The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack – Book Review

Spring Heeled Jack coverThe year is 1861, but the world is filled with things that should not yet have come to pass. Flying armchairs (called rotochairs) help the populace get around and the postal system is composed of foul-mouthed parakeets that have been genetically designed to deliver messages. Queen Victoria was a but a brief blip on the historical radar because she was assassinated only three years after becoming queen, leaving the Libertines (who debate whether murder is the ultimate act of individual expression) and Technologists (whose experiments with genetics are way beyond the pale) to vie for social power.

Author Mark Hodder co-opts several of the “Great Victorians” as heroes and villains. The protagonists are Sir Richard Francis Burton and Algernon Charles Swinburne. I was familiar with Burton and his involvement in the debate over the true source of the Nile, but my knowledge ended there. Swinburne was a Victoria-era poet with a taste for the bottle and the teachings of the Marquis de Sade. They seem an unlikely duo but they make an excellent team in this action-packed mystery.

Burton has just finished a night of heavy drinking with some pals and is accosted by a strange man with blue flames framing a devilish face with glowing red eyes. The apparition gives Burton a savage beating all the while warning him to leave the red-eyed man alone. The encounter starts Burton on an adventure that will challenge his mind, body and very sense of self.

I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Steampunk stories. I will definitely be using examples from this novel to help explain the genre to others because there are several re-imagined technologies and “punked” figures from history making appearances. The writing style is engaging and the plot was compelling, so I was very happy to find out there are more books starring this daring duo. I was lucky enough to pick up the fourth book in the series, The Secret of Abdul El-Yedzi, as a freebie at the 2014 Steampunk convention Weekend at the Asylum in the UK, and I am thoroughly looking forward to reading it (and telling you all about it when I do!).

By Pendragon1Deville, found on Zazzle.com

The first thing I did before I started to read was look up Spring Heeled Jack. There is a long article about the whole history of sightings here, but basically he was a figure that popped in and out of the public eye and into folklore during much of the 19th century and into the 20th. He was spotted all over England and eventually made his way to the United States as well. What Mark Hodder does is take all of the historical facts, including names and dates, and builds a new narrative to bring the whole saga together.

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