This book has many of the things I love: Steampunk, electricity, Spring-heeled Jack, werewolves, a mystery, time-travel affecting the present, and the implication of liminal space. It also has a glowing recommendation from Michael Moorcock on the back.
Note to self: Do not buy any other book Michael Moorcock likes.
The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack is the story of one Sir Richard Francis Burton or, rather, a fictionalized version of same who works for…do you know what? I started reading this long enough ago that I don’t really remember and it doesn’t really matter. Richard Burton, or this fictionalized version of himself, is a racist misogynist prick and not worth my time. At all.
“Miss Arundell is also making enquiries, though I fear her approach will have caused nothing but trouble.”
“How so, Captain?”
“She’s visiting the Speke family to offer her condolences.” [about the loss of their son to suicide.]
Oscar winced. “By heavens! There is nothing more destructive than a woman on a charitable mission.” — Page 29
I mean. God forbid a woman go and do what nineteenth-century society insists she should do, and provides emotional labor to the grieving family of someone she knows personally, right? Might mess up the Greater Work of the man of the household.
I’m pretty sure there are other things earlier in the book (in fact, on the page earlier there’s a throwaway line about the Potato Famine) that had me pulling away from the story, but this was the point at which I threw up my hands and continued hate-reading to see if things would improve. Hodder either doesn’t recognize that the opinions his main character holds are reprehensible or he doesn’t know how to make it clear that Burton’s opinions of the lower classes, the Irish, and women — while appropriate to Burton’s time — are…I’ll call them ‘questionable to a modern sensibility’ to be kind.
Later, when he’s trying to figure out what to do with himself after sending a dog-messenger (created by eugenics, which are an accepted part of this England) to Number 10 Downing Street, he considers going off and “…mount[ing] an expedition into that dark and dangerous region of West Africa…”, to “…write a definitive translation of The Thousand and One Nights…” because who better to do those two things than a white guy from England, mentions “…collected tales of Hindu devilry…” he wants to finished, or marry Isobel. (All quotes from p. 33, which is also the point at which I stopped reading.)
Y’all know the “sexy lamp” test: can you replace a woman in a book with a sexy lamp without hurting the plot? Yeah, even though she’s a point-of-view character, Isobel could probably be replaced by that lamp, in her own as well as Burton’s sections.
I really wanted to like this, but instead as soon as I finish writing this review the book is going to my “donate” pile, because it definitely gives me no joy and rather a lot of frustration.
I guess if you like Michael Moorcock this may be a book for you?