Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Burton & Swinburne #1

The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack

Rate this book
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!

371 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2010

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Mark Hodder

73 books508 followers
British writer living in Valencia, Spain.

Becoming the father of twins really slowed my writing down for three years. However, I'm happy to report that it's now returning to its former pace ... high time I got something new into the bookshops. I'm currently working on the final edit of a new SF novel which is the first in what I hope will be a massive new series.

To find out more about it, read a pre-release version, access loads of extra material--including deleted scenes and writing tips & tricks--and to involve yourself in my creative process, please head over to my Patreon page: https://www.patreon.com/MarkHodder

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
1,681 (23%)
4 stars
2,741 (38%)
3 stars
1,900 (26%)
2 stars
636 (8%)
1 star
225 (3%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 943 reviews
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,516 reviews11k followers
October 10, 2011
This super debut novel is like a sweet, dainty cup of mild English tea...if it was spiked with Absinthe, poured into a heavy brass goblet and served with Laudanum-laced cookies shaped like medical experiments gone awry. In other words, a great blend of prim, proper and the freakishly bizarre...somebody pass the hookah, this one’s gonna get weird.

Set in 1861 in an Victorian Albertian England, Mark Hodder has created one of the most enticingly strange and intriguing steampunk worlds I have come across in my literary travels. Charles Darwin has all but murdered religion, London is choking on the pollution that is the byproduct of its runaway industrial innovations and the parliament-controlled government is a powder-keg of factions.

The Technologists create modern marvels ranging from brass robots, mechanical trash-burning litter-crabs and one-man flying contraptions called “rotochairs.” The Eugenicists splice and tinker to create specialized, genetically-engineered species to act cheap labor. Both of these two group bear much in common with the “Clankers” and the “Darwinists” from Scott Westerfeld’s excellent YA "Leviathan" series, though there is a much more gothic, Vandermeer/Mieville feel to them in this work.

Socially, we have the Libertines who adhere to a morally dubious celebration of freedom calling for a society without restrictive laws that celebrates beauty, art and the freeing of humanity from the burdens of social conventions. I dubbed these guys the “Dorian Gray” party, sans the creepy painting and a young Oscar Wilde is actually a character in the story.

Finally, we have the “Rakes”....who take everything the libertines believe in and push it to eleven. They are darker, more sexually deviant and far more callous. Their dream is a world where humanity lives controlled by their primal instincts for sex, violence and anarchy and they inhabit much of the darker “criminal” enterprises in the city (i.e., drugs, sex clubs, etc..).

In touring this world, we are guided by a pair of brash, roguish “gentlemen scoundrels” who may turn out to be outstanding leading characters in future novels. Sir Richard Francis Burton (yes...that one) is a famous explorer, scholar, swordsman and an extremely cunning-linguist. Algernon Charles Swinburne is a clever, morally casual libertine poet who has a serious pain fetish and digs nothing more than a really firm flogging of the bottom...or anywhere else for that matter. By the way, Algy is also a serious drunkard, but I don’t feel qualified to judge on this point...‘He who is without a hangover can cast the first shot glass’...or something like that.

So here’s the plot lowdown:


Despite Burton’s fame, he has fallen into disfavor after suffering a humiliating scandal perpetrated by a group that includes his oldest friend, John Hanning Speke. Richard returns to London unsure of what his future holds at the same time London is being harried by a legendary boogeyman and possible “would be rapist” known as Spring-heeled Jack. After a bizarre encounter with this mysterious apparition, Burton is hired as a special agent of Prince King Albert to solve the mystery of the entity’s strange appearances.

At the same time, a group of child-stealing loup-garous (aka, fancy talk for werewolves) are terrorizing the poorer sections of London and snatching young members of the League of Chimney Sweeps. Richard and his almost trusty sidekick Algy begin to wonder if the two series of events might be connected...What do they find?...uh, uh...that would be telling.


In terms of ideas and plot, this book does not feel like a debut novel. This man has deft, story-crafting chops and is sure to make his presence felt in years to come. Except for a bit of slippage in the last 50 pages where the story seemed a bit out of control, Hodder maintains a firm grasp on his narrative. Also, he does something that I have never seen before in a steampunk novel. He provides a credible and understandable basis for exactly how such technology exists and doesn’t just ask the reader to accept it as a given. This explanation is part of the “big reveal” that takes place halfway through the story and sets this one well above the norm in terms of inventiveness and plot lay out.

There are some things the book could have done better. I loved the two main characters, but I thought they could have been a little better developed. However, as there is already a sequel with a third book coming out soon, I am confident that both Burton’s and Swinburne’s characters will be filled in and expanded. Also, as wonderfully put together as the plot was, I thought the very end was a bit rushed and felt a little like Hodder had to tourniquet the climax because he was afraid of story gush and needed to get things tied off and wrapped up.

Still, an incredibly impressive debut. Quality prose, very engaging characters, a superbly, SUPERBLY imagined world and terrific central story involving a who blend of SF tropes that come together into a wonderful stew.

4.0 t0 4.5 stars. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!
April 28, 2019
"Book, you have the right to a speedy trial" review

- A brilliant reimagining of several historical figures.
- Loved how philosophical themes like "technology vs. humanity" and "propriety vs. freedom" were explored.
- Exemplary world-building and atmosphere throughout.
- Author succeeds where so many other sci-fi writers have failed, he manages to explore alternate timelines without being confusing at all!
- Swinburne is especially entertaining!

- Not enough Swinburne!
- Lengthy descriptions of steampunk contraptions occasionally left me glassy-eyed.
- Horrific moments (particularly Spring Heeled Jack's targeting of young women) may be too much for some readers.
- More significant female characters would have been nice... the book is pretty much one gigantic sausage fest!

Whereas other steampunk novels choose to only graze at real-life events (i.e. Leviathan) or create a new world entirely (i.e. Retribution Falls), Mark Hodder realizes the fullest potential of the steampunk genre, blending several historical figures and events together to create a fascinating alternate reality. While some parts of the story are disturbing enough to make even George R R Martin cringe, the novel remains unputdownable throughout. Can't wait for the next installment!
Profile Image for mark monday.
1,645 reviews5,100 followers
August 26, 2016
EH? EH! this desperate steampunk non-adventure plays like an overly hysterical farce with delusions of grandeur. although seemingly full of creative ideas, those ideas have run sadly amuck. there is no grounding of the frivolity within interesting characterization or sparkling dialogue - both of which remain almost obstinately insipid and amateurish; famous english personages are tossed around willy-nilly with little sense and zero resonance; cutesie-poo preciousness is found everywhere, from the lil' newsboy Oscar Wilde to foul-mouthed delivery parrots; "steampunk elements" themselves are parroted on an ad hoc basis but have little internal logic, only inspiring sighs & eye-rolling from this severely disappointed and agitated reader. at a little over the halfway mark (@ page 200, i think), i decided my time had been wasted enough and chose to skim the rest - if only to see how Hodder dealt with his inexplicably villainous creations Charles Darwin & Florence Nightingale. although they turned out to be a disappointment, i'm glad i chose skimming instead of tossing. the final third of the novel contains a rather awesome, multi-chapter novel-within-a-novel that details the sad, terrible, increasingly fearful misadventures of the titular, time-traveling, so-called villain "Spring Heeled Jack". now THAT portion of the novel was marvelous. certainly worthy of at least one extra star.
Profile Image for Brad.
Author 2 books1,688 followers
January 18, 2012
I'm sitting here trying to decide how to say what I need to say about The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, and I can't get my review of Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker out of my head. So I'm going let it inspire me:

I dug Mark Hodder’s The Strange Affair of Spring-heeled Jack, but it was too damn much.

I dug Albertan England, but the changes from the Victorian England I am familiar with were too outrageous, too far beyond what even my whacked-out imagination could accept.

I dug the loups-garous, but there were too many of them, and their spontaneous wolf-man combustion was one pseudo-Sci-Fi step too far for me to suspend my disbelief.

I dug Sir Richard Burton and Algernon Swinburne, and even Speke and Palmerston (plastic face and all) were tolerable, but throwing in Charles Darwin, Florence Nightingale, Ismabard Kingdom Brunel stretched my ability to cope. But even that wasn't enough for Hodder. No, no, no. He had to give us a newsboy, nicknamed Quips (so clever), who just happens to be a young Oscar Wilde. But even THAT wasn't enough for Hodder. Nope. The revelation of Wilde's identity came upon his first meeting with a poet named Algy a couple of paragraphs away from the books only use of the word "perambulator." Fuck off.

I dug the "new novella" at the heart of the tale -- Part Two: Being the True History of Spring Heeled Jack -- and would love to have seen all of Hodder's energy poured into that history. As a novella, it might have been nearly as good as H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man, but then there's Part One and Three and the Conclusion and the Appendix, and there is an excess of plot and action that is just begging to be streamlined and morphed into a radio play (odd, I know, but I kept hearing the story in my head with the crackling overlay of an old-time radio). I wanted to mess with it and adapt it, or beg Hodder to keep it simple and short, but he was too in love with his own cleverness, and that hurt the literary experience (if not the entertainment experience).

I dug The Mad Marquess and even dug his Mr. Belljar alter-ego, but the way he became the damn dirty ape of Burton's nightmares was ... well ... lame because of everything (such as Ms. Nightengale) that was required to make it work.

I dug Spring Heeled Jack, and I loved the way we watched his loose-ends tie up, but I wanted him to be smarter than he was. Perhaps that's not fair, though.

I dug how Burton finished the tale and made a timeline shaking choice based purely on his selfish desires, but I don’t buy for a second that it was required. The timeline was already irrevocably fucked. Still, "heroic" brutality was refreshing, and it made him feel more like James Bond than Sherlock Holmes.

I dug most of the technological steampunk elements, but I grew thoroughly weary of the eugenic steampunk elements. Again, Wells did it better when he was writing straight up Sci-Fi in the Victorian Era than any steampunk writers can do today when they ape the era for their stories. Herbert George, what would you make of steampunk?

I dug the hint of more tales with Burton and Swinburne, but I think I would rather spend some time in Damascus with Isabel Arundell instead.

I dug The Strange Affair of Spring-heeled Jack, but it was too much of a good thing and not enough of a great thing, and the only way to get to the great would have been to decrease the good because too much good winds up being just okay.

I wonder if Burton and Swinburne will take on Jack the Ripper next? Seems appropriate, and what would the Ripper be in a timeline so fantastically altered? That could actually bring me back to Hodder's Albertan past. I'll cross my fingers and toes.
Profile Image for aPriL does feral sometimes .
1,892 reviews429 followers
April 28, 2019
‘The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack’ is a madcap movie, basically, and entertaining, but without the inventions this is a three-star read, really. But if you unpack the novel, the entire story is a Rube Goldberg machine. I liked but not loved. I've given four stars because the author Mark Hodder was clever by throwing in real inventions from the mid-1880's and the plot posed some interesting dilemmas which occurred from time traveling. I had the most fun Googling the inventions and studying the drawings.

The oddness of everything draws you into the book and keeps you reading (or maybe it will put you off the book). Nothing is normal, but not too alarming. Everything is a bit off, literally and figuratively. This is an alternative universe story that takes place in 1861 London. It has famous people in history as protagonists, but these people could not have ever been as represented here in this novel. Basic physical features and personalities are vaguely acknowledged, but how they lived in history is completely rearranged into Frankenstein mash ups. Instead of the usual romantic London we have come to expect from Sherlock Holmes movies, this London is similar to the bottom of a mine or Manhatten on 9/11, full of soot, dirt, dust and airborne filth. Admirable qualities of the hero characters are muted, while their darker natures are what make them successful. Women are cosseted in theory while mistreated and disrespected in all the usual ways (the author didn't have to twist anything here, the real world's attitudes are sufficiently twisted 'as is'). Vehicles of Travel of all sorts seems to be an underlying but powerful theme, a lot of them being crackpot inventions that work; however, everyone moves in circles revisiting the same streets or move only in time while jumping up and down in the same spot.

As a reader from 2012, in effect I'm a time travelor in the point-of-view position of the character Spring Heeled Jack. While he finds himself unable to accept his circumstances, I want to explore, examine and make friends with this world. Jack's feelings don't make sense to me. His costume is clownish, and the stilts that he has made necessary to the functioning of his invention is a peculiar way to solve the problem of its functioning. His time travel suit is a Rube Goldberg machine. In addition, his original quest is ridiculous considering the lengths he went to in order to change a long ago and ultimately minor historical note, but I suppose that's the nature of Rube Goldberg crackpots.

The cascade of disrupted history and displaced technology is the fun part of the book. But again, it's off kilter in application to the story. The only part of society that is disrupted is some of the upper class, particularly those who are crackpots in philosophical and science matters.

I think because the heart of the entire book is it's being an elaborate literary Rube Goldberg construction, I can't like it as much as I admire it. The off-kilter crackpot silliness overcomes this reader's ability to connect with anything emotionally. This alt-universe is ugly, too, despite the fact of everyone's either cheery soldiering on or stiff upper lip attitudes. Burton and Swinburne are not heroes, but bored dilettantes looking for something fun to do. They are not exactly haunted, but unhappy and unfulfilled. They both are rich, Burton more respectible and intellectually gifted while Swinburne fits the role of wing man. Burton, the 'hero' , is not a man burning with passion before, during or after events. For an explorer of harsh places, he is strangely unaffected by his discoveries, very one-dimensional. Swinburne is terrifically amusing, the only part of the book that had me laughing, but sadly, he is barely in the book. The werecreatures were appropriately monsterish and gory, so be warned graphic bits included.

Is it worth reading? I think so. Is it likable? Maybe. I loved the broom cats and the message birds with coprolalia.
Profile Image for Kitty G Books.
1,551 reviews2,937 followers
May 5, 2015
This book was brilliant and one of the best books I have picked up in a while because of how vastly different it was, and yet thoroughly engrossing. I tend to read a lot of Epic or High Fantasy which is what I love to read, but this rings more as an adventure, Victorian-era fiction, Steampunk Fantasy and Sci-fi story all rolled into one. You may think that sounds like an awful lot of stuff, and it is, but it works!

Having never heard of or read anything by Hodder prior to this I went into this with a very open mind and no real expectations other than I loved the cover designs, and one of my friends gave it a 5* review so I knew it had to be decent. I didn't know what it was other than it was a kind of absurdist steampunk novel, and I certainly didn't think I would fall in love with it as much as I did.

This is the story of a rather wacky world. It's kind of like our Victorian period, but it's also got a lot more cool inventions and some very comical characters. The author has clearly looked into people of the era who were influential and famous, and these make up the main part of the cast, however they do not act as they would have done in our world because the land that they live in is so different and wacky that their stories in this book are a lot more colourful and fun than their 'real--life' histories.

This book has some exceptionally witty and truly wonderful writing. Whilst it doesn't swerve away from bold language in some scenes, there's always a sense that you're living and reading about the proper period of history and even with the added contraptions of the world, there's a distinct gentlemanly feeling which sort of echoes Sherlock.

A large amount of this story focuses on two characters, Burton and Swinburne (as the title of the series would suggest). These two are pretty funny characters indeed with Burton being a famous explorer and the main protagonist, and Swinburne a semi-famous poet who is sort of a reluctantly accepted side-kick. These two make for some wonderful conversation and discourse, with a whole lot of charm and charisma thrown in too. They bounce well off of one another, and work well together as a team. I have to say that they were wonderful characters to get to know!

I actually listened to this on audiobook largely and I have to say I think that the Narrator, Gerard Doyle, was fabulous at making this world yet more exhilarating and the characters far more apt to their roles and society than I could have imagined in my head. He did some stellar voice acting and I would highly recommend this as a series you may consider to listen to.

However, equally another aspect which I loved about the physical edition was that at the start of every chapter we had something like a note, letter or advert which was either related to the story, characters or the world, and by far the adverts were my favourite. Over the course of this book we see a fair few absurd and hilarious advertisements and flyers with the appropriate embellishments of the time for all manner of bizarre and wonderful product such as motorised penny farthings to beard growing kits. It made me chuckle and smile every time I got to a new chapter!

Finally, what is the story all about? Well this is a funny one to explain because although everything links up we actually have 3 parts to the book, the first focusing on Burton as he returns from and adventure to find that his friend and enemy has supposedly died, and everything he wanted in his life is severely shaken when he's assigned a role by appointment of the King. His story gets more and more crazy but suffice to say it eventually involves a rather deranged and wild character of Spring-Heeled Jack who is a vibrant, interesting and baffling character all at once.
The second part of the story focuses on a character called Oxford who becomes an interesting part of the story and tells his own version of events which we have already experienced with our initial character.
The final part was the convergence of both storylines, and I have to say I think the book was wonderfully structured and a lot of fun to read and experience!

On the whole if you've never heard of or been interested in this book I would highly advise that you give it a look the next time you're out and about because this was certainly a book I adored and the start to what promises to be a wonderful series. A firm 5*s and I cannot wait to progress further with the next books as I do already own book 2 and 3 and can't wait to pick them up!
Profile Image for YouKneeK.
645 reviews79 followers
July 24, 2019
The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack is the first book in a steampunk series called “Burton & Swinburne”. This was a crazy, fun book. It’s kinda sorta set in the Victorian era and features many historical figures who are misused to serve the author’s evil purposes. I could imagine this book would surely drive some people crazy, but I really enjoyed it even while recognizing it has some flaws.

The main characters, Burton and Swinburne, are two of the aforementioned real people from history. The story focuses mainly on Burton, but Swinburne plays more of a role eventually. Near the beginning of the book, Burton has returned to London after learning that a man he knew well has shot himself. While walking home drunk from a pub, he’s accosted by a strangely costumed man on spring-loaded stilts who leaps out of nowhere, beats him up, and yells at him to do what he’s supposed to do. Burton has never seen this man before and has no idea what he’s talking about.

In addition to the steampunk-type technology, there are also genetically altered creatures. They’re a bit silly, but fun. I particularly enjoyed the potty-mouth parakeets; I’m not sure what that says about me! Of course, nothing could beat the broom cats. Has there ever been a cat owner in all of history who has NEVER tried to convince their cat to serve as a broom? This is probably why modern cats love Roombas so much. (Lest anybody read this book and end up horribly disappointed, broom cats do not play a significant role in this book. They’re just briefly mentioned.)

This is probably not a book to read if unrealistic science bothers you. The genetic creations are pretty unlikely, and even the technological creations are more than a small stretch in the context of the story. The book might also bother people who want their historical figures to be portrayed consistent with how history portrays them. The history wasn’t much of a problem for me since I don’t know UK history well, and for the rest of it I found that I was able to suspend my disbelief pretty easily and just go with the flow. I found it a lot of fun, the story kept me interested as I worked to connect the scattered dots, and it made me laugh a lot. If I have one complaint, it was that people seemed to go off the deep end awfully easily, which made it difficult for me to buy into some of the characters' behaviors. Some of the characters did have experiences that would have been shocking and horrible to actually experience, yet I believe humans are more resilient than they were portrayed in this book.

I did like that my edition had some brief explanations at the end of the book about both the real legend of spring heeled jack as well as the many historical figures who showed up in the book. I was a little bit overwhelmed in the very beginning by all of these characters who had wiki entries when I touched their names in my Kindle, because only a few were familiar to me. However, the character introductions eventually settled down and I was able to keep everybody straight. I didn’t worry too much about who they really were while I read the book, but I was more interested in reading that historical info at the end of the book after I had already spent a few hundred pages with their fictional counterparts.

This book tells a complete story. I’m not sure if the setting can sustain my interest for an entire six-book series, but I enjoyed this first one well enough that I’m going to continue on to the second and see how things go.
Profile Image for David.
Author 18 books336 followers
September 7, 2013
Steampunk is all the rage nowadays. The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack seizes the trend in an intriguingly weird story that turns history on its head, thanks to the inept bungling of a time-traveler who, in our world, was one of the most notorious urban legends of Victorian England.

I am not really a huge fan of steampunk. Actually, to put it bluntly, I think most steampunk is stupid, an excuse to mix corsets and Anglophilia with science fiction.

But I enjoyed this book a lot. It's rip-roarin' well-plotted adventure, with a fine attention to historical detail if not scientific plausibility.

There are lots of things Mark Hodder does right. His alt-history is a colorful blend of historical figures and fanciful inventions. It's not science, it's Science! When a time traveler from the 22nd century goes back in time to 1840, the date on which 18-year-old Edward Oxford attempted to assassinate Queen Victoria, he inadvertently causes the assassination to succeed. The changes that result from Victoria's death are not merely the loss of "Victorian" England, but a 19th century England in which Technologists build ornithopters and geothermal power stations and air trains, while eugenicists engineer messenger dogs and parakeets, house-cleaning cats, and elephantine horses. Meanwhile, Libertines and Rakes are rival factions preaching a complete overthrow of the social order. Mesmerism and other "magical" practices are real, and genetic engineering on humans is beginning.

Adventuring, two-fisted pulp style, in this steampunk bizarro world are the famous explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton and the poet Algernon Swinburne. Burton crosses the sinister time-traveling "Spring Heeled Jack," thus becoming ensnared in his calamitous attempts to unscrew history.

The use of actual historical figures is cleverly done. According to 19th century lore, Spring Heeled Jack was some sort of superhuman demi-rapist, running around England sexually assaulting women by tearing their clothes off. Hodder actually comes up with a logical explanation for "Jack's" behavior, and for how the loon could be a time traveler. I also appreciated his use of historical personages and events. Edward Oxford was a real person, and his attempted assassination of Queen Victoria is a historical fact; Hodder makes strange fiction out of it. He uses real people like Richard Burton, Algernon Swinburne, and Lord Henry Beresford of Waterford, with cameos by Oscar Wilde, Charles Babbage, and others. I was particularly amused at the eeeeeeevil evolutionists being led by . There was no insertion of overtly fictional characters — i.e., no Sherlock Holmes or Allan Quatermain. It's almost like a bent world that might have been.

That said, this book gets 4 stars for story and content, 3 stars for writing. I suppose some of the writing tics that bugged me may have been a deliberate attempt to emulate the writing style of Victorian pulp adventures, hence Sir Richard Burton constantly being referred to as "the King's agent." But having long chapters of exposition narrated to us by the expedient of characters eavesdropping on the bad guys as they conveniently monologue their life history and then spell out their plans in detail? Lazy. Entertaining as heck, but lazy. Hodder is a great storyteller, and the pace never flagged, even during the monologues, but the plotting was sloppy. And like most steampunk settings, there's a lot of suspension of disbelief required, since steampunk cyborgs, talking orangutans, and genetically-engineered housepets are not a logical consequence of killing Queen Victoria, even with a time traveler letting slip a few hints about the future to inquisitive 19th century scientists. Still, accept that history has been kicked onto its side and anything goes, and the plot flows right along.

A great read for any fan of steampunk, an entertaining read for fans of historicals who don't mind fantasy.

Also, I must confess that this debut novel, which was wobbling a little shakily between 3 and 4 stars, earned its fourth star when it ended with my very favorite Swinburne poem:

From too much love of living,
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.

Good enough for me to consider the next volume in the series when I am in the mood for a beach read.
Profile Image for Marc *Dark Reader of the Woods*.
780 reviews132 followers
December 4, 2020
I love this rollicking British steampunk alt-history period action/mystery/spec fic series so much. This was my second time reading this book and I am pleased to report that it was just as thrilling as I remembered from the less-dicerning me of ten years ago. Mark Hodder has created (or repurposed) an intriguing pulp hero worthy of his literary ancestors, the swarthy, scarred, well-travelled, fierce-faced, mesmeric, king's agent Richard Burton. The book is very British, very modern (despite it's 1860's setting), very fuckbonkers with its mad mix of aberrant technology, genetically altered animals, historical figures and legends, and other elements masterfully pieced together.

The cast is heavy on males; the few female characters are fierce but restrained to varying degrees by the social systems of 19th-century England, one historical factor that was not altered for this book. This could be a downside for some readers. If you are an impatient reader, the early portions of the book might come across as dry. There is some info-dumping, but skillfully done within the book's context and necessary; there is a lot of background information needed to get on with the main plot. At two fifths of the way in, though, there is plenty of explosive action and furthering of core mysteries to make it worth sticking around for.

I love the book design (the Pyr paperback edition) with its dynamic cover art, extended title ("Mark Hodder presents Burton & Swinburne in The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack"), interior graphics, and the in-world period-inspired advertisements, poetry, and quotes from the book's characters.

I first encountered this series in 2010 when my thoughtful wife picked out the second book, The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man, for me from the public library based on the cover, which does not immediately reveal that it is part two in a series. I read that one, then came back to the first book, then the third, and was very surprised in a later year to see that there were further books because the story was fully encapsulated in the first three books. I only ever made it to book four before deciding that I wanted to start over at the beginning, and over time acquired copies of the whole series. This book sat for many months in my bedside to-read stack, continually cycling down to make time for library loans. Now, in the time of cholera, I am glad that I finally moved it back to the top of the pile. I am confident that I will enjoy the rest of the series and can't wait to see what the final volumes will bring.
Profile Image for Sarah.
732 reviews73 followers
December 8, 2016
I had to create a number of shelves to accommodate this wacky novel. It's primarily a Steampunk Victorian Detective Novel and then you add all of these other elements in. Rogue geneticists, time travel, the assassination of Queen Victoria, a mad Marquess (very Victorian), a timeline that goes increasingly awry, and my favorite bit, part swashbuckling adventure. I swear this book made me want to whip out a rapier and dance around like a mad lunatic. Which is what I would look like if I tried sword-fighting. Oh, there's also a young Oscar Wilde as a newsboy.

Burton is offered a job as the King's Agent at the beginning of the book and told to investigate the werewolf problem in London. After explaining to the Prime Minister that he was accosted the night before by a strange figure, Burton finds out that this is the famed mythical figure, Spring Heeled Jack. He's told to investigate that as well. I don't want to say anything else because it would be easy to spoiler something. I will say that there isn't much food for thought here but it's a hell of a lot of fun if that's what you're looking for. I'm looking forward to the rest of the series. Two things did surprise me. The author really captures the feel of a Victorian detective novel but he manages to somehow mix it with all of these strange elements without it ever seeming awkward. The other is that the author explained every single one of Spring Heeled Jack's appearances. That was impressive.

Also, I listened to the audio and the narrator was beyond brilliant. He did an excellent range of voices, my favorite was the Beadle that lived in a chimney and protected the chimney sweeps. I was never clear on what he was exactly but the narrator's voice was hilariously spooky.

This was a truly fun book.
Profile Image for Lost Planet Airman.
1,249 reviews72 followers
December 28, 2019
A really good steampunk-slash-alternate-history book, with an entertaining and plausible origin embedded in the story and some great characters. I'm going to refer folks over to friend David's review here, as his 5-star review captures most all of my feelings for this book.

My additional thoughts:
- I was not quite as taken with Swineburne as he was -- there was just enough of the Algy character for me.
- There was no logical reason for Quips to exist as he did in this story, which the author basically confesses to in the end notes. Once I learned that he was superfluous, the story took a step down in quality for me.
- I didn't think some of the biological inventions could have occurred as early in history as they did here, both for the internal logic of the story, and for scientific reasons, although they were quite entertaining.
- The moral behavior of the protagonists seemed historically accurate. Those of their enemies seemed a bit overblown (although necessary to support the plot), so it gave an air of fantasy rather than science fiction. Not all of behavior of either side, however, was pleasant.

Overall, quite good and worth the read. I hope the next in the series can keep up!

Monopoly "Steampunk" move.
Profile Image for Auntie Terror.
417 reviews102 followers
August 30, 2022
It wasn't bad, but also not particularly good because the main character was just a little bit too much of a "supercool tough guy who saves the world on a daily basis" which made it all a bit tedious. The basic idea and the historical references were fun.
I don't know if I'd gotten through it if I read the book instead of listening to the audiobook.
Profile Image for Mpauli.
157 reviews458 followers
June 3, 2015
The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack is a clever mash-up of well researched history and the author's wide imagination.

It follows the historical figure of Sir Richard Francis Burton, who does become a king's agent in this novel. His job is to solve the mystery of Spring Heeled Jack, an apparition on stilts who's supposed to have attacked a few people, but is disregarded as a myth. During the novel the strange masochistic poet Algernon Swinburne starts to assist Burton with his investigation.

Although most readers won't have a problem to figure out the mystery of Spring Heeled Jack early on, the why and how is laid out pretty cleverly and the novel has one or two unexpected twists regarding its structure.

Author Mark Hodder shows that he is really talented, is able to create some memorable characters and has a knack for the Victorian era and its themes.
Morality, especially in a world where Charles Darwin shattered the belief in god and creation, is one of the main themes of the novel and not only our heroes are struggling with it.
There are some interesting debates in here and as a former sociology/philosophy student, I was pleasently surprised to find some old arguments presented in a new context.

Long story short, I had a blast with this book on more than one level and I'm pretty happy that there are at least 4 sequel novels, cause I really like to see what Mark Hodder does with his Steampunk sandbox and his characters.

Oh, and here goes out an honorable mention at the end. It is the first piece of anything apart from Queen's song Bohemian Rhapsody, where I encountered the word "Bismillah!".
Profile Image for Mike (the Paladin).
3,145 reviews1,817 followers
January 25, 2011
I suppose after consideration, that maybe I'm just not going to be a fan of "Steam Punk". I've tried several books, I'll read the synopsis and think "wow, good idea, I should like this". I get the book, I go in expecting to be interested and to like the novel....but I don't.

Pretty much the same here. I considered giving the book 3 stars. I just couldn't justify going that high when by the end of the book I'd lost interest, didn't care much about the characters and was fairly glad to see it end. I started out interested (of course I'm interested in the era, in the exploration of Africa, Sir Richard Burton, Stanley and Livingston, etc. so it started out with some things to boost my interest). The book opens with Sir Richard Burton as the protagonist, except that he had been knighted years too soon. We soon are introduced to the steam punk elements of the novel. I'll try not to give any spoilers here but....as in most steam punk universes the anachronisms include far more than simply steam technology. Electricity and the interest of the day in eugenics (which continued over into the 20th century) are referenced (and of course played fast and loose with) to give just a "teaser".

The problem here is that the story takes a nose dive as we get further into it, the characters are sometimes interesting but at other times too familiar. I found much of it annoying. There comes a point where I suspect most of you will say..."okay I see what's going/gone on here". Without a spoiler I suppose I can say that a big part of the story here involves time travel and unintended consequences.

The writer plays fast and loose with the people of the day and while I suppose the argument that this is a different world might be applied, they are still supposed to be the same people from history. The book ends or ties up with a short synopsis as to what actually went on in the time span involved in this book.

So, as often before I'll say, I didn't hate this book I simply found it sliding from interesting to slow, you may find it less so. Try it, see what you think. I wasn't impressed, but then as noted, my record in liking steam punk is that I generally don't. So...only 2 stars.
Profile Image for Jason.
1,179 reviews256 followers
June 30, 2011
5 pointy things that at one point were called stars...

Wow, this is a steam punk farce that is a joyride of a read. It is a whimsical, alt history, science fiction, steam punk novel that centers around time travel.

The alt world building is spectacular.

The protagonists Burton and Swineburne are a fantastic team and they really work as an investigative team. 

The side characters are colorful and add depth to this romp.

The structure of this novel elevat the level of this book from good to absolutely great.

The steam punk elements are top notch and really represent what I love about the genre:

" A velocipede chattered past. They had started to appear on the streets two years ago, these steam-driven, one-man vehicles, and were particularly known as "Penny-Farthings" due to their odd design, for the front wheel was nearly as tall as a man, while the back wheel was just eighteen inches in diameter."

This is mystery novel that centers on Burton as the kings man charged with finding out the mystery behind the legendary spring heeled jack. Burton is very likable, a capable detective, a master swordsman, and a good street fighter. He has a great sense of honor and duty and makes a great detective.

The book is full of wonderful plays on history and on historical people like Darwin and Dickens. There are some great action scenes, sword fights, and cool chases. But to me, the best part of this book lies in it's structure itself. Two thirds through this one it makes a dramatic change that I  Ioved and to me it really made this one work. 

Finally, I thought that the writing really worked:

"The world! I now understand that we inhabit two worlds. There is the wider one that we live upon yet see but a fraction of and there is the one which consists of the immediate influences from which we take our form. The first expands us: the latter contracts us."

Great fun here....my highest recommendations.... I cannot wait for the  further adventures of Swinburne and Burton ....
Profile Image for Liviu.
2,252 reviews630 followers
July 23, 2014
The Spring Heeled Jack novel that introduces an alt-history England of the early 1860's with a steampunk flavor and features Richard Burton as main hero who becomes a "special agent" of the king - among other changes Queen Victoria is assassinated in 1840 - with Algernon Swinburne as a sort of sidekick, while many notables like Darwin, Brunel, Oscar Wilde have cameos is for most part an unstable mixture of the modern Victoriana - a bit of a misnomer as above but still - (Lazarus Club, Meaning of Night, Drood) and steampunk Victoriana (Affinity Bridge, Bookman) with occasional descent in farcical grotesque, but a fast pace and an intriguing hero in Sir Richard keeps the book quite interesting.

Then about 2/3 in the author takes a gamble - which is foreshadowed early so it did not come as a surprise per se for me, but its extreme importance in the structure of the book was a surprise - and starts explaining things by turning the novel into more of a sf one and for me at least it worked very well managing to balance the two modes that previously did not work so well together; there is still some slapstick farce here and there that annoyed me a little (villain fighting the hero and both declaiming stuff..) but the last third raises the game one level; an A to A+ and I hope we will see more of Burton/Swinburne and the fascinating universe the author created
Profile Image for Eric.
872 reviews77 followers
August 9, 2013
I'm so glad I stumbled onto this imaginative steam-punk series. I loved the protagonist, a fictionalized Sir Richard Francis Burton, his side-kick, an equally fictionalized Algernon Charles Swinburne, and their adventures in this alternate Victorian England, complete with genetically modified animals, steam engine-propelled penny farthings and flying rotochairs .

I loved the inclusion of so many personalities of the time, such as Charles Darwin, Florence Nightingale and Oscar Wilde, and the allusions to others like Edgar Allen Poe's C. Auguste Dupin and Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes.

Though a few points of the novel bogged down with speeches on the nature of man in relation to the ethics of the technological advances occurring, the pacing builds nicely throughout the book and climaxes in a rip-roaring crescendo. I am very much looking forward to reading the sequel, The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man.
Profile Image for Nick Imrie.
287 reviews128 followers
December 28, 2019
A mostly enjoyable adventure story. The hero is an admirable square-jawed fellow, who punches a satisfying number of bad guys. It's that sort of book. His poet side-kick is plucky but flakey. His girlfriend is quickly dispatched in the early chapters - despite the large number of dresses that are ripped open in the course of the story, it is not a kissing book.

I highly recommend it to any precocious 9 year old boys you might know.

Otherwise, it is not very memorable and shares a great deal with other gaslamp fiction, not least The Anubis Gates. In a few years time, I will look back and think, 'Which one of them was it that had the time travel, men on stilts, plucky ragged boys, and amusing cameos from historical characters?'
Profile Image for Jack.
Author 4 books129 followers
August 16, 2017
We are all told to not judge a book by its cover, but that is exactly what first put this exciting novel into my hands. With the antique-styled gold accents and decidely dangerous looking villain on the front, it practically screamed "read me!" And read it I did, finding it more and more difficult to put down as the story progressed.

Mark Hodder has taken several distinct genres (Steampunk, alternate history, science fiction, time-travel, and plain old action & adventure) and combined them, along with smatterings of the occult and who-done-its, and created a thoroughly unique romp through Victorian era London. Historical events are peppered throughout, some well known, others not so much. The primary characters are well drawn, and while I generally have a hard time with protagonists who are unrivaled in nearly every field, Sir Richard Francis Burton definitely makes a compelling hero for this most unusual tale. An accomplished linguist, swordsman, explorer, and mesmerist, Sir Richard rises to the myriad challenges that await him. Along for the ride is the masochistic and alcoholic poet Algernon Swinburne, who becomes Burton's sidekick as the story progresses. I had a harder time connecting with Algernon than with Burton, especially since he is reckless mostly for recklessness' sake, but I do admit that his clumsiness and lack of experience with dangerous situations provided an excellent foil for Burton's seemingly endless array of abilities and tricks. The supporting characters were all colorful and intriguing, even if some true-life figures from history are handled a bit strangely. Villains are enjoyable and menacing when appropriate, and their various machinations are handled well.

The action scenes are sometimes over-the-top, but always enjoyable, but where the novel really shines is in the descriptions of the technological inventions and genetic creations that permeate the tale. Mark Hodder certainly has his imagination in the right place here, and I was always fascinated the new beings and inventions being brought into the mix. While some of them are general Steampunk staples, there were more than a few that were totally unique and inventive, and I look forward to what else he can dream up in the future novels.

I agree with the other reviewers in that the first portion of the tale feels slightly unfocused, as it tends to jump around quite a bit. I understand that there was a lot of narrative to bring to the table up front, but it still detracted from my initial enjoyment of the novel. Another quibble that has already been mentioned is the editing, which was spotty in places. There weren't any errors that ruined the novel, but several of the grammatical errors were certainly distracting. There is a small portion in the middle of the novel, with a character narrating a tale to an audience as it was narrated to him, and this felt very Mary Shelley-esque and didn't seem to fit well with the rest of the pacing, but all in all, the writing is consistent and gripping.

Despite the issues listed above, I found "The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack" to be an enjoyable read, and a worthy addition to the burgeoning Steampunk genre. I just picked up the sequel, "The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man" and look forward to starting that soon. If steampunk is your thing, you might want to check this one out!
Profile Image for Princessjay.
548 reviews24 followers
May 18, 2011
Plot: absurd and overly complicated. There is much action, but little sense.

Characterization: virtually nonexistent. People are differentiated only by one or two defining features (i.e. Burton has a fierce and savage face; A. C. Swinburne never spoke unless he could squeal and bounce as well). Everyone talked with the same voice and cadence, though they came from different class and station, even different centuries. Would a man from 400 years in the future speak the same way as a Victorian, yet can still be driven insane by culture shock? Human psychology is not so fragile. And that insanity seems only indicated by more and more copious swearing. I don't recall ever seeing this many f-words in an sf novel.

The casual, even sexist, treatment of women had me checking whether I was reading something from the Golden Age. All the female characters in this novel are hollow cardboard. They faint, they tremble, they go insane upon the slightest violation, sexual or not. This must be why Burton can so easily end his engagement to Isabel in favor of his career, though they were engaged for years--justifying it as being better for her. (The brief coda that this helped to ultimately free her from the "shackles" of society and fate feels tacked-on and does not alleviate.) The termination a long engagement to a woman of good family should have greatly impugned Burton's honor as a Victorian gentleman--"I could not love thee, dear, so much, loved I not honor more" and what not--yet is treated as less than a blip on the radar of le societe. Then again, fool am I to expect any kind of realism to this novel.

The villains are even worse. What are their purposes? One is a dissolute aristocrat with a general predilection for eeeevil, but the others? A list of who's-who from the roster of Great Victorians, presumably having admirable morality and character in their day, yet here are twisted people out to wreak havoc for their own, unrevealed, purpose. Why is Florence Nightingale experimenting with genetic manipulation, to create tortured humanoid animals that explode at random? Why does Charles Darwin combine his brain with Francis Galton, and demonstrates so clearly that he has zero regard for human life?

World-building: ludicrous. The author took some random, cool-seeming "steampunk" creatures and technology, squished them together willy-nilly without regard or reason. In what rational universe would genetic manipulation create message-carrying parrots that, unavoidably, also toss-in random swear words into the relay? Or the grafting of a mechanical calculating machine onto a human brain to result in...what?

I love movies such as The City of Lost Children, with equally dark steampunk aesthetic, much of it making no real sense, so it's not the weirdness or general illogic that put me off. Rather, it's the feeling that these things have NO relationship with one another, do not even belong in the same bizarro universe. You could be zany and hilarious, you can be dark and strange, but it takes real skill to be both, and this novel is not a successful attempt.

What a mess. I took months to get through this book, hoping for eventual improvement. There was none.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for fleurette.
1,359 reviews113 followers
April 3, 2021
I don't know why I took so long to read this book, it is a very good story. Although it is quite a long book, it is a very quick read.

I really like the idea used by the author of including a whole group of more or less famous historical figures in the book, but completely change their lives. Still, of course, he does not hesitate to turn to real events when he needs it. I really liked that in the end of the book the author decided to confront the characters' real bios with their fictional counterparts, it was really fun.

And so we have the main character - Sir Richard Burton - an adventurer and traveler, whose extraordinary knowledge and experience allow him to face the unusual task entrusted to him by the prime minister. He is partnered by a thrill-seeking poet, Algernon Swinburne. This is also a very interesting character, but I think his potential hasn't been fully used yet. Swinburne brings a comic twist to the story while also counterbalancing Burton. Together, they make a fascinating duo. I see great potential here, which I will be happy to discover in future books.

Burton must solve the mystery of a mythical creature that has been attacking young girls for years. There are many twists and turns and unexpected answers. Although it all boils down to answering the traditional question of time travelers: what if we change the course of history so that we are never born. And although this question also appears in other books, the story pretty well describes the consequences and despair of Edward as he tries to rectify his mistake.

There are some dark themes in the book. Mostly, the somber topic of sexual harassment of young girls, but it was handled quite delicately. Even so, if you are sensitive about it, be warned that it does come up here, although the scenes are not very detailed.

Generally, this book has a humorous tone, which I like very much. Though for me, it could be even more humorous and more ironic.

I think now that I know how much fun this can be, I will soon be reading another book in this series.
Profile Image for Christine.
6,618 reviews478 followers
December 29, 2010
Who or what was Spring Heeled Jack?

You don't know Spring Heeled Jack from Jack? Silly bugger. Spring Heeled Jack was a man (or was he?) that terrorized young women of London in the 1880s.

He was, well, a pervert.

He, supposedly, breathed fire and ripped the clothes off of women.

I can't remember if he came before the London Monster (who stabbed women in the buttucks) or after, but he is like that.

Mark Hodder takes the mystery of Spring Heeled Jack and combines it with an alternate universe, where the British empire doesn't turn out extactly like we think it should.

We met Sir Francis Burton in the midst of his debate about the source of Nile, and it is to Burton that it falls to solve the mystery of Spring Heeled Jack as well as the tiny problem of Werewolves taking young boys. Why extactly? Well no one knows.

The world is made real and Hodder seems to have done a good amount of research. If you are familiar with the people and events he is dealing with, you can figure some things out, but at no point does Hodder talk down to his readers. Can't wait to read part 2.

Profile Image for Jasmine.
668 reviews46 followers
January 31, 2011
I had to switch the edition of this book upon reviewing, because I picked this book for the cover. after reading the iron duke I knew I wanted to try steampunk and knowing nothing about it and no one who knew anything about it I was left standing in front of a steampunk display at work which had among other things:

I'm not an idiot. and the problem with the last one was that it was a romance.

Which okay I read it, it was fine but not great, pretty pictures, but I want the full novel experience.

[image error]
Okay the one in our store doesn't have this cover it has a grey scale cover which has an airship on it. It didn't look like it could hold my attention. If it had this cover it probably would have won.

Now that we have a representation of the display, I can say, while I find many of these books interesting in their own ways not as exciting as the one with the funny mechanical man giving off electric sparks. I also like the set up of the title on this book. It's super long and feels antiquated, at least for me I like it.

Moving on to contents: this is a hard book to talk about for a couple reasons. Most importantly it is one of those books that people will jump to different conclusions about. I mean one of my status updates a bit in makes an assumption about the book based on almost no evidence. If I saw this on a review of this book it wouldn't be a spoiler for me, but if my mom saw it it probably would be because she never would have gotten there on her own. So there will be two portions of my review. The confusing generalized portion where I try hard to not give spoilers and the spoiler portion.

the general review
The book is layered. It has a bit of a mr. peanut type vibe. There are nested stories, which if they hadn't been done well might feel like over shares, but I think in context worked perfectly.

There is a strong history vibe and almost none of the characters are made up. It feels at times like none of the book is made up then you remember werewolves, the werewolves must be made up. (the author includes notes at the end stating what was actually true and a statement at the beginning about the fact the "evil" characters are awesome in real life. although what this statement means isn't clear until later in the book). I spent a good portion of the book harassing my ex, who did his A levels in british history, which is by the way always fun.

The plot is intricate, but not too difficult to follow.

There are some great h.g. wells and jules verne type moments, that are definitely there on purpose even though they don't exist in the book as characters.

Another good example of how to make historical fiction fun.

Now I will send it to joel and perhaps you will all get a second opinion.

I apologize for the fact this review is mildly nonsensical this book confuses me.

also authorial greatness commence:
Mark Hodder is the creator and caretaker of the BLAKIANA Web site (sextonblake.co.uk), which he designed to celebrate, record, and revive Sexton Blake, the most written about fictional detective in English publishing history. A former BBC writer, editor, journalist, and Web producer, Mark has worked in all the new and traditional medias and was based in London for most of his working life until 2008, when he relocated to Valencia in Spain to de-stress and write novels. He can most often be found at the base of a palm tree, hammering at a laptop. Mark has a degree in cultural studies and loves British history (1850 to 1950, in particular), good food, cutting-edge gadgets, cult TV (ITC forever!), Tom Waits, and a vast assortment of oddities.
source for biography: here
Profile Image for Charles Dee Mitchell.
853 reviews56 followers
May 2, 2019
Hodder needed a different, meaner editor for his first novel. Anywhere from 20% - 25% could go. Every incident goes on a little too long. The second half of every compound sentence could be dropped. Conversations are over before Hodder cuts them off. He never got the memo on adverbs.

This is the only steampunk novel I have read, and I am not the best audience. I don't care about the gadgetry, and the gadgetry seems to be much of the attraction here. On the other hand, I am a sucker for time travel stories. That's what attracted me to Spring Heeled Jack, and Hodder does a good job with the complications caused by going back in time, although it is not hard to guess that his time traveller will end up causing all the things he attempts to prevent.

The historical characters that fill the story range from the well known -- Captain Sir Richard Burton, Algernon Swinburne, Oscar Wilde -- to more obscure players such as the founder of the Libertine Club, Richard Monckton Milnes, or Laurence Oliphant, a minor political figure and minor novelist more or less lost to history. The early chapters have to bring readers up to date on who everyone is, and they read like a script from the History Channel, or The Alternate History Channel. Things don't really pick up until the appearance of Spring Heel Jack himself, a figure in a close fitting white suit, a black helmet surrounded by blue flames, and boots with a spring mechanism that allows to him to leap over buildings and disappear into the sky.

There are also werewolves who abduct chimney sweeps, mesmerists, and machines that were once human. All of this makes for an over-crowded but consistent plot, it just needs to get on with it and get it over with about a hundred pages before Hodder is able to wrap the whole thing up.
Profile Image for Nicky.
4,138 reviews1,009 followers
October 4, 2012
I'd been meaning to read this for ages, but when I finally got round to it I couldn't really find any enthusiasm. Which is sad, since there are some awesome reviews out there, but it really didn't come together well -- the characters are all caricatures, and if he could write more stereotypically Victorian women I don't want to read him doing it. Oh for some capable, sensible women...

The alternate history and so on is interesting, and there's a certain energy to the prose, but it started slowly, the information came in lumps, and I just didn't get into it. Meh.
Profile Image for Oldman_JE.
43 reviews14 followers
May 31, 2023
Easily a four-star read, with lots of talent displayed by Hodder. Thanks go out to Marc, Dark Reader of the Woods, for this recommendation, of which I never would have probably even considered. For a more in-depth, emphatic, and if I remember correctly, enthusiastic review, see here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

For much of the beginning of the read I wondered what in the world I had gotten myself into, but everything started to fall into line, though the line was fairly slanted, with technological marvels and odd work-a-day devices, delightful foul-mouthed messenger-parakeets, , and a Victorian setting all creating a unique and highly-skilled debut.

If you're looking for different, this is it. Fantasy, and alternative history, (and I don't know all the categories it fits into), with hints of much of the British media that I've encountered and enjoyed throughout the years. The second, of many, will be getting a look-see.
Profile Image for ᴥ Irena ᴥ.
1,649 reviews213 followers
April 22, 2013
Sir Richard Francis Burton thought his reputation was ruined after his friend betrayed him, but unknown to him certain things happened which changed the course of his life and the history of the Empire.
He gets an unexpected job offer from the Prime minister to be a king's agent who would investigate the things Scotland Yard wouldn't or couldn't. He accepts, of course.
He is not alone. A lot of people want to help. Some of them die because of it ().
And there is his friend Algernon Charles Swinburne, who might be an unsuccessful poet, but Burton couldn’t have wished a better, more courageous and crazier partner.
I like the fact that the author did not use a romantic plot to make the story. Burton has a fiancé, .
The world is beautifully depicted. There is a chapter, The Cauldron, which describes the poorest areas in London and, I swear, I could have smelled the stench and felt the fear while reading it.

The honeycomb of narrow, uneven passages, bordered by the most decrepit and crowded tenements in the city, was flowing with raw sewage and rubbish of every description, including occasional corpses. The stench was overpowering and both men had vomited more than once.
They passed tall houses-“rookeries”-mostly of wood, which slumped upon their own foundations as if tired of standing; houses whose gaping windows were devoid of glass and patched, instead, with paper or cloth or broken pieces of wood; windows from which slops and cracked chamber pots were emptied; from which defeated eyes gazed blankly.

Or, another disturbing picture:

Time and again the two men were approached by girls barely out of childhood, who materialised out of the fog with matted hair and bare feet, smeared with excrement up to their knees, covered only by a rough coat or a thin, torn dress or a man's shirt which hung loosely over their bones; who offered themselves for a few coppers; who lowered the price when refused; who begged and wheedled and finally cursed viciously when the men pushed past.
Time and again they were approached by boys and men in every variety of torn and filthy apparel, who demanded and bullied and threatened and finally, when the pistols appeared, spat and swore and sidled away.

But, not everything is horrible. There are hilarious things. One of these are parakeets they use for messages. One of the downsides of using them is their language.

“Message from the stinking prime minister's office,” it cackled. “You are requested to attend that prattle-brain Lord Palmerston at 10 Downing Street at nine o'clock in the morning. Please confirm, arse-face. Message ends.

Both horrible and great things are depicted with great detail. I loved the writing. I tried not to say too much and I think I've managed it, but those who like steampunk and time-travel themes, will not be disappointed with this book, nor with the way it is written. .
Profile Image for retroj.
87 reviews14 followers
June 19, 2012
Two stars means it was okay, and three stars means I liked it, so call it a 2½ or a 2¾. I wanted to like this book, and it was filled with great ideas, and really did have its moments, but the things that dragged it down for me were lackluster prose that felt incongruous with the Victorian setting, the predictability of the plot, the villain's stupidity (SHJ), a catalog of names and dates to keep track of without sufficient supporting context (should have made a cheat sheet!), and elements of fantasy that were way out of proportion to the setup. Setting up the alternate history as departing from our history at SHJ's "intervention" didn't square with pre-existing elements of fantasy like the power of mesmerism and the rapid success of eugenics; those things would have impacted earlier history as well. (Or am I just trying to fit a fantasy shaped peg into a science-fiction shaped hole?) I definitely had a hard time getting on board with the full extent of the eugenics (and cybernetics!) depicted in this story.

Some of the famous personages, notably Darwin, were way out of character — he might as well have been named Evil Arch Villain #1 instead of Darwin for all the resemblance the character bore to the beloved naturalist; he was like a caricature drawn by his enemies. And what was up with Florence Nightingale, mastermind eugenicist?

Note the curious blend of mutability and immutability in this book's flavor of time travel: the past was mutable when Oxford first went back to encounter his ancestor, but immutable thereafter — why? As the inventor of the time machine, one would think Oxford would have had a better understanding of the nature of time travel from the outset. We also saw in Oxford a level of bad planning in his venture that was so astonishing it strained plausibility. Time travel stories must always walk a fine line, free will versus predestination, revelation and exposition, while keeping a few surprises in store; this book offered no surprises.

What did I like about this book? Burton, Swinburn, Trounce, Honesty, Oliphant, and even Oxford, all enjoyable characters. Victorian mannerisms and turns of phrase that occasionally peeked through the flat prose always made me smile. I love the idea of Spring Heeled Jack's suit, and how it turns a curious Victorian myth into a thing of science fiction.

As I have composed this review, I have wondered, maybe steampunk just isn't the genre for me; I seem to come at it from the point of view of someone who wants hard science fiction, and I need to remind myself that steampunk is more about going back to the steam era and speculating forward from what they might have thought of the future, plus a few elements of what we know really did happen. Spring Heeled Jack tries to do both of those things, and the mixture came out rather awkward.
Profile Image for Peculiar Monster.
92 reviews11 followers
June 29, 2010
I couldn't finish this. Hell, I couldn't get more than 60 pages into it.

If you have enough imagination to create an alternate Victorian England with genetically engineered animals and steam-powered bicycles, you should have enough imagination to do something about the casual sexism, racism, and classism of the time as well. Or at least examine those issues instead of just accepting them. Feh.

I also bounced pretty hard off the writing style, but that's a personal preference--I generally prefer a less purple style of prose.
Profile Image for Karl.
3,258 reviews264 followers
March 17, 2015
Read July 1 to July 5 2010. The first adventure of Sir Richard Francis Burton and Algernon Charles Swinburne. Lots of fun.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 943 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.