Sunday, March 06, 2011

Edi's Spotlight: The Curious Case Of The Clockwork Man by Mark Hodder

One book
Two publisher
Two covers
One review

In July 2010 I reviewed The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder. For me The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack is still one of the debut novels of 2010 and it is the marvelous first book in the three volume Burton & Swinburne story arc.


In January 2011 I received to my pleasure an Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) of The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man (March 2011) by Mark Hodder. Let me send a thank you over the pond to PYR for sending me the ARC.
The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man will be published in UK by Snowbooks (hardcover, ISBN-13: 978-1907777028) and US by PYR (trade paperback, ISBN-13: 978-1616143596).
You need the official blurb for your subjective well-being? Then follow THIS LINK. Otherwise continue reading. I do not judge a book by its cover. But it is obvious that the cover has an impact on the buyer/reader. Therefore I want to talk about the covers before I dive into The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man.
On the left side you see the PYR cover by Jon Sullivan.
On the right you see the Snowbooks cover by Emma Barnes. Thanks to Mark Hodder for info.

I appreciate that both publisher decided to continue with the same style the used for The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack. I added the covers at the end of this post in case you want to verify my statement or
Both have their allurement. But the more often I look at the two covers the more I like the US one (want to see more details? Then follow THIS LINK). The main reason is the close connection to the story. You find nearly every detail described in the book. Furthermore it puts you in the perfect mood for reading The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man - mystery, action, gadgets, steam, inventions, experiments, crime, ghosts ....

Now it is no big step to the formal structure of the book. I'm glad that Mark Hodder used the same structure as in Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack.
The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man is divided into three named parts which are subdivided into 15 named chapters plus and appendix. Each part and each chapter starts either with a quote or an advertisement which are all related to the story. The Appendix contains explanatory notes about persons and places used in the story.
The quotes and advertisements are an excellent tool to deliver additional information or to introduce the mood of a chapter or to give hints for the story.


Welcome to the British Empire in 1862. An Empire which is different from the one you know from history books but also show similarities in locations, historical events and names of well known persons. An Empire which His Majesty King Albert described as follows:
"The Government is the Empire's brain.
The Technologists are the Empire's muscle.
The libertines are the Empire's imagination.
And I, God help me, must be the Empire's conscience."
[The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, US edition, page 93]
An Empire that also steers another course since time has been altered in The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack.

An Empire where we meet the main protagonists Sir Richard Francis Burton as the king's agent and his assistant, the sometimes erratic poet Algernon Swinburne. It did not take long and they are again involved in several threats which look in the beginning like unconnected fork arms.

Who would start his novel with a sentence like this:
"Sir Richard Francis Burton is dead."
It is the hotshot Mark Hodder who is able - within a few pages - to give you the feeling that you never left the world of Burton & Swinburne. It is like coming home ..... in case you read The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack before.

In The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack 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.
Don't conclude that in The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man the story revolves around the Clockwork Man. That would have been to easy. This time Mark Hodder chose a media sensation of the age as the anchor of the story. If you are not familiar with English history like me you will not know the Tichborne Claimant. Don't worry Mark Hodder delivers enough information about it. The much, much more interesting question is how the author use this case. And that is the point where Mark Hodder's talent shines. Beginning with the first sentence "Sir Richard Francis Burton is dead" the author set a complex clockwork in motion which ends in a firework of action and revelations. On their meandering way to solve several threats including the clock work man, the robbery of a famous diamond collection, the real Tichborne claimant, the threats behind the Tichborne Claimant, time travel, superstition, supernatural apparitions and riots in the streets of London , Burton & Swinburne have to fight their inner demons. But they are not without help from people like the philosopher Herbert Spencer or Detective Inspector Trout who learns the difference between a cabbage and a babbage from Constable Bhatti:
"Babbage: A device of extraordinary complexity. They calculate probability and act on the results. They're the closest things to a human brain ever created, but the secret of their construction is known only one man, their inventor, Sir Charles Babbage." [p. 21]
Every time I read about cabbage following comes up in my mind:

"Cabbage: A familiar kitchen-garden vegetable about as large and wise as a man's head.
Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary, US author & satirist (1842 - 1914)

Along their way Burton & Swinburne meet famous people of the time like Oscar Wilde, botanist Richard Spruce, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Florence Nightingale, and Charles Doyle (father of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) which behave different and play different roles as we know. The appendix of delivers more information.

To my pleasure they still use parakeets - modified parrots who insult the recipients - as messengers. And there are a lot more steamy gadgets beside the known rotorcars and steamhorses. Not to forget The experiments of the Eugenicist faction of the Technologist caste. I will not tell you what they did with Ireland ....
Of course the Rakes - a social movement - are still busy with the realization of their manifesto:
“We will not define ourselves by the ideals you enforce.
We scorn the social attitudes that you perpetuate.
We neither respect nor conform with the views of our elders.
We think and act against the tides of popular opinion.
We sneer at your dogma. We laugh at your rules.
We are anarchy. We are chaos. We are individuals.”
[
The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, p.81]
From my point of view Mark Hodder improved his intense and vivid descriptions of the society, the different factions and the social, technical and biological developments. And they have been great in The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack.

This time Burton & Swinburne visit a lot more locations compared to The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack, like a haunted house, labyrinths, séances and travels to Australia and South America.

For me The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack has been on a high level. Now with The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man Mark Hodder enters a new level. I can't imagine what he will offer with the next book .....
Now you expect some criticism.
I must disappoint you.
I confess:
I'm addicted to Burton & Swinburne

I loved to read The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man.
The world of Burton & Swinburne is indeed unique, wild, roaring, sensational, individualistic and breathing anarchy. It is "steamy" with a well dosed portion "punk". A world full of bizarre characters, phat steam-driven technology, mysterious mysteries and unbelievable conspiracies.

As a reader of the The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man ARC, I'm one book in front compared to you. Now I can do nothing else as to wait for the third book in the series. I'm far beyond to be a clairvoyant but I expect that Africa plays an important role in the next novel....

What else?

It started with an excellent debut.
The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack
is the intelligent, terrific, magnificent
and fulminating hooray into the world of steampunk novels.

And now it continues with a sequel on the next level of inventiveness and execution.
The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man
is a world full of bizarre characters, phat steam-driven technology, mysterious mysteries and unbelievable conspiracies.




Let me close with something unusual.

A PLEA

Dear Mark Hodder, please, please, please write more Burton & Swinburne books!!!



Review Appendix

As promised above I show you the covers of The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack.

On the left side you see the PYR cover by Jon Sullivan. Want to see more details? Then follow THIS LINK).

On the right you see the Snowbooks cover by Emma Barnes. Thanks to Mark Hodder for info.

It does not matter which one you like. In case you do not own a copy of The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack, it is high time you buy one soon AND read it before you buy and read The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man. I highly recommend to read them back to back .....

6 comments:

Mark Hodder said...

Don't worry, ediFanoB, I have a second Burton & Swinburne trilogy in the early stages of development!

The UK covers are designed by Emma Barnes. She does a great job!

Thank you for a very flattering review ... I'm delighted that you're enjoying my B&S novels so much.

Next stop for our intrepid heroes ... deepest Africa!!!

All the best, Mark Hodder.

Michael said...

@Mark Hodder, I'm flattered too. Thank you very much for your comment.

A second B&S trilogy - Great news on a Sunday evening.

And I'm happy to to read that B&S go to Africa. I have great expectations.

I will update my review and add Emma Barnes

Fingers crossed that The Curious Case Of The Clockwork Man will be a great, great success!

John Dax said...

Well now you've done it. I've gone and added even more books to my to-read list. They all sound fantastic.

Michael said...

Hello John,

I feel guilty ;-)
Glad you liked my review.

I really would like to read your Burton & Swinburne book reviews based on the covers by John Sullivan.

Shellie - Layers of Thought said...

Micheal -
I have the first of this series on my list and with your endorsement even better.

I like the connection to the legend of the Jack Spring heel guy... which I just discovered. Fun stuff!

I love to include differing covers in my posts too... but tend to like the UK/Eurpean versions better. Not sure whats up with the US - perhaps a bit stodgier (I hate to admit)?

ediFanoB said...

Shellie,
there is especially one reason why I prefer the US cover in this case. It is the close connection to the content.

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