When it comes to fiction novels, there’s such a huge variety of styles and settings for them that it can become quite hard to sometimes find your niche among them, since pretty much anything that isn’t a biography or a history book can fall under said hood. In The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack, Mark Hodder attempts to tackle the steampunk genre while adding in historical fiction and a huge bunch of fantasy in a novel that’s meant to take place in a world so peculiar the reader shouldn’t be able to get away from the book.
Sadly, said elements don’t mix quite well in the way Hodder might’ve expected and the end result for his debut novel is a rather bittersweet history that, though at times truly entertaining, doesn’t really stand out enough for the reader to remember many of its details after having read it, let alone want to read anything else set in said world. The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack is a strange and not all that enthralling story set in an alternate Victorian era where technology has advanced ridiculously fast while human values are still pretty much the same said era held. The main storyline revolves around a mysterious character – Spring-heeled Jack, roughly based on the urban legend of the same name – appearing in London and abusing several young girls.
The first problem this novel has, however, isn’t its main idea: The plotline properly revolving Spring-Heeled Jack is actually an interesting and even enthralling one. The problem is, roughly a third of the novel actually revolves around it, with the rest being lots and lots of things happening that aren’t all that interesting or important for the plot. Sir Richard Francis Burton, the protagonist, is a good part of the problem: As a protagonist he’s dull as they come and oftentimes the scenes where his supposed character development happens (Not that there’s a lot of that in here) are boring enough to have the reader fall asleep.
Actually, the dull protagonist could’ve been easily salvageable if at least he were surrounded by interesting henchmen but, alas, there isn’t such a thing: The single most interesting character in this novel is Spring-Heeled Jack with pretty much everyone else being either horribly boring or characters who could’ve been interesting but the terribly poor character development where the reader is expected to either magically know everything about the characters or remember the exact name (both first and last since the narrator enjoys exchanging them) of several characters whose appearances pretty scarce throughout the novel.
Another of the issues this novel faces is the overall lack of imagination in the creation of the steampunk society the characters live in, where most of the inventions are either ridiculously contrived and impossible for the average reader to understand or such odd creations as parakeets who deliver messages but also insult left and right due to a problem with their creation, dogs who act as couriers but need to eat full bowls of food several times a day or even, in what’s probably the worst case, human mutations who are prone to spontaneous combustion, with said events happening several times during the plot and being used as a general deus-ex machina.
Nevertheless, The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack does have its entertaining parts, the main one being around the title character, its origins and the reason why he goes around Victorian London molesting young women. In fact, had the book been based on said plotline alone it probably would’ve been a much more interesting novel (And a much shorter one, which would’ve also been a good thing), since it isn’t so much the main plot but the lameness of the main characters and the latter addition of a zoo (Literally. There are werewolves, panther-men and even a character who lives inside of the body of an orangutan) of characters who make very little sense, whose causes are never properly explained and who have no reason to be there other than giving the novel an apparent proper antagonist.
All in all The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack, though not a terrible novel, is a pretty flawed piece of narrative that seems to attempt to bite off more than it can chew and ends up being a mildly amusing, often entertaining story about a time traveler who travels to a steampunk version of Victorian London. However, the fact that in order to read said story you need to also read roughly a hundred and fifty pages where nothing interesting happens with protagonists you couldn’t really care less about highly detracts this from being a good, recommended book, and instead turns it into an ok read, a mildly entertaining but never compelling story.
Final review score: 2.5/5
Availability: Currently available on physical and digital form from Amazon.com and Gamersgate.com
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