Jaclyn's Reviews > The Constantine Affliction

The Constantine Affliction by T. Aaron Payton
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's review
Aug 01, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: steampunk-gaslight, victorian, net-galley, arc, historical-mystery

The Constantine Affliction is a steampunk mystery set in Victorian London. Lord Pembroke “Pimm” Halliday is an alcoholic aristocrat who dabbles in detective work. Pimm is blackmailed into using his investigative skills by Able Value, the notorious crime lord, to discover who has been leaving corpses on the steps of Value’s clockwork brothels. In the course of his investigation, Pimm joins forces with the reporter, Ellie Skyler, who is investigating the goings on in the exclusive brothels. Together, the pair stumble upon a larger conspiracy that points directly to Queen Victoria’s right hand man, Sir Oswald. Aided by a host of eccentric character’s including Pimm’s “wife” Winnie, Big Ben the former henchman, and the monstrous Adam, Pimm and Ellie race to uncover the plot that could destroy England.

The plot of the novel followed a fairly typical mystery outline and had many elements of other historical mysteries; however, the Victorian world that this mystery took place in was anything but typical. The steampunk world that Payton created was unique and thought provoking due to it’s use of a gender-bending disease. In this alternate Victorian age the populace is threatened by a new sexually transmitted disease, the Constantine Affliction. This disease changes the sex of the person that contracts it and this significant effects of the disease indicate for all that the afflicted has been consorting with prostitutes. What is interesting about this transformative disease is that it hasn’t changed much in the ways of society viewing traditional gender roles, and it is remarked on by the characters several times. For example, a man that has been transformed into a woman is still considered a man – important for the consideration of inheritance laws among the aristocracy. You can’t have the eldest daughter inheriting the Earldom even if she has been turned into a man…

This disease has profound implications for society and on a smaller, immediate scale for the characters. Men go about disguising their transformation and women are given greater freedom if their transformation is not recognized. The consequences of this disease are explored through Pimm’s relationship with his “wife.” Pimm’s “wife” was formerly his best friend, Frederick. To help Freddy avoid being disowned by his family, Pimm marries Freddy after the transformation and they have a marriage of convenience. The introduction of this gender-bender disease could have made the novel ridiculous; however, Payton introduced and dealt with the disease quite well. I liked how the characters discussed the impacts of such a disease on society and how they commented on how such a life altering disease did little to affect the dominate views on gender at that time.

Intelligent conversations aside, the characters were entertaining. Pimm’s “wife” Winnie/Freddy was particularly entertaining. Winnie was always ready to stand by Pimm as his wingman and ready to give up on his security as a married woman in order to allow Pimm to pursue Ellie. The character that I found most puzzling and interesting was Adam, who is a Frankenstein creature who also happens to be an inventor searching for love. Although Adam’s motives and methods are morally questionable it was really interesting to get his perspective throughout the novel.

The steampunk qualities of the novel were also dealt with well. In my forays into steampunk literature, there have been quite a few instances where authors seem to just throw in an airship or a clockwork creature and call it steampunk. In The Constantine Affliction there was no throwing in of expected steampunk elements. The inclusion of steampunk elements such as clockwork courtesans and strange inventions was carefully considered and all related to the novel. It was a good example of good world building.

My one complaint about the novel was the inclusion of aliens at the end. When the dastardly Sir Oswald captures our heroes I was sure that the conspiracy would reach a predictable outcome with Pimm and Ellie revealing Oswald’s treachery to all. However, Oswald’s henchman, Carrington, revealed another conspiracy about aliens coming to earth. For me, this alien conspiracy seemed a tad tacked on and I felt it was a little out of place for a steampunk book; my personal feelings aside, the conclusion of the alien attack was well described and led to a satisfying wrapping up of the story for the main characters.

Overall, I quite enjoyed the novel and if the subtitle of “A Pimm and Skye Adventure” is any indication, I can look forward to reading more about the characters in this world. Payton certainly gives much to further develop in future adventures with regards to the world and its characters.

*Thanks to NetGalley for a copy of this novel.

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