A retro review from May 27, 2012 …
Review: The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, Mark Hodder, 2010.
“With blood and with iron, shall a nation be moulded.” And what blood and what iron!
Hodder doesn’t exactly give us a steampunk world. There are too many biological grotesqueries like swans big enough to carry men into deepest Africa, huge dray horses, greyhounds who deliver messages to every memorized address in London, and parakeets who deliver voice messages – liberally laced with insults and profanity. Mendel’s work, in this world, was not “lost” and men like Darwin and Francis Galton have plenty of ideas about using the new science. This is no Victorian Age of freakish steam powered machines (though there are plenty, here). Indeed, Hodder gets rid of Queen Victoria in 1840.
Technically, that sort of makes this an alternate history, but Hodder cheerfully does such violence to history and the many historical personages he has here – not to mention throwing in werewolves and the bizarre legend of Spring Heeled Jack – that it feels very different.
Explorer Richard Burton and poet Algernon Swinburne, author of the above quote, make a good duo of investigators for King Albert. Swinburne, with his small stature and masochistic tendencies, provides a lot of comic relief. Burton, after an early encounter with Spring Heeled Jack, realizes that his life could take an alternate path and that provides a quite satisfying scene towards the end of the book.
Burton paces his novel very well, wraps up all the plot ends. While this may be the first of a trilogy – which gets more complicated as it goes, this book is pretty self-contained.
Definitely recommended for steampunk fans or those interested in the Fortean figure of Spring Heeled Jack.