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Peter Higgins, author of Wolfhound Century

Myke Cole, author of Shadow Ops Series

John Brown John, translator of the Zamonia Novels

Jim C. Hines author of Libriomancer

Nick Harkaway author of Angelmaker (review here)

Martha Wells author of The Cloud Roads

David Tallerman author of Giant Thief

Mazarkis Williams author of The Emperor's Knife

Rob Ziegler author of Seed

Steven Gould author of 7th Sigma

Douglas Hulick author of Among Thieves (review here)

Mark Charan Newton author of Nights of Villjamur (review here)

Kameron Hurley author of God's War (review here)

Brent Weeks author of The Black Prism (review here)

Anthony Huso author of The Last Page (review here)

Brandon Sanderson author of The Way of Kings (review here)

Lou Anders Editor of Pyr Books

Ian Tregillis author of Bitter Seeds (review here)

Sam Sykes author of Tome of the Undergates (review here)

Benjamin Parzybok author of Couch (review here)

Kristine Kathryn Rusch author of Diving Into the Wreck (review here)

Ken Scholes author of Lamentation

Cherie Priest author of Boneshaker (review here)

Lev Grossman author of The Magicians (review here)

Character Interviews

Alexia and Lord Maccon from Gail Carriger's Soulless

Lord Akeldama from Gail Carriger's Soulless

Eva Forge from Tim Akers's The Horns of Ruin

Atticus from Kevin Hearne's Hounded


The Daylight War by Peter V. Brett

A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson

Scoundrels by Timothy Zahn

Cold Days by Jim Butcher

Year Zero by Rob Reid

Alif: The Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

Scourge of the Betrayer by Jeff Salyards

Redshirts by John Scalzi

Control Point by Myke Cole

Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway
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REVIEW | The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder (Pyr)

At this point in Steampunk Month I thought I would get tired of reading within the same genre with such similar tropes as I generally try to mix my genres a bit so nothing becomes too stale. To a degree this has been happening what with four reads in a row now, but The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack enlivened me again and reminded me of all that I love about Steampunk.

The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack takes the more traditional definition of Steampunk with a Victorian setting, an altering of history, and the use of historical characters as stars and supporting cast. In fact, Hodder makes use of historical characters more than any other Steampunk novel I've read using everyone from famous explorers of the Victorian era to its Scientific geniuses and even poets of only low note and a spate of references to people, places, and events of the time. There is also an index which covers the true historical happenings of many of the people mentioned, which was a nice touch.

At its core The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack is a time travel mind bender mashed up with a pulp. The beginning was a bit all over the place, but it quickly turned into a very entertaining romp with adventurer extraordinaire Sir Richard Francis Burton and de Sade follower and poet Algernon Swinburne. Like Westerfeld Hodder chooses to innovate with not only technological wonders, but also genetic using Darwin as a keystone. Everything from giant swans, coal-driven horses, odd chimney sweeps, and broomcats come into the fold in this well realized alternative England. And not since Dicken's have chimney sweeps been so well used. The Spring Heeled Jack mythos is used to great effect as Hodder unveils this mysterious hopping bogey monster. There are many groups all vying for power. Nearly too many with political, technological, and anti-tech groups all jumping into the fray as well as their offshoots.

Despite some quibbles with the first quarter of the story Hodder brings it all home and clearly shows how much fun he had writing this tale. The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack pays homage to many of the forebears to Steampunk with a healthy nod to Tim Powers' The Anubis Gates. Hodder brings plenty of his own style to the table in terms of intricate plotting. There are some very complex happenings that he goes to great lengths to explain. In fact in the big reveal section it goes a little too far for me. After the first couple of examples we get the point, but that is probably a better way to go than leaving too much open. Burton comes off too distant, too perfect, and needed some sort of major flaw to make you feel he was in true danger. And the women of the story might as well not have been there given how marginalized they became. It is Algeron Swinburne that truly takes the show away when he eventually comes in to the fold. He turns out to be quite an odd and kinky fellow.

This was definitely one of those books where I connected more with the world than the characters who felt a bit distant although quite amusing and witty. Still Sir Richard Francis Burton comes out of the history books to become more than he ever was and historical figures become some very odd villains, but it was the Spring Heeled Jack storyline that will keep you vested. If you like time travel and alternative history this would definitely be worth your attention and if you are just a plain-old fan of Steampunk this is another must to add to the to-read pile. There are many good twists and some very weird ones that will give you pause. I give The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack 8 out of 10 hats. The cover is one of my favorites this year and if you haven't seen it in person go to a bookstore and check it out.  It just may seal the deal with all the finishing details. This is a planned series with the sequel The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man scheduled from a release in March 2011 from Pyr. I'll definitely be back for more and hope Hodder can improve some of the pacing issues.

You Might Also Like:
Steampunk: The Spirit of Time by Mark Hodder
The Old West Brings the Steam by Felix Gilman
REVIEW | The Bookman by Lavie Tidhar
REVIEW | Anti-Ice by Stephen Baxter
REVIEW | Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
REVIEW | Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
REVIEW | The Horns of Ruin by Tim Akers


redhead said...

great book, and great review!!

I had the same little issues you did - beginning is a little slow and unfocused, and Burton is stiff.

but. . . one that twist came, I couldn't put this book down!! and Swinburne? I so heart Swinburne, he completely stole the show for me.

Jen said...

Nice review! I ordered this for our library and had been waiting for it to come in.... and someone already snagged it! Which is a good thing. :)

Caius Caligula said...

I thought it was a little too sloggy and unfocused...I missed the Tim Powers references until you mentioned them, though. I do give him respect for that.

I think my problem was that it was really, really loose, and he was having a bit too much fun with it all. The twist was a little easy to see, though I did like Mr. Belljar and his army of freaks and various others.

Still, excellent review.