When it comes to steampunk and time travel, I gotta say that The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder does it right.
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!
Burton is a rough and tumble man’s man who, despite his reputation, is quite charismatic, and he soon finds himself as an agent of King Albert. It’s apparent right away that Spring Heeled Jack is some sort of time traveler; however, the connection between his victims and the sightings of werewolves in London is the larger mystery that Agent Burton is assigned to. He takes the poet (& masochist) Algernon Swinburne as an assistant, even tho obeying orders is a bit difficult for him.
The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack is easy to read. The plot moves at a good pace, even in the time travel sequences, which were a lot less confusing than I had expected. Mark Hodder did his research and it shows. Clothing and etiquette descriptions are wonderfully researched and slips easily into the story without seeming forced. I thoroughly enjoyed this story. At first the story starts off more Victorian than anything else, then hints start to appear that it’s not quite right. Soon you realize it’s a completely different world than what history knows and has some of the classic steampunk technology and issues. The steampunk inventions are clever and relatively believable (I really want a broom cat). The author includes both every day characters with normal backgrounds, and the main characters with more elaborate histories. All stay believable, or at least in the realm of willing suspension of disbelief. I’m really looking forward to more from the duo of Burton and Swinburne, the great Arthurians.
The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack
The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man
Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon (November 2011)