From its Jon Sullivan cover art to its mind-boggling finale, The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man brings back Mark Hodder’s unlikely detective duo of Sir Richard Francis Burton, in the waning years of his exploring career and now a King’s Agent, and Algernon Charles Swinburne, the small flame-haired poet with a taste for alcohol and a little occasional bondage.
In writings and interviews, author Hodder has said he wanted to keep the “punk” in steampunk, and after the inventive first book in the series, The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack, it was hard to imagine anything matching its clever blend of technological invention, topsy-turvy history and social awareness. Hodder’s steampunk isn’t technology in a vacuum. It has consequences, from the miasma of London’s smoky air to the wildly divergent lifestyles of its class system.
I’m pleased to say Clockwork Man delivers, taking another famous British mystery--the Tichborne Claimant--and turning it on its ear while Burton and Swinburne encounter haunted mansions, madhouses, and another assortment of famous people who, in this vastly different world of 1862 London, find their roles changed, from philosopher Herbert Spencer, now a homeless man, to Florence Nightingale.
Like its predecessor, Clockwork Man is a wild, funny ride of a read that I hated to see end. Meanwhile, Burton & Swinburne’s world--the world of Mark Hodder--is perhaps best summed up by the manifesto of The Rakes, a social movement that figures prominently in the series:
“We will not define ourselves by the ideals you enforce.
We scorn the social attitudes that you perpetuate.
We neither respect nor conform with the views of our elders.
We think and act against the tides of popular opinion.
We sneer at your dogma. We laugh at your rules.
We are anarchy. We are chaos. We are individuals.”
A more individualistic, even anarchistic, series I have yet to see. And so the wait for the third in the trilogy begins.
From a haunted mansion to Bedlam madhouse, South America to Australia, séances to a labyrinth, Burton struggles with opponents and inner demons, as he meets the philosopher Herbert Spencer, Florence Nightingale, and the father of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.