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on 19 May 2011
Burton and Swinburne in a nineteenth-century adventure? Sounds good to me. But then I did (disclosure) write a novel featuring Algernon Swinburne myself. It was entitled "Deadly Vices", and you can find the Kindle version on Amazon; it was published under the pen-name Patrick Read.

Mark Hodder's Spring-Heeled Jack adventure is an example of what modern critics call steampunk. That is to say, it is set in a Victorian-era England which is (or appears to be) in a kind of parallel universe. Hence this particular version of England has flying machines well before they appeared in our world; and indeed, in Hodder's world Queen Victoria herself was shot dead very early in her reign, whereas in our (real?) world the Queen survived several attempts on her life.

The main thrust of the story concerns Burton's attempts to fulfil his duties as the King's agent and find out what is behind the mysterious appearances of Spring-Heeled Jack: a being who is not, in seems, quite of this world. Indeed not. It turns out, in fact, that he is from the future.

The second half of the book then becomes an exposition of the perils and complications of going back in time and trying to fix things so that the future works out the way it should. And, as anyone who has been reading even occasional science fiction knows, such tinkering can lead to all kinds of trouble.

All in all, a thoroughly entertaining tale. It will appeal most, I think, to those who are familiar with steampunk, and/or those who know their nineteenth-century English history.

The book design is unusual and not, in my opinion, entirely satisfactory. The font is small, and the space between lines is large. Less space and a larger point size would have been better for my eyes.

There are occasional typos, some of them puzzling. The typesetter seems to have been incapable of putting apostrophes the right way round, at the beginning of words, at any point in the book. Words such as em (for them) and ere (for here) should be preceded by a 9-shaped apostrophe, not a 6. As for Spring-Heeled Jack: he gets a hyphen on the cover but not on the title page; and he has one in the running heads but not in the text. `Here here' is normally rendered as `Hear, hear' - at least in our world. And likewise `En guard!' should surely be `En Garde!', as all readers of swashbuckle well know.
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on 8 October 2012
Started reading this because I love the title, and it's on the Steampunk Scholar's* list of top 10 steampunk works. (And the guy's got a PhD in steampunk literature, he should know!)

Absolutely fantastic! Shredded through the book in a few hours because the pace is unstoppable.

How wonderful to read a novel that doesn't take time to reflect upon itself or self-consciously tries to embellish and meander where it is absolutely unnecessary! I really felt that the author had only one thing in mind: entertaining me.

Pages and pages crammed with happenings, events, plots, inventions, characters and LIFE that made me eager to turn each page, but desperate not to miss a single word.

I loved it.

*Google him!
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on 30 July 2010
Well if this book was launched with a fanfare I must have been out of the country! and despite it being exactly the kind of book I love, for once Amazon failed to 'recommend' it to me. Still, I do still trawl book shops and came accross this little known about gem in the fantasy section.

This whole 'steam punk' genre seems to be growing all the time, and for those readers as yet unblooded in it, this makes an excellent point to jump in as it were. For those already familiar with the work of Stephen Hunt this is very similar, just as enjoyable but perhaps a little easier to get into.
If Hunt takes the Victorian era, chops it up into a broth and stirs in a bag full of magic mushrooms! Mark Hodder rather takes the same era and re-looks at it through a prism. A psychaedelic prism perhaps though!

The tale
Sir Richard Burton (the explorer not the hubbie of Elizabeth Taylor) is back from his attempt to find the source of the Nile. His planned debate with rival Speke is interupted, when his one time friend, shoots himself. Rushing to London to try reconcile their differences before Speke dies, Burton is accosted by the legendry Spring heeled Jack.
The assaulter of young women and inspiration for Rolling Stones songs!
Things only get weirder from there. Speke is snatched from hospital by seeming werewolves, the King offers Burton a job and the great and the good of Victorian England all start to behave rather differently to our history books version of them!

What on earth is going on! Burton needs help and enlists the alcaholic and masochistic poet Algernon Swinburne, the young paper boy Oscar Wilde and even a flock of foul mouthed parakeets to find out!
What follows is a fast flowing, exciting and witty caper with Hodder's tongue firmly stuck to his cheek.

There are some more serious ethical questions posed. Genetics and industrialisation, but this is a 'romp' of a book.

One word of warning. If you do decide to read it don't do what I did and read the Appendix till you have finished the book. It gives a factual potted history of the real people Hodder uses in the story but also gives away some of the plot.

In summary a thoroughly enjoyable book and an author who is a very welcome addition to this writing genre (in my book!). Who would I be, to disagree with the legend that is Michael Moorcock?
I hope this is a series as I want another!
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on 7 February 2015
Thoroughly enjoyed this book. Funny, engaging, gripping. Loved the main character, Sir Richard Francis Burton - famous explorer, mesmerist, finest sword in Europe etc etc etc. Look forward to reading more.
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on 25 September 2013
The opening chapter and introduction to the characters is clunky and not consistent with the rest of the book. It seems to be fumbling around for a bit before it finds the right rhythm, but once it gets going you give it the benefit of the doubt and are rewarded. Maybe it's a just a case of my taking a while to tune my brain to the writer's style? He hasn't made things easy for himself; with a complex plot that lurches back and forth in time while introducing a lot of characters, an alternate history and host of strange new technologies. It's a shame then that after putting so much effort into creating such a rich and complex world the author/editor allowed some jarring anomalies to crop up and snap the reader right out of the story.

As mentioned in other reviews the protagonist is Sir Richard Burton, he is often addressed as Sir Burton, when it ought to be Sir Richard or just Burton. I found this excruciatingly annoying.

Burton's stock exclamation of "Bismillah!" never failed to force a few frames of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody video followed by a couple from Wayne's World into the forefront of my brain, shattering any suspension of disbelief I may have built up to that point.

At one point the narrative refers to a minor character who inherited an estate in `The Republic of Ireland' in the 1820's when the republic didn't come into existence until 1949. The republic is not mentioned again so you have to assume that it's a mistake, which should have been corrected by the editors, rather than part of the `alternate history plot'. When William Gibson wrote The Difference Engine his alternate history was careful to let the reader know what the rules of his world were, and where it differed from actual history the reason was explained or at least alluded to.

The most unforgiveable offences though are the fact that the author relies too much on coincidence to drive the plot forward including a character overhearing the villains discuss their dastardly plot, thus allowing a huge chunk of exposition to be cut and pasted into the story. At one point the baddies helpfully explain their entire plan to a helpless character in the manner of a bad Bond pastiche.

Having said all that I did finish the book and have started reading the next in the series, so he must be doing something right.

If, like me, you are just looking to top up the amount of steampunk in your brain, to keep it at a level sufficient to sustain you, then this will do the job nicely. If you want a more immersive and `unputdownable' read in steadier hands then I'd recommend Jonathan L Howard's, Johannes Cabal series and George Mann's Newbury & Hobbes books. I went through the lot in one go.
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on 18 October 2014
My first 'steam punk' novel, this book was not only a great read but was also thought provoking ...what would life be like if ....?
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on 11 February 2014
Well written,(in my opinion) with an interesting twist on perceived history. Looking forward to the next one in the series
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on 29 August 2012
Im not into 'steampunk' and to enjoy this book you need not be, infact it might be better if you are just looking for a great adventure.....saves on all the nitpicking...just sit back and get carried along....very enjoyable
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on 4 October 2012
I have long been a fan of the Spring Heeled Jack mythology but this book certainly takes a unique twist on the character. At first I was a bit taken aback by how far off course this version of Victorian history had gone and while some of the inventions of the Technologist were quite believable the work of the Eugenicists was a little hard to take, until I started to get the humor. I had heard of Burton before, though not Swinburne, and was interested reading about him as a character. Hodder's inventiveness is remarkable as he weaves a very complicated set of sightings and alternative versions of what Spring Heeled Jack was supposed to be, into one clear series of events. Burton's character was so well developed that not only did I order the other two books in the series The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man (Burton Swinburne 2)] and [[ASIN:1616145358 Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon (Burton & Swinburne) but also bought a biography of Richard Burton to read Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton: A Biography
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on 4 June 2015
Excellent first novel, a bit rough round some of the edges but a good addition to the time continuum genre.
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