From Publishers Weekly
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.
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*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
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