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Book Review: The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man by Mark Hodder

This is the third review of mine published in Bull Spec #5

After completing The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder, I was anxious to get my hands on the next book in this series, The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man.  Despite my dislike of the time travel element in the first book, I felt certain I wouldn’t have to contend with it in the second book.

Of course, I was dead wrong.  But, in a delightful twist, the time travel element takes on a new direction that works toward cleaning up the mess it caused.  In the Clockwork Man, we find many references to the fact that yes, the time traveler did mess things up.  However, in doing so, he created two separate timelines.  As a result, things are unstable in this newer universe, and everything is struggling to right itself back into line with the original.  This results in mental abilities like clairvoyance, odd/mad science, and unexpectedly, interlopers from the original timeline, people with psychic powers that can influence others in the new timeline.

Confused yet?  Good, because I was confused as well through a good portion of the book.  Don’t take this as a bad thing.  Once again, Hodder is skilled at giving you enough information to keep you reading.  The story is deep and complex with threads running throughout that keep you guessing and leaving you never quite sure of what sort of ending will come about.  Characters die or take horrible wounds and make you worry about some of your favorite people vanishing from the story.

Once again, the interactions between the unlikely pair of Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton and Algernon Swinburne are a great source of entertainment.  Despite being two drastically different personalities, Hodder has brought them together in a fun and satisfying manner.

Along with the psychics and clockwork men with Babbage devices (think computer) inside them, Hodder introduces a new element.  Zombies.  But don’t think that these zombies are the normal mindless flesh-eating shambling dead we see everywhere.  These zombies aren’t plague infested or even long-dead bodies risen from the grave.  This time, they have been stripped of their soul, but retain their ability to talk and think.  Even if they are just looking for their next meal.  Hodder’s zombies are unique (and amusing) in that they are still well dressed and polite citizens of the British Empire, to the point of apologizing as they try to steal the life from their prey.

To its credit, the Clockwork Man is a fast-paced book that will delight anyone who is a big fan of Steampunk or twisted versions of British history.  Good humor breaks the tension at the right times, and the character interactions make it worth reading every word.  The time travel problems I had with the first book were quickly eliminated as I dug into the story and found the author was working to make it all make sense in his grand design.  I admit, the inclusion of zombies felt rather cliche at first, but after reading a little more, found them to be a welcome addition.

The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man is a worthy follow-up to its predecessor, and still left me with enough unanswered questions that I cannot wait to get into the next volume in the series, The Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon, which, as of yet, does not have an anticipated release date.

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