness. His London and his greater world is a place much changed by a minor tweek in history and he proples it with wonderfully flawed and brillantly human characters both big and small in many ways. His use of the explorer and former british soldier Sir Richard Francis Burton and masochistic poet Algernon Swineburne as agents of the King begs readers or at least it had me looking up the real men and situations that inperiled thrm in the novel. Fans of steampunk, pulp adventure, alternatr history and the works of Bernard Cornwall.