Title: The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man (Amazon, Goodreads)
Author: Mark Hodder (Amazon, Goodreads)
Series: Burton and Swinburne
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Received review copy from publisher.
It is 1862, though not the 1862 it should be…
Time has been altered, and Sir Richard Francis Burton, the king’s agent, is one of the few people who know that the world is now careening along a very different course from that which Destiny intended.
When a clockwork-powered man of brass is found abandoned in Trafalgar Square, Burton and his assistant, the wayward poet Algernon Swinburne, find themselves on the trail of the stolen Garnier Collection—black diamonds rumored to be fragments of the Lemurian Eye of Naga, a meteorite that fell to Earth in prehistoric times.
His investigation leads to involvement with the media sensation of the age: the Tichborne Claimant, a man who insists that he’s the long lost heir to the cursed Tichborne estate. Monstrous, bloated, and monosyllabic, he’s not the aristocratic Sir Roger Tichborne known to everyone, yet the working classes come out in force to support him. They are soon rioting through the streets of London, as mysterious steam wraiths incite all-out class warfare.
From a haunted mansion to the Bedlam madhouse, from South America to Australia, from séances to a secret labyrinth, Burton struggles with shadowy opponents and his own inner demons, meeting along the way the philosopher Herbert Spencer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Florence Nightingale, and Charles Doyle (father of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle).
Can the king’s agent expose a plot that threatens to rip the British Empire apart, leading to an international conflict the like of which the world has never seen? And what part does the clockwork man have to play?
Burton and Swinburne’s second adventure—The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man—is filled with eccentric steam-driven technology, grotesque characters, and a deepening mystery that pushes forward the three-volume story arc begun in The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack.
Hodder recently won the Phillip K. Dick Award for the first in this series, The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack, and it is no wonder that this is a worthy follow-up to the first book. The story continues the tale of Sir Francis Burton, and his pals, as they become involved in the mysterious missing diamonds. The title character, one Clockwork Man, starts off this adventure, but other than a bit part, he doesn’t play too heavily into the story. This is something I would have liked to see change. However, Hodder’s skill at drawing a reader in to the story allows you to quickly forget that this isn’t the story you thought it was going to be. It is all the better for that.
The events of the first book have changed things in Burton’s England when this story picks up and Hodder delicately weaves the two together into one wonderful story. I can only hope the third in the series, which recently arrived on my doorstep, will round out this threesome into a wonderfully intriguing tale. Reminiscent of a Wilkie Collins mystery or a good Sherlock Holmes story, even if you are not a huge fan of steam punk, these are books worth reading. Hodder brings the world of Burton and Swinburne to life through the use of illuminating descriptions, and famous and infamous names from history, which only draw you deeper and deeper into his world.
Hodder leaves the second book at the perfect point. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the third in the series, and I believe that Hodder’s ability to weave the three independent stories together so that they are at once their own book, and part of a whole makes this series one of the best I’ve read in a while.