It was with great anticipation that I cracked open Mark Hodder’s The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man. Indeed, Hodder’s debut, The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack (review here) was, for me, the debut novel of 2010. A sprightly mix of steampunk, mystery and tim-travel, the first Burton & Swinburne adventure held all the ingredients to for the very best of reading experiences, and under Hodder’s deft hand, these elements were able to come together to do just that. Adorned with cover art just as beautiful, The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man equates and even surpasses its predecessor in all respects. This second time around, Hodder graciously delivers a wild and raucous mystery tale aptly supported by a continuously intriguing world and eternally devious and captivating characters.
Sir Roger TIchborne: lost at sea but now he’s back to claim his family’s fortune. Or is he? To the upper classes, he’s obviously a cunning swindler; to London’s laborers, he’s the people’s hero... while to Sir Richard Francis Burton, he’s the focus of a daring plot to gain possession of the legendary black diamonds known as the Eyes of the Naga. Burton’s investigation takes him to the cursed Tichborne estate... and to an encounter with the ghost of a witch!
From a haunted mansion to the rioting streets of London, from South America to Australia, form an astonishing jewel heist to a possible revolution, Burton and Swinburne confront mysterious and deadly forces as they struggle to expose a conspiracy that threatens to topple the British Empire.
Their investigation leads them to a stunning finale in which they battle the dead, confront the un-born, and peer into the prehistoric past and the war-torn future!
To say that The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man has got it all is an understatement. This book is, literally, an amalgamation of everything one would associate with either a steampunk, alternate history or mystery novel. Holed up in its pages are ghosts, treasure hunts, walking-dead, incredibly divergent technologies, family curses, world-threatening villains, time paradoxes and more. You can see, I’m sure, what a bag of fun such a story could be under the proper administration of the writer.
Mark Hodder, thankfully, is the author to pull this off. His plotting exploits in The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack had already sufficiently proven this man’s skill at building the most entertainingly-twisted, yet coherent stories, but as if to quench any remaining doubts he creates in The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man an even more dastardly complex plot and flaunts how easily he can pull off building a satisfying resolution to the tale he starts - and in fact he appears to do so with even greater ease than in his debut.
The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man in so many ways really is better than the novel that came before it. Gone is the slow beginning and the rigidity of the characters that we knew at the start of The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, instead Hodder’s second offering sets off to a smooth start with a good dose of action to get us started and characters which we feel we only left the day before. The faults taken care of, The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man embodies all the strengths of its predecessor.
In addition to the deeply thrilling storyline, there is a strong undercurrent of excitement for the overarching story that this novel, unlike its predecessor, is trying to tell. The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man does not exclusively recount the its own story but puts in place elements for the third Burton & Swinburne adventure, dropping hints here and there and expanding its scope to leave room for eventual branching out. In fact, the end gives a rather blunt - but nonetheless exciting - indication of what Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon will be about.
An excellent continuation of the Burton & Swinburne adventures and a solid standalone, The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man is an enticing display of what steampunk can achieve by way of creating exhilarating storylines and possessing captivating characters. This novel is a rare and invigorating treat of mystery, adventure and fantasy like only Mark Hodder can do. He continues to establish himself as a master of the wilder variety of steampunk that he makes his own, and overall as a fine writer and entertainer. Look for more steampunk greatness in The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, if you have not read it, and in the forthcoming third Burton & Swinburne novel, Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon.
My Rating: 5 out of 5
Reading Age: 15 and up
Mark Hodder's Website: http://markhodder.posterous.com/
Be sure also to check out the interview I ran with Mark Hodder following the release of his previous book: find it here
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