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Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, The (Burton & Swinburne) Paperback – 1 Apr 2010
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‘Spring’ is a slow burn of a book, because for the first third or so it does not make that much sense. We start by following Sir Richard Francis Burton as he is accosted by a strange looking creature that tells him to stop what he is doing, but what is Burton doing? It is not until later that we realise that the creature itself is a little confused about when he is talking to Burton. This means that the actions that take place early in the book are not always explained until later.
If you can get past the initial strangeness of the book, Hodder does a deft job of interweaving the time lines so that they work. He has created a realistic Victorian novel, but as time progresses more and more steampunk elements enter it. It is a fantastic way of creating an alternative history series that is initially based on our own past. There are issues apart from the slow start; I didn’t really warm to Algernon Swinburne at all, but his role is a little minor here and he may develop in the future. However, the way in which the real world and that of steampunk begin to bleed into one another is so excellently done by Hodder, the book ends on a real high.
Without spoiling the reveal,Hodder uses Jack to provide a logical justification for some of the more advanced science in his world.He has skillfully woven documented Jack encounters into his plotting and this is the most satisfactory part of this work.However,it is about 200 pages too long and this story,although well-constructed and logical does not exite.I wanted it to be just a bit more surprising,clever or funny than it actually was.
Entertaining enough and rekindled my interest in the real SHJ.
But the author seems to have stumbled into Science Fiction without any understanding of science and this frustratingly weakens the book. The re-imagined Victorian era is peppered with utterly random creations - brain transplants, coal powered helicopters, dogs that understand postal addresses - that have had no effect on general society and have not been developed from anything. Indeed, they are just 'invented' as needed by individual scientists. The culmination of this is a character who has had a clockwork 'analytical engine' grafted into his brain to improve his intelligence. This would be a wonderful image in a Lewis Carroll style fantasy or an allegorical story. But seriously asking the reader to consider that a brass-cog desk calculator could be attached to a human brain (let alone that either would be improved by this) undoes too much of the author's good work elsewhere.
"Damnation! I told you to get back to Trounce!"
"I half obeyed your order!" grinned the little poet. "Come in here".
"Run as fast as you can!" snapped the famous explorer to his friend.
Too many exclamations. Too many synomens. Too many errors in the text - "Sir Burton" being the most oft repeated. Plus I just couldn't buy into the wildly divergent alternate history - too many changes happening way too soon as a result of a few conversations with a time traveller!
Had to put it down 3/4 of the way in when the whole plot was explained by 1 baddie to the rest of the cabal with the hero listening in. That was my cue to chuck it.
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