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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mix the ingredients, light the touchpaper, and ...whoosh!, 25 May 2011
By 
Brian J. Cox (Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack (Burton & Swinburne) (Paperback)
I try to keep up with all the SF award-winners (this has just won the Philip K. Dick Award), but while they're mostly inventive and worthy, they're often not much fun. Well, "Spring Heeled Jack" is certainly inventive, and no doubt worthy, but most of all it's a ton of fun - an absolute delight from start to finish. This really was a book I couldn't bear to put down, and finished in two large sittings within 24 hours of its arrival on the doormat from Amazon.

The plot is terrific, so I'm not going to give too much away. Suffice it to say: take a Victorian - no, make that Albertian, setting - and mix in large dollops of H. G. Wells, Conan Doyle, Philip José Farmer, Charles Dickens, Michael Moorcock (surely the book's Godfather, and acknowledged by Mark Hodder), Jack Finney, Robert Heinlein, and lots and lots of others, get your history right so that you can change it with impunity and keep the reader with you, stir it all together into a potent mix, and whoosh! When you get (all too quickly) to the end, you can only take your hat off to the author - a bravura performance, and a worthy award-winner.

And it's so funny too: see if you can stop yourself laughing out loud at the messenger parakeets. Yes, messenger parakeets.

Great stuff: get it now!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One Draft Away from Exceptional, 24 Aug 2011
By 
wolf (East Midlands, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack (Burton & Swinburne) (Paperback)
There is a lot to like about Mark Hodder's debut novel. Happily blending alternative history, science fiction, weird fantasy, detective fiction and the biographies of several eminent Victorians, this steampunk melange is - at its best - truly excellent fun.

It takes historical events and reinvents them. The real world mystery of Spring Heeled Jack is given a new twist, the life of the adventurer, explorer and author Richard Burton provides a springboard for action. Other real world characters' biographies are played fast and loose with - but with enough vim and vigour to be entirely forgiveable. The not-quite Victorian world of steampunk technology is more than simply background here, the extra technology integrated into the story, lifting outside the range of many other similar novels.

However, there are issues. The book starts with some fairly lengthy chunks of Sir Richard Burton's biography, recapping his life up to the point when the story starts; the feeling that these are "info dumps", explanations required for later in the story but badly integrated into the narrative, is unavoidable. Burton's investigations run down two separate lines - Spring Heeled Jack and the shooting of John Speke. The secondary storyline, about Speke, feels underdeveloped, its connection to the main story uncertain and unclear. Other flaws are simple mistakes. The main character is referred to as `Sir Burton' rather than Sir Richard - trivial but irritating.

It is frustrating that all of these issues could have been sorted out with an editor who could have corrected mistakes and told the author to redraft and rethink certain parts. With just a little assistance this could have been something outstanding. That said, none of the flaws stop this being a perfectly enjoyable read.

For those who know them, Mark Hodder's love of the vintage penny dreadful and pulpy investigative fiction of Sexton Blake is evident in the relationships of Burton and his sidekick, Swinbourne, their landlady and the appearance of an albino villain. Those who haven't read any but have enjoyed this story might like to check out some, including Wordsworth's `Casebook of Sexton Blake' or Snowbook's own `Sexton Blake: Detective'.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun read!, 2 May 2011
By 
Patrick St-Denis "editor of Pat's Fantasy Hot... (Laval, Quebec Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack (Burton & Swinburne) (Paperback)
This novel has intrigued me ever since I received the ARC from Pyr a few months back. I knew I was going to read it , but I had no idea when. Then, after reading Mark Hodder's guest blog post for the Hotlist, my curiosity was piqued even more. So when I had to select what novels to bring with me to South America, Hodder's The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack seemed to be just what the doctor ordered as far as vacation reading is concerned.

Here's the blurb:

London, 1861.

Sir Richard Francis Burton--explorer, linguist, scholar, and swordsman; his reputation tarnished; his career in tatters; his former partner missing and probably dead.

Algernon Charles Swinburne--unsuccessful poet and follower of de Sade; for whom pain is pleasure, and brandy is ruin!

They stand at a crossroads in their lives and are caught in the epicenter of an empire torn by conflicting forces: Engineers transform the landscape with bigger, faster, noisier, and dirtier technological wonders; Eugenicists develop specialist animals to provide unpaid labor; Libertines oppose repressive laws and demand a society based on beauty and creativity; while the Rakes push the boundaries of human behavior to the limits with magic, drugs, and anarchy. The two men are sucked into the perilous depths of this moral and ethical vacuum when Lord Palmerston commissions Burton to investigate assaults on young women committed by a weird apparition known as Spring Heeled Jack, and to find out why werewolves are terrorizing London's East End.

Their investigations lead them to one of the defining events of the age, and the terrifying possibility that the world they inhabit shouldn't exist at all!

One thing about this book is that it's incredibly hard to label it. Yes, it is steampunk. But it is much more than that. There are alternate history/alternate reality elements throughout. The time-traveling aspect brings a definite science fiction aspect to the story. Add to that a number of fantastical elements and you've got yourself an inventive melting pot of speculative fiction staples that should intrigue and satisfy even the most jaded genre readers!

Mark Hodder did a very good job in capturing the essence of this pseudo-Victorian Age with its myriad mannerisms and nuances. Moreover, Hodder's colorful narrative creates an imagery that brings this tale to life. The dialogues are witty and engaging, and there is never a dull moment from start to finish.

The characterization was probably the facet I enjoyed the most. Both Sir Richard Francis Burton and Algernon Charles Swinburne are well-drawn characters, though the former more than the latter. The supporting cast has a few endearing protagonists, chief among them Constable William Trounce. And last but not least, the presence of many historical figures such as Oscar Wilde, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Florence Nightingale, and more add a little something to an already compelling novel.

The pace is fluid enough, though there are a few rough spots here and there. The only problem I had was with various POV shifts with no clear breaking point within the narrative. It doesn't take anything away from the overall reading experience, but it does take you by surprise from time to time.

Although to some it may sound as "same old, same old," Mark Hodder's take on steampunk is fresh and entertaining, and I'll be reading the upcoming sequel in the near future. If it's as fun a read as The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, then it will undoubtedly be a very good read!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great Idea, 2 Dec 2013
This review is from: The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack (Burton & Swinburne) (Paperback)
What better than to use real life heroes such as Sir Francis Burton in a story? the twist on history is fantastic and its a unique way of bringing people back to life (granted not all in a good light but remember is not real)
The story is great and there has been lots of myths around Spring Heeled Jack so why not have a great story about him? The use of figures of note from history is inspired and when you get to the end of the book you can find out about the real people and what they were doing with their lives at the time.

Love the parakeets :D
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5.0 out of 5 stars a rip roaring yarn, 27 Jan 2012
By 
M. Daniels - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack (Burton & Swinburne) (Paperback)
I discovered this book quite by chance and found the unusual, twisting plot so entertaining I have made the rare effort to write a review. Shocking, surreal, entertaining, vivid; this is a must read - buy it - you will love it :)

On another tip - try ' the seven days of peter crumb '
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5.0 out of 5 stars Victorian Rollercoaster, 20 Nov 2011
This review is from: The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack (Burton & Swinburne) (Paperback)
This is a great Steampunk debut for Mark Hodder. I found it compulsive reading from start to finish, a rip-roaring good read. I loved the time twists and turns, the graphic novel-style imagery and alternative vision for Victorian England. It was like a rollercoaster - enjoyed every page!
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5.0 out of 5 stars A great read, 15 Sep 2011
By 
Anon (Berkshire, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack (Burton & Swinburne) (Paperback)
How on earth Mark Hodder managed to keep the storyline straight in his head I don't know, but it worked really well and was an enjoyable read right to the end. Great steampunk and more. I hope he can keep it up for more adventures from Burton and Swinburne.
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