Victorian London is stalked by a mad-eyed leaping sex-pest/assassin and a gang of vicious "loup-garous" intent on abducting the capital's chimney sweeps. Who better to divine their nefarious intentions and solve these apparently unconnected mysteries than the unconventional explorer and adventurer, Sir Richard Francis Burton and his trusty sidekick, poet and libertine Algernon Swinburne.
Take a covey of well-known Victorian (well, sort of Victorian) personalities, drop them into an alternate history, add a goodly dose of steampunk, a thick London pea-souper and some exploding werewolves and shake well. Spring-Heeled Jack is, on the face of it, a great idea. No... it's a wonderful idea! Admittedly it reads a bit like a Sherlock Holmes
pastiche in places and this may offend the more hardline Holmes & Watson Taliban. But, if you accept this, it is certainly exciting, fun, suspenseful and not without a gentle undercurrent of wit. It's packed full of adventure and it doesn't let up for a moment.
Neither is it without its flaws, however. Another reviewer has suggested that Hodder had a headfull of great ideas and fully intended cramming them all into this one novel. I can't disagree that it is a little //too// packed with steampunk inventions, historical exposition and background (at least in the first half). I felt that that Hodder would have done well to park some of these ideas for subsequent episodes (there are two; The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man
and Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon
) and let the story unfold by itself... to "show, and not tell".
A few more minor gripes; the nature and intent of Spring Heeled Jack (if not his ultimate motive) is mostly pretty obvious from quite early on in the story. The characterisation is generally well done although, having read two Burton biographies (A Rage to Live
and The Devil Drives
), I can't say that I was entirely concvinced by Hodder's portrayal which made Burton a little too lighthearted, not as darkly menacing as his biographers would have us believe. If you want more Burton fiction, do try the Riverworld
series - PJF did the great man rather better in some ways. The dialogue is good Victorian stuff, although Hodder's attempts at East End Cockney are... misguided to say the least.
All told, this is a ripping yarn, steampunk but skirting the borders of fantasy; well executed if a little unpolished and definitely worth a stab. If Hodder was able to calm his style down a little, the follow-ups should be well worth a look.