The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack

This novel has intrigued me ever since I received the ARC from Pyr a few months back. I knew I was going to read it , but I had no idea when. Then, after reading Mark Hodder's guest blog post for the Hotlist, my curiosity was piqued even more. So when I had to select what novels to bring with me to South America, Hodder's The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack seemed to be just what the doctor ordered as far as vacation reading is concerned.

Here's the blurb:

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

One thing about this book is that it's incredibly hard to label it. Yes, it is steampunk. But it is much more than that. There are alternate history/alternate reality elements throughout. The time-traveling aspect brings a definite science fiction aspect to the story. Add to that a number of fantastical elements and you've got yourself an inventive melting pot of speculative fiction staples that should intrigue and satisfy even the most jaded genre readers!

Mark Hodder did a very good job in capturing the essence of this pseudo-Victorian Age with its myriad mannerisms and nuances. Moreover, Hodder's colorful narrative creates an imagery that brings this tale to life. The dialogues are witty and engaging, and there is never a dull moment from start to finish.

The characterization was probably the facet I enjoyed the most. Both Sir Richard Francis Burton and Algernon Charles Swinburne are well-drawn characters, though the former more than the latter. The supporting cast has a few endearing protagonists, chief among them Constable William Trounce. And last but not least, the presence of many historical figures such as Oscar Wilde, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Florence Nightingale, and more add a little something to an already compelling novel.

The pace is fluid enough, though there are a few rough spots here and there. The only problem I had was with various POV shifts with no clear breaking point within the narrative. It doesn't take anything away from the overall reading experience, but it does take you by surprise from time to time.

Although to some it may sound as "same old, same old," Mark Hodder's take on steampunk is fresh and entertaining, and I'll be reading the upcoming sequel in the near future. If it's as fun a read as The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, then it will undoubtedly be a very good read!

The final verdict: 7.75/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

5 commentaires:

Jamie Gibbs said...

I've wanted to read this since I saw the blurb a few months back. I need to get my hands on it soon :) Steampunk is slowly becoming a favourite of mine so this is right up my street.

Anonymous said...

"you've got yourself an inventive melting pot of speculative fiction staples that should intrigue and satisfy even the most jaded genre readers!"

Really. So all you need to do to satisfy a genre reader is just stir all the same old shit around a little so it looks new? I mean, what you're saying is incredibly depressing to me because you seem to be implying that genre readers simply don't care about originality - all they want is the same old pulp stuff, they just want to see it in a combination which is new to them. I guess this explains the popularity of steampunk as a new aesthetic to hang on the same skeleton - a new suit of clothes which people can get excited about. This way, no one ever has to read or write anything new - all our needs can be met by cannibalizing the existing corpus of sf&f! And genre fiction readers will be perfectly happy.

All the more depressing because it's probably true. And just to clarify - I like all that pulp stuff, love it really, but a recombination of pulp elements SHOULD NOT be enough to satisfy the most jaded reader and it's tremendously sad if it is enough.

Anonymous said...

Reading this now, coincidentally, and thoroughly enjoying it.

Icepick said...

Pat in 7-point-something shocker! Why not 7.74, or 7.76?! Or even a 6, or an 8! ;)

Seriously though, I've been on the fence about this one for a while now, and I'll probably pick it up after reading this review. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Was it just me, or did this book take a severe turn about 3/4 the way through and suddenly run out of steam?

I was loving it for most of the read and then it just stalled...