Series: Burton & Swinburne #1
Published by Pyr on September 7, 2010
Genres: Adult SFF, Fantasy, Historical Fantasy
My Reviews in this series: The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man
*This book was provided by the Publisher for review. No compensation was provided and all opinions are strictly my own.
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!
This is my first steampunk book. I LOVED IT! The mixture of historical, technology, mystery and a little bit of philosophizing was fantastic! The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack is the first in the Burton & Swinburne series and a great intro to the world of steampunk for a beginner like me. Sir Richard Francis Burton is an explorer, writer and newly made agent for King Albert who ascended the throne after the tragic assassination of his wife, Queen Victoria. Burton, also known as “Ruffian Dick” is almost engaged to Isabel Arundell, an English rose with headstrong intelligence and a deep love for Burton himself. Burton’s commission, given to him by Lord Palmerston is to track down the apparition Spring Heeled Jack, a bogeyman who is supposedly attacking young girls and also find out if the tales of werewolves in the poor warrens of London hold any truth to them. In Burton’s London of 1861, there have been strides in steam technologies and eugenics making it quite different from the Victorian London you can read about in history books. My favorite eugenics experiment, and something I would buy without hesitation is a “broom cat.” This specialty cat is like any other cat exempting twice a day it wanders the house to collect dust then licks and digests the mess! Cool idea, I’ll take one in white!
There is an excellent collection of individuals who help Burton during his investigation. The main assistant is the poet Algernon Swinburne0- algophiliac and genius combined. He is quirky and unusual. As an assistant, I found him to be lacking in skills and abilities. While he may need stimulation to drive his creativity, I am not sure why Burton would select him to work on these sensitive cases. Hopefully he becomes more than a liability in the future, as in this book it was mostly luck and tenacity that saved his neck.
Other characters are interesting and add great depth to conversations and related stories. Detective Trounce, Inspector Honesty, John Hanning Speke, Laurence Oliphant, Florence Nightengale, and Oscar Wilde are some of the cast. The setting is well described and feels real. I appreciated the long conversations, proselytizing and general depth of thought amongst the characters. The story line is complex, to say the least. It is complex, interwoven and fascinating. The opportunities for future novels are boundless! I am super excited to continue with this series, and I highly recommend it for both genders, and adult readers. While the story is not inappropriate in any way, I would say that the character development and interest would be better with an adult or older teen reader. I do not give 5 stars lightly, for me it requires excellence in dialogue, internal monologue, story line, character development, realistic world building/setting, and a je ne sai quoi element.
Jump into The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack with me, and you will not be disappointed!