Growing up I loved to read stories about myths and legends. Be it Greek and Roman Gods or sightings of bizarre creatures stalking the streets of local towns, these stories made me feel like there’s more out there than what we know – that there is (or could be) a whole host of weird and wonderful beings living their lives right under our noses, and only allowing us glimpses of them from time to time.
Some tales were of friendly creatures . . . some where not.
One such malevolent entity I enjoyed learning about was Spring-Heeled Jack.
This man-creature would terrorise young woman in Victorian England with his first reported sighting being 1837. These woman described him as devilish-looking, with clawed hands and burning red eyes. He wore a skin tight white suit under a black cloak, and a helmet on his head. He was also reported to be able to breath out blue and white flames from his mouth. His name derived from the fact that he could leap up to extraordinary heights, escaping his pursuers by jumping up onto high buildings.
He certainly sounds like someone you would most definitely not like to meet in a dark alley.
Mark Hodder has taken the urban legend and applied his own interesting and clever twist to it. The Stranger Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack is the first in a series of Burton and Swinburne novels and also Hodder’s debut novel.
This steampunk book includes real people from British history. Sir Richard Francis Burton was, indeed, a famed explorer and Algernon Charles Swinburne was a real life Victorian poet. Florence Nightingale and Oscar Wilde also make appearances throughout the story, but I don’t want to tell you in which capacity.
Hodder’s 1861 England is a very different place to the one in our history books. Metal crab-like creatures scurry around cleaning up the rubbish strewn streets, swans fly through the sky trailing box kites with human passengers behind them, parakeets deliver foul-mouthed messages, and penny-farthings are called velocipedes and engine run. In fact, so much has changed that we wouldn’t even call the time period Victorian!
Richard Burton is recruited as a King’s Agent by the prime minister to capture the enigmatic Spring-Heeled Jack. With the help of his friend Algernon Swinburne, his investigation leads him down dangerous paths filled with loup garous; wolf men who kidnap chimney sweep children, and opens his mind to the possibility of time travel.
Is the world that Richard Burton lives in, the only world he knows, not the world that’s supposed to be?
This book is jam packed with actual historical events overlapped with fictitious elements, which makes for an entertaining and wonderful read. Spring-Heeled Jack is a man to be feared, but we learn that he is only a man and not a devil . . . well, I suppose given his behaviour that could be debatable. The characters are colourful and engaging, some likable from the first instance you’re introduced to them. Hodder is a great writer and this book was a great read.