May 28, 2020

Review: The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder.

The science fiction subgenre known as Steampunk has certainly matured in its brief 20+ year existence. True skill in the field has challenged writers to do the historical “foot work” while envisioning an alternate reality and time line that is complete and believable. Which brings us to this weeks’ review of The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder, out this September from Pyr Books.This alternate reality science fiction thriller draws off of a real life time line of a Victorian Era that never was, and often sent us on a brief historical search (or three!) to discover some 19th century lore and events that we had never heard of. Spring Heeled Jack centers on Sir Richard Burton, real life explorer of Asia and Africa of Mountains of the Moon fame. The tale begins with his famous feud with John Speke, and the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death. Burton has a royal mandate to investigate strange happenings in London’s infamous Calderon district, including tales of werewolves and an apparition that has become known as the infamous Spring Heeled Jack.

Expect other historical notables as Algernon Swinburne, Charles Darwin, Laurence Oliphant and more to make an appearance in this wonderful tale of Victorian England gone twisted. The label of “Victorians” itself is alien to this time-line, as a real life attempt on the Queen’s life in 1840 was successful. Futuristic technology is cunningly placed along with polite British society as atmospheric railways, velocipedes, and portable Babbage machine implants abound. Animals are genetically altered and perform at new unheard of levels of domestication. One of the most delightful additions was the genetically modified messenger birds that cuss and swear incessantly!

The setting is expertly crafted as a nation torn by conflicting social and technical forces; on one side are the Technologists, interested only in unrestrained scientific advancement. At odds with this are the Libertines, who want a society based on only art and beauty. At their opposing extremes are the Eugenicists, who seek to alter and control human destiny, and the Rakes, who are true anarchists. Such an ethical and moral mix leads to an ultimate climax questioning the ambiguity and reality of this alternate universe.

The author has obviously done his historical research and makes you feel right at home in this England that never was. The tale reads like a good mystery juxtaposed into an alternate science fiction realm. Burton is one of our heroes of history and it’s good to see him getting his Steampunk due. And what of Spring Heeled Jack? We were surprised to find out this was a true legend of the Victorian era, and the mythos surrounding him was never truly explained. As for the Spring Heeled Jack of the novel, we won’t introduce any spoilers, but suffice to say that all of that alternate tech had to spring (bad pun intended) from somewhere….

The novel takes an interesting turn about midway and reveals a totally different vantage point with new explanations and characters. I suggest that the reader pay careful attention to the original arrival and confrontations with Spring Heeled Jack, as the bits to the historical puzzle fall into place later in the tale. Does it really matter if you become your own grandfather? This novel puts a wonderful and insightful twist on the old science fiction conundrum.

How does Spring Heeled Jack stack up to the ever growing offerings of all that is Steampunk? I would say it takes the genre to a new level, as Sci-Fi and technology is convincingly woven into this alternate world. Would-be Steampunk writers will now have to work double duty to top this one! Perhaps Steampunk will turn the corner for the inevitable commercial downward spiral soon, but a well crafted tale such as this one can give us hope. And heck, it was just a plain fun summer read, and a rip roaring good yarn! Douglas Adams would’ve been proud…

Keep an eye out for The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack this September, and see if you can unravel the retro-tech mystery for yourself. The author left the ending open to many intriguing sequel ideas; will we be adventuring with Burton and friends through this alternate time line again?


  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Pyr_Books, David Dickinson. David Dickinson said: The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder. A Victorian Age steam punk drama from Pyr Books! [...]

  2. [...] Gardens of the Sun, the sequel to Paul McAuley’s Quiet War series, Grave Thief by Tom Lloyd, and The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder. The last was probably the best steam punk novel we’ve read to date, and the [...]

  3. [...] and out from Pyr Books . Fans of this space will remember our review of the first book in the saga, The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack last summer. Clockwork Man picks up where Spring-Heeled Jack left off, in an engaging alternate [...]

  4. [...] SyFy?) out to address this huge fan base… might I recommend Mark Hodder’s outstanding Burton & Swinburne [...]

  5. [...] timeline, we’ll also be reviewing Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon, book three in the Burton & Swinburne Steampunk series by Mark Hodder out soon from Pyr [...]

  6. [...] Fans of this space will remember our reviews of Mr. Hodder’s epic Burton & Swinburne series, The Strange Affair of Spring-heeled Jack, The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man, & Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon. The series [...]

  7. [...] you, the curious reader, a firm grounding in the sub-Sci-Fi genre of all that is Steampunk. From The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack to Mike Resnick’s The Buntline Special to the Society of Steam series of books, there are copious [...]

  8. [...] rather than an out right alt-history Sci-Fi; no Victorian automatons or airships resulting from Babbage devices or Tesla’s vision brought to life here. But the story, while a hypothetical one, builds on some [...]

  9. [...] this site and Mr. Hodder’s work will remember our review of the first three novels in the series, The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack, The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man, and Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon, all out from [...]

  10. [...] and Swinburne series. We’ve chronicled our addiction to this series in the past, starting with The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack up through The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man, Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon and The [...]

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