Sunday, July 04, 2010

Edi's Spotlight: The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder

Dear Readers,
the first review in July 2010 lays ahead of you. In case you read Edi's LighthouseLedger: Read in April - Plan for May 2010, you know that the book to be reviewed today has been on our reading list some time ago. It is the book on the second place in my 2010 Halftime TOP SIX READ and I posted in detail about the book in May 2010. I talk about:

The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder
(Snowbooks, UK, April 2010) [ISBN-13: 978-1906727208]
(Pyr, US, September 2010) [ISBN-13: 978-1616142407]
"It is 1861, and Albertian Britain is in the grip of conflicting forces. Engineers transform the landscape with bigger, faster, noisier and dirtier technological wonders; Eugenicists develop specialist animals to provide unpaid labour; Libertines oppose restrictive and unjust laws and flood the country with propaganda demanding a society based on beauty and creativity; while The Rakes push the boundaries of human behaviour to the limits with magic, sexuality, drugs and anarchy. Returning from his failed expedition to find the source of the Nile, explorer, linguist, scholar and swordsman Sir Richard Francis Burton finds himself sucked into the perilous depths of this moral and ethical vacuum when the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, employs him as "King's Spy". His first mission: to investigate the sexual assaults committed by a weird apparition known as Spring Heeled Jack; to find out why chimney sweeps are being kidnapped by half-man, half-dog creatures; and to discover the whereabouts of his badly injured former friend, John Hanning Speke. Accompanied by the diminutive and pain-loving poet, Algernon Swinburne, Burton's investigations lead him back to one of the defining events of the age: the brutal assassination of Queen Victoria in 1840; and the terrifying possibility that the world he inhabits shouldn't exist at all." [Source]
Two publishers that means two different covers.
On the left you see the Snowbooks cover. It is made in the same style as the George Mann books. And I like the style.
Some time ago Lou Anders posted the Pyr cover for the upcoming US version which you see on the right.
I still like the UK cover but at the same time I fell in love with the US cover.

Both covers have a charm on its own. For me the UK cover is the more serious one and the US cover the more dynamic one. I would like to have them both. As a compromise I use the US cover as my new background image on my laptop.
I bought and read a copy of the UK version.

Enough warm up. Let us delve into the heart of The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack.

The heart beats in a body divided in three named parts which are subdivided into 24 named chapters plus and appendix. each part and each chapter starts either with a quote or a graphic or an advertisement which are all related to the story. The Appendix contains explanatory notes about persons and places used in the story.


The World

The synopsis above gives you an extremely good introduction which I don't want to repeat in other words. But from my point of view the steampunk element in terms of technology is a bit underrepresented. The reader should know what to expect like rotorcars, steamhorses, modified parrots with Tourette syndrome, steamdriven velocipedes and more...


The Story

Again I have to refer to the great synopsis.
The story revolves around Spring-Heeled Jack (also known as Spring Heeled Jack, Springheel Jack, Spring-heel Jack, etc.), one of the famous characters from the English folklore.

Mark Hodder delivers vivid descriptions of the society, the different fractions, of the social and technical developments. Let me explain one of his brilliant ideas which is admirable. Instead of blow up the book with detailed technical descriptions he just used advertisements for this purpose. Ingenious! That does not impair the reading fluency.
The whole story is full of unusual and bizarre ideas which supports the twists and turns.
There is a well dosed mix of action, fun, imagination and thoughtfulness.

Finally we have to speak about Mark Hodder's writing. For me he studied the literature including the penny dreadfuls of the time very well. The whole book breathes the style of the time - adventurous, pulpy, glory, sensational, colonial without being dowdy. You are forced to turn the page because it is so captivating.


The Characters

Again I have to refer to the great synopsis. Beside the mentioned main characters Sir Richard Francis Burton and Algernon Swinburne we meet a lot of famous people - like Florence Nightingale, Charles Darwin, Oscar Wilde - who lived at this time in the real England. But I promise you that they appear in a totally unexpected way. Can't tell you more without spoilers. Mark Hodder is not afraid of to kill minor sidekicks soon after their appearance.

It is amazing to read how the characters are intertwined with the world and the story which all together build a strong unit.


Additional thoughts and information

In case you are not familiar with Spring-Heeled Jack then you should read my post and/or visit following sites which I highly recommend:
As a starter: Spring Heeled Jack at Wikipedia
As main dishes: THE COMPLETE SPRING HEELED JACK PAGE and Springheeled Jack

Recently Mark Hodder mentioned in a comment that the next Burton & Swinburne - "THE CLOCKWORK MAN OF TRAFALGAR SQUARE will be published in September 2010 by Snowbooks in the UK, and probably a year later by Pyr in the US."
I tried to verify this information but I could not find any information over at amazon and book depository.

Anyway Mark Hodder set a high standard for his next novel.


Recommendation

The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack is the book on the second place in my 2010 Halftime TOP SIX READ
The gap to the number one - Drood by Jack Simmons (my review) - was not that great.

And please,please keep in mind that The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack is Mark Hodder's debut novel.
It is a great, great, great read!

Here are two possibilities to describe The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack:

By catchwords
It is a unique and inimitable mix of ingredients likealternate Victorian England, London, steampunk, penny dreadfuls, English folklore, action, science, pilosophy, detectives plus the talent and inventiveness of Mark Hodder.

Book wise
Just grind Drood by Dan Simmons , The Secrets of the Lazarus Club by Tony Pollard , The Bookman by Lavie Tidhar, The Affinity Bridge by George Mann up and mix it with the talent and inventiveness of Mark Hodder.

Anyway I know publisher and authors like short and catchy wordings:

The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack
is the intelligent, terrific, magnificent
and fulminating hooray into the world of steampunk novels.



The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack
It is one of my nominees for the debut novel of 2010!


8 comments:

Seak said...

Now I'm just dying to read this. Thanks for another great review Edi. :)

ediFanoB said...

Seak,

glad you liked my review. Now it depends on which cover you like. If you go for the US cover you have to wait until September.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Since I live in the US, guess I'll have to wait until September regardless.

ediFanoB said...

Alex,

that depends on you. In case you don't mind to read the UK paperback edition you can get it over at bookdepository.com for $10.72 - free delivery.

Sean Cummings said...

It's a fantastic read. On my top ten list for the year. I have the UK cover and then saw the US one so I snapped it up :)

ediFanoB said...

Sean,

so I'm not the only one who enjoyed reading The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack.

I hope more a lot more people will read it.

Seak (Bryce L.) said...

Yes, it always helps to have a second. :)

ediFanoB said...

Seak,

the only thing I can do is agree :-)

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