I was getting really worried for this series. I did not like the last 2 volumes I read; I kinda hated book 5 which I read just before book 3 which wasn’t much better. The Rise of the Automated Aristocrats, Book 6, went back to what this series does right: Burton and Swinburne together with pals taking on weirdness, and the final conclusion is pretty satisfying, even though it end up feeling a little like the whole series was designed around the question of why the historical Isabel burned all her husband’s papers after he died.
Overall, this series seems to be at its best when Sir Richard and Algy are fighting politics and some strange technology that affects time, as they do here. Burton, Swinburne, and Trounce are pulled from their death-beds in the historically accurate period and told by the mysterious Beetle whose identity finally gets explained that they need to fix history from all the damage that’s been happening since The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack. It turns out the Beetle has some similarities to Abu-Al-Yezadi, and the parallels to book 4 don’t stop there, which may be another reason why I liked this one (I also enjoyed book 4). Burton also has to struggle with his relationship to Isabel who he knows is his wife in one version of history (who betrays him by burning his last publication- Burton knows about this for nearly all of this book) but who died in book 4 in this world. Basically, the trio needs to find the source of the anomalies by taking over their own identities in a different version of history than the one they know. Some of the annoying confusion reoccurs, but at least it’s set up with some context this time around.
As they get closer to the problem, they find out that somehow high level politics and social manipulations are the key (Disreli play a role in this, although he’s not the ultimate bad guy exactly), which allows for some philosophical commentary on the part of the characters who are not native to this time period. Some important characters who are native include Sister Raghavendra and also the original Cannibal Club members. These are the people who this story needs to be interesting, and they don’t disappoint.
Burton’s final confrontation with the villain, which turns out to be a combination of several people and technology, gets a little hard to follow with the mystical timey-wimey realizations going on, but the end, when everyone is returned to their natural time and place really does seem to work. The one thing I don’t get is why does Burton make a last request of Isabel before he dies (and he knows he’s going to) knowing what will happen to her afterwards (it’s not pleasant). It makes sense from his perspective, but not for hers. If nothing else, I’m just glad this series ended on a good note. It would have been really frustrating to have gone through two volumes I hated, and one I didn’t like or hate, and have it come to nothing in the end. Thankfully, that did not happen.