290 pages, Pyr
Paperback $18.00; Kindle $8.69; Audiobook CD $10.11; Audible $25.95 or free
After the assassination of Queen Victoria, a cabal of important men whose names could easily fill the all-star team for their time (King George IV, Prince Albert, and others) have been getting advice from the afterlife. This advice isn’t just about how well their deceased loved ones are doing; this is the kind of advice that has vaulted the Empire into a new renaissance—a renaissance full of steam-powered inventions and peace. But all is not as it seems! On the eve of a groundbreaking alliance with a confederation of former German city-states, people are turning up missing. But these are not just normal people—the people who are missing are scientists, surgeons, and other key personages. To top it all off, Abdu El Yezdi has cut off communications with the living world. Enter newly knighted Sir Richard Burton, who discovered the source of the Nile River. Acting as the king’s agent, Burton is tasked with finding out what has happened to the voice from beyond and trying to re-establish communications with him. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, someone is trying to summon the Beast so as to bring about the end of the Earth.
If this description sounds like this book has a lot going on, you have no clue; this is only half of it. Hodder has created a buffet of plot hooks in this story that would choke a goat. In many books that are this complex, as a reader I often find myself adrift and wondering what is happening. With this book, it was never a problem.
Most people will call this a steampunk novel, but it transcends this single category. This book could easily fit into three or four of your big box bookstore’s shelving categories with no problems.
As a steampunk novel, this book excels. You want steam-powered modes of transportation? It is full of them. Chair-sized helicopters: check. Mono-wheeled vehicles: check. Airships: check. I could go on, but you get the idea. I am happy to report that there was very little mention of goggles; however, some steampunk purists might claim that without goggles there is no way it could be steampunk. Hodder was very clever in how the characters utilized these amazing machines and gadgets, and the fact that Burton’s discovery of the source of the Nile was so lauded shows the reader that even with all these steam-powered goodies, things are still difficult in this version of the world. The beginning of the book mentions several wild and underexplored areas in the world, and even with all the advances that have been bestowed from Abdu El Yezdi from the afterlife, things like natives and diseases can still thwart the most valiant of expeditions.
As a supernatural thriller/horror, this book works really well. Vampires, constructs, speaking with ghosts—I think we have hit most of the big ones. Some readers will accuse Hodder of ripping off the works of authors in a shameless manner during the course of this novel. I say he paid them homage in the most effective way he could. Hodder’s ability to pay his respects to two of arguably the most well-known horror novels of all times is hard to deny. Hodder adds this love fest into this book, and it only enhances the experience of reading it. Hodder is blatant in not only his plot stealing, but also in his hint- and name-dropping ways. The name-dropping happens more so than the hints, but if you take just a few minutes and do some research, some things jump out at you. I have no problems when an author does this; it forces me to think and ultimately gives me more time to spend with a book. This practice actually causes me to re-read a book several times to ensure I caught all the references no matter how obscure.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I really enjoyed this book. It deviated from your standard steampunk fare in many wonderful ways. I figured out some of the big mysteries of the book, but several eluded me until the big reveal. It is writing like this that will and has caused me to pursue the other three Burton & Swinburne adventures. This book really has a wide appeal, so if you are a fan of the supernatural, don’t let the steampunk scare you, and if you love steampunk, this book will work for you just fine.