The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack won it's author the Philip K Dick award for best novel last year, what makes this acheivement even more remarkable is that it was also the authors début.
The novel is a steampunk tale set in an alternative England where Queen Victoria was actually killed in the 1840 assassination attempt and Prince Albert now rules as regent. Sir Richard Burton, the renown explorer is asked by the crown to investigate a series of strange assaults in which witnesses claim were carried out by the fabled "Spring Heeled Jack".
One of the great things about this book is the way the author bases much of the actual story on historical facts, all the characters are real and were around at the time - including the elusive "Spring Heeled Jack". The star of the show is of course Richard Burton, an imposing figure and a deeply intriging character. The spear incident actually happened and helped to give him an almost brutish, severe appearance during a time where appearance largely defined what class you belonged to.
Burton was smart enough to use these rogueish looks to their greatest effect - disguising himself when needed and being a member of the upper class when not. You really couldn't make a lot of this stuff up and I urge you to read about the actual history of the various characters after reading this book (not before lest you spoil anything though). The authors ideas are seamlessly intwined into these Victorian characters so well that you would be hard pressed to tell fact from fiction. The use of Richard Burton is simply genius, although Hodder isn't the first person to use the larger than life explorer - Philip José Farmer used Burton to lead the first novel in his award winning Riverworld series (To Your Scattered Bodies Go) back in 1971.
It does however feel very much like a book of two halves, with a big reveal that changes the pace of the novel and rockets the story forward. I loved the different viewpoints and the away the author allows us to see why and how Jack is doing what he's doing, it's nothing short of genius. The steampunk style that also manages to include eugenics is very impressive but what helps to set it apart is that through the story the author explains why this steampunk exists and it's got to be the very best tale I have ever seen not only explaining the nature of causality but making it so much fun at the same time.
This book is just so entertaining, it's got bags of charm and style projected with a powerful, unique voice. I was going to say that any fan of steampunk will enjoy this but even if you aren't a fan of the genre I'd be tempted to recommend it anyway.
Written on 7th March 2012 by Ant.
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