The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack (Burton & Swinburne)
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!
A historical figure already larger than life, Capt. Sir Richard Francis Burton, pursues a legendary and violent Victorian creature, Spring Heeled Jack, at the behest of the prime minister in this convincingly researched debut. Fans of steampunk will be intrigued by the alternate history setting, in which the queen dies mid-century; they will also enjoy following Burton and his sidekick, poet Algernon Swinburne, as they investigate the dark secrets of 19th-century England and recall Burton's legendary expedition to find the source of the Nile. Burton is an intriguing character, but the story might have benefited by more than token appearances of his intrepid fiancée, Isabel Arundell, and better integration of the fantastical elements--werewolves, time travelers--into the narrative before a wild ending that pulls everything together. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Paperback edition. *Starred Review* 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. The time is 1861; the place, London, England. The country is besieged by loups-garous (werewolves), and Spring Heeled Jack, the notorious (and possibly mythical) creature who appears out of nowhere to accost young women, is causing a bit of a ruckus. To deal with these problems, the prime minister recruits Sir Richard Francis Burton, the noted explorer, linguist, and self-promoter. With the help of his friend, the poet Algernon Swinburne, Burton wades in with both feet and uncovers a frightening conspiracy and a (potentially) world-altering technology. And that’s just the bare-bones story of this wildly inventive—another insufficient superlative—novel. Hodder has brilliantly combined various genre staples—time travel, alternate reality, steampunk—into something you’ve never quite seen before. His mid-nineteenth-century Britain features steam-driven velocipedes, rotorchairs, verbally abusive messenger parrots, a pneumatic rail system, and robotic street cleaners. The book’s supporting characters include Charles Darwin, Florence Nightingale, Francis Galton, and Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the revolutionary civil engineer (although Hodder uses them in excitingly twisted new ways). The book is 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 --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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By Edward St. Aubyn - The Patrick Melrose Novels: Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, and Mother's Milk (1.1.2012)