Burton and Swinburne in the Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack

Written by Mark Hodder
Review by Ann Chamberlin

Spring-Heeled Jack is the best book I’ve read in this quirky genre of ghouls, gears and goggles, steampunk: smart, brazen, quick and thought-provoking. Other attempts fail to catch the anthropology of the period, not this one of pea-soup fog and canny chimney sweeps. It’s not for every taste that craves historical accuracy, but I could not resist a pseudo-Victorian world where no one understands why time travelers would call them Victorian: The young queen, pregnant with her first child, did not get saved by her consort during that attempt on her life in 1840.

The world Hodder has created includes such wonders as Darwin hastening his own evolution by grafting on a second brain, famine-refugee Oscar Wilde peddling papers and foul-mouthed messenger parakeets. The delightful romp of our sleuthing pair — poet and follower of the Marquis de Sade Algernon Swinburne teaming up with my perennial favorite, swordsman Sir Richard Burton, denied his chances for world exploration by this bizarre turn of events, seems poised for a series. I can’t imagine a plot more full of twists and turns and delights, but I’m pretty sure Hodder’s is the mind to pull it off.