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The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack (A Burton & Swinburne Adventure) Paperback – September 1, 2010

3.9 out of 5 stars 93 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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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From Booklist

*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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Product Details

  • Series: A Burton & Swinburne Adventure
  • Paperback: 373 pages
  • Publisher: Pyr (September 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1616142405
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616142407
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (93 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #315,064 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By J. Wiles Parker VINE VOICE on September 28, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Mark Hodder, please write more, ASAP!

Okay, moving on. The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack is currently my absolute favorite book of the year and is going to be a tough one to unseat. This mystery steampunk action/adventure alternate history story is tight. Hodder's writing style is crisp and even and easily navigated. Other than a few sections where I bogged down in the science-y alt. history stuff, I blew threw this like it was air. Burton and Swinburne feel authentic as characters and every surrounding aspect is put together in such a way that nothing seems totally out of place even if it obviously is.

What's even more impressive is how Hodder takes a cadre of authentic Victorian personas and blends them so well together, even if they never/rarely met in real life. I learned a lot about the characters both their real selves and alternate fictional selves, as well as the era since we see the diverging paths as one thing after another is affected by the decisions of others. Because decisions matter in this book so it's not just pulp fiction. There is a point to it, but I'll leave that for you to find out as you read. But other than there being a point, the book is all grand fun. Burton is swarthy enough to appeal to action/adventure types while also being a human being. And Swinburne, whom I now poetically seem to have developed a crush on, is a nice balancing character. He needs to live unlike Burton who seems to not need to live as much as he is throughout the book.

As far as plot goes, I could barely believe how well the loose ends were tied up in the end. Even some of the smaller details in the plotting and characterisation come to be important for the climax which is at times utterly surprising. As a standalone title, The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack is outstanding. I can only hope it serves as a platform for more Burton and Swinburne in the future. A Must Read book for any steampunk or alternate history reader.
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Format: Paperback
First-time author Mark Hodder pulls out all the stops in his revisioning of a Victorian England cursed with mysterious attacks by the quasi-supernatural creature known as Spring Heeled Jack. Based on the real tales of the mysterious assailant known to bound away from his crimes, and featuring a host of famed Victorians as well as the history of Jack's assaults, this ambitious novel will either tickle your fancy or mangle your suspension of disbelief.

Hodder imagines Spring Heeled Jack as a future historian/scientist who attempts to undo his family's sullied reputation by "fixing" the past. That historian/scientist, Edward Oxford, journeys back through time via a sophisticated time-travel suit to convince his ancestor of the same name to forgo a failed attempt to assassinate the young Queen Victoria. Wishing his lineage something better than being known for their own John Hinckley, Oxford instead creates a far worse outcome that alters all of history and traps him in the past. His many attempts to undo the damage to time prove more and more disastrous, his sanity slipping away even as the authorities attempt his capture.

Commissioned by King Albert to be his age's version of Agent Fox Mulder of _The X-Files_, former African explorer Richard Francis Burton pursues Jack. In the course of unwinding Jack's mysterious story, Burton encounters man-beasts created by the new breed of geneticists, robots with human brains, flying ships, and a timeline that he senses has gone awry. Poet Algernon Swinburne joins the creature hunt, and the story hurtles through mayhem, mystery, and one bizarre historical and technological re-imagining after another.

It's good--if highly unlikely--stuff.

PROS:

* Inventive.
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This is certainly not your everyday read, although it's certainly a good one. Set in 1861, the protagonist is Sir Richard Francis Burton, the explorer, not the actor. The first fifty or so pages feel like engaging historical fiction.

Then all hell breaks loose. In a good way. This version of 1861 isn't what we read in the history books. It includes steam powered flying chairs, insulting messenger parakeets, genetically engineered werewolves, robotic street cleaners and all sorts of goodies. Most of the characters are famous Victorians, or in this world Albertians given that Victoria was shot to death in 1840 (a real life attempt that was fatal in this alternate history).

The voice of the novel is third person, medium tight and usually riding with Burton. It does, however, jump over to some others occasionally like his side kick the Marquis-de-Sade-loving poet Algernon Swinburne and the title character. The tone is slightly flip, as the inventions and wackiness is just left of possible. Yet things remain consistently period and the characters are well researched and full of era-appropriate dialog, but also clever and engaging.

About midway, the book, already getting weird, goes totally off the the deep end. Enter Spring-Heeled Jack, crazy time traveler, and a host of steampunk altered villains including a double-brain grafted Charles Darwin and an Iron Golemized Isambard Kingdom Brunel. But this zaniness only makes the novel better. I'm reminded of one of my all time favorites, The Anubis Gates, but TSAOSHJ is less magical, more grounded in technology.

Bravo! This book really shows off tremendous world building and research while remaining fast paced and easy to read.
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