Saturday, December 29, 2012
The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man by Mark Hodder
After taking the plunge into Mark Hodder's wonderfully realised alternate history steampunk world with The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack I was eager to see what else he could do with the concept in The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man.
Readers are reunited with the explorer Sir Richard Burton and his assistant the poet Algernon Swinburne. They're every bit, maybe even more Holmes and Watson, as they were in the first book. Another character that pops into this one, which reinforces the connection with the famous detective and his assistant, is the father of Conan Doyle, it also explains where the author's fascination with fairies came from.
You don't have to have read The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack to enjoy The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man, but it definitely helps. Hodder doesn't do a lot of exposition and not being aware of what was set in place in the first book may leave a reader a bit all at sea early.
The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man is less self contained than The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack. There are more madcap steampunk inventions and alterations of flora and fauna. The melding of the two (giant insect bodies forming enormous structures rather like trams or busses) was interesting and amusing.
The world is fleshed out more and readers get an idea of just how much the meddling of the time travelling scientist Edward Oxford (see The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack) has affected the world. Personally I think there are hints that if was different well before Oxford got involved, but he certainly changed it further and not necessarily for the better.
It's not exactly a cliffhanger ending, but it does definitely make you want to read on for The Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon, which is the third and final book in the trilogy and will somehow tie it all together.
I like the way Hodder has taken two footnote events in history: Spring Heeled Jack and the Tichborne Affair (at the heart of The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man) and woven them throughout his stories and made them remarkably plausible by using actual events and people in a familiar yet skewed setting.