FORGOTTEN BOOK: The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder, 2010
This is the 116th in my series of Forgotten Books.
Like many a Texas reader and writer, I love a good alternate history. In fact, I’m doing an SF Signal podcast on alternate histories tomorrow (as I write this) which should be posted there sometime in the next week or so. And this one is a good one.
It features two of my favorite historical figures – Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton and Algernon Swinburne. They live in a very odd non-Victorian England. It seems that an assassination attempt on the young Queen was successful in their world, rather than failed as it was in ours. Enter the title character, a time travelling descendant of that failed assassin, who inadvertently helps the attempt succeed, thus dooming himself as he no longer has an ancestor to bring him into life.
As he attempts to clean up the mess, he encounters Burton, who is at a low point of his career as his debate with John Speke over the discovery of the source of the Nile has led to Speke being shot and Burton suspected, but not accused of the deed. He is accosted by Spring Heeled Jack a notorious mythical character and given obscure and confusing advice. Enter King Albert (no longer in the can) who wants Burton to act as a “king’s agent” (kind of like a 007). He reports to Lord Palmerston, the Prime Minister, who is extending his life with some bizarre experiments.
Science has gone a little crazy during Albert’s reign. There are Technocrats and Eugenecists fighting the Rakes and Libertines. Steam punky things are happening everywhere. There are automated horses drawing cabs and steam power pennyfarthing bicycles. Cursing parakeets and hungry dogs deliver people’s messages.
Burton and his friend Swinburne find themselves embroiled in a huge plot to take over a great many things and cause mayhem and anarchy everywhere. In the course of this fun book you run into the leader of the chimney sweeps, Charles Darwin, Florence Nightengale, Laurence Oliphant, Oscar Wilde and many other characters from British history, many of whose stories are drastically different from the tales we know.
Great action, time travel paradoxes to match Heinlein’s “By His Bootstraps” and “All You Zombies”, weird science, werewolves, and more. This is the first in a series of books. I will read more. You should too.
Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.