Mesmerism, Fairies, and Zombies, OH MY! Not usually what I think of with a Steampunk story, but somehow Mark Hodder blends all these things into his version of the Arthurian world. It’s done in such a way that it makes sense in the world that’s getting further and further away from actual history and it’s becoming more apparent that things aren’t right.
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 seances 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 Clockwork Man Of Trafalgar Square—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.
Let me start out by saying that The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man by Mark Hodder is the SECOND book in a series. At first, I thought that it was just a few references to the last book to get everyone caught up, but the farther I got into The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man, the more I realized there was no way to completely understand what was going on without first reading The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack.
Sir Richard Francis Burton is beginning to realize that Spring Heeled Jack didn’t just alter time when he jumped backwards to the Victorian era, he altered the very fabric of reality. Things aren’t working they way they used to, not since Spring Heeled Jack’s appearance. At first, the Tichborne case seems unrelated to the strange disappearance of the black diamonds. The more Burton looks, the more strange connections he finds between the Tichborne claimant, the black diamonds, and even Spring Heeled Jack and his own travels to find the heart of the Nile. The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man ends with a terrifying vision of the future, people seeing fairies that aren’t there, plus séances creating specters and well spoken zombies.
I love how The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man pulled in the story lines from The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack. It was that kind of moment when you go “Oh, hey, those two events did coincide, didn’t they?” It’s also nice that none of the characters are safe. It adds a depth of consequence to everything that the characters do. Loss of life bothers the characters and becomes a part of them, at one point, it becomes Burton’s weakness. In The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man, the characters are more than what they seem, with their own quirks that make them memorable and endearing or utterly despicable.
While keeping the tone serious, Mark Hodder adds a bit of humor with the strange eugenics technologies, like the Folk’s Wagon made from a steam engine attached to the gutted exoskeleton of an extremely oversized, genetically-engineered scarab beetle. (!!!) The wonderful ads that preface some of the chapters are used in the story as well. I loved the well spoken zombies at the end, apologizing while they were eating people with impeccable manners.
Overall The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man was a wonderful story that only got a little confusing when Burton had flashbacks to his African trip. It combined mystery with mysticism and technology in a way that made sense, especially when Burton began to realize that things were not as they should have been, besides King Albert without a queen. If this book interests you, go back and read The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack first. You’ll be glad you did.
The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack
The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man
Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon