FORGOTTEN BOOK: THE CONSTANTINE AFFLICTION by T. Aaron Payton, 2012
This is the 131st in my series of Forgotten Books.
Here is a book which escaped my notice when it was initially published. I used to be really up on these things. I’d read LOCUS every month; check the Forthcoming Books comparing English and American releases to see what would be the real first edition, all that sort of thing. But my comic store where I got LOCUS closed and I changed to working for myself with a spotty paycheck history and it all sort of fell away.
I was at the FACT (Fandom Association of Central Texas) Christmas Party and gift exchange when a copy of The Constantine Affliction came wandering through in a stack of books. I listened to the description and immediately stole the present from the recipient who really wanted it back. I offered it back except for the one title but, of course, that was the one she really wanted. She eventually got it back and I got The Dark Knight Rises DVD instead.
I forgot about the book and was visiting my friend/book dealer Willie (the first one’s free!) Siros when I saw it again. I inquired and got to take it home this time.
This is an odd one. It is partly steampunk and part detective and part alternate history and part mashup and lots of fun. The set up on the world is quite insane. In a Victorian age with some steam inventions far past what we know, an unusual plague has hit the land. Apparently, Virginia Woolf’s Orlando has brought a plague back to the bordellos of England wherein a person might get infected and find that they have changed their sex. Not everyone is affected and, in fact, many folks just die. But it occurs enough to have acquired a name – the Constantine Affliction, originally known as the Constantinople Affliction. Among the victims is Prince Albert, who is now confined for infidelity and known as Princess Alberta to the few privy to the fact.
The story features Pembrook “Pimm” Halliday, an aristocrat with a habit for drink and a penchant for investigation. His wife Winifred “Freddy” is an inventor who provides him with insight and weapons. Enter Eleanor Skyler, better known as journalist E. Skye, who hides her sex but reports on unusual items in London.
Ellie is investigating the clockwork brothels in which mechanical automatons which are immune to the plague service the genteel population. Pimm is helping out Abel Value who is working with real working girls who keep getting killed. Pimm is blackmailed into helping Value and, in the process, meets up with Mr. Adams, a tall well educated scientist who is much more than he appears. Other important people begin showing up including the Queen.
The best description I can give is “imagine if Lord Peter Wimsey met Nelly Bly and they investigated Jack the Ripper and ran into Frankenstein in a very bizarre way and the plot got so crazy that they had to bring in … but, that would be giving way too many spoilers here.
I found the book very readable and fast paced. I want to see more in the series. T. Aaron Payton, according to at least one reviewer, is an incarnation of Tim Pratt, a writer I have enjoyed since his debut novel The Strange Adventures of Ranger Girl in 2005.
The book is available in hardcover and e-book with a trade paper edition due soon. If the description sounds like fun, I think you will enjoy. If not, there may be no hope for you.
Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.