Steampunk is the kind of thing I want to like, and feel I should like, but every time I give it a chance, it falls short. It doesn’t really do for me what future sci fi, or fantasy, ultimately does do for me, and so I usually avoid it (unless written by Brandon Sanderson).
However, a few months ago I was stuck with a small number of Audible credits and wanted to listen to something new. Audible suggested I try The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder. After reading the reviews and the premise, I decided to give it a try. I’m so very glad I did, because the trilogy grabbed me by the seat of my pants and I’m still not sure if its done with me, though I finished the books a month ago.
You know how you read a book, and weeks later, you’re still thinking about the characters? Or better yet, you turn around and reread it as soon as its done? The minute I was done with Spring Heeled Jack, I went and bought The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man, and when I finished that I bought the third (and final?) book in the series. I listened to them all twice. That’s how much these books stuck with me.
There’s not a lot of the premise I can talk about without giving away one of the major spoilers of the first book. In this version of history, Richard Francis Burton – see his Wikipedia entry – a famous Victorian Explorer becomes an agent for the government who investigates mysterious goings on. He is joined by the red-haired poet Algernon Swinburne, making them a drunken version of Mulder and Scully.
The plot of the first book sets up what I think is the best excuse/reason for a steampunk setting that I’ve experienced, and is one of the reasons I totally enjoyed the books. I highly recommend them for anyone who gets a kick out of English detective novels, and a double kick out of historical fiction, because the trilogy is both and more.
Unfortunately, the trilogy is also a tragedy. If you read the reviews on Amazon, a number of people who read the whole thing felt cheated and disappointed by the end of the final book. While I don’t want to give anything away, and it made me sad at the end, the utter destructiveness of the whole thing had a flavor of old-school Greek tragedy. In the last book, several of the characters make the same mistakes they’ve chastised others for making, not recognizing how wrong their actions are. I thought it was brilliant. However, if sunshine and puppies is what you want, then this series is probably not your best bet.
There has been speculation than the third book isn’t the end, and I would welcome another volume, but if it isn’t, and tragedy is where the story ends, its such a fitting one.