Pyr, 2011, 359 pages
It is 1862, though not the 1862 it should be....
Time has been altered, and Sir Richard Francis Burton, the king's agent, is one of the few people who know that the world is now careening along a very different course from that which Destiny intended.
When a clockwork-powered man of brass is found abandoned in Trafalgar Square, Burton and his assistant, the wayward poet Algernon Swinburne, find themselves on the trail of the stolen Garnier Collection - black diamonds rumored to be fragments of the Lemurian Eye of Naga, a meteorite that fell to Earth in prehistoric times. His investigation leads to involvement with the media sensation of the age: the Tichborne Claimant, a man who insists that he's the long lost heir to the cursed Tichborne estate. Monstrous, bloated, and monosyllabic, he's not the aristocratic Sir Roger Tichborne known to everyone, yet the working classes come out in force to support him. They are soon rioting through the streets of London, as mysterious steam wraiths incite all-out class warfare.
From a haunted mansion to the Bedlam madhouse, from South America to Australia, from seances to a secret labyrinth, Burton struggles with shadowy opponents and his own inner demons, meeting along the way the philosopher Herbert Spencer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Florence Nightingale, and Charles Doyle (father of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle). Can the king's agent expose a plot that threatens to rip the British Empire apart, leading to an international conflict the like of which the world has never seen? And what part does the clockwork man have to play?
Burton and Swinburne's second adventure, The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man, is filled with eccentric steam-driven technology, grotesque characters, and a deepening mystery that pushes forward the three-volume story arc begun in The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack.
The second book in a series, set in an alternate-history steampunk England. This time, Richard Burton and Algernon Swinburne are up against ghosts, family curses, Professor Charles Babbage, and manipulators of time and space, in what seems to be unwinding as an epic story presenting an existential threat to the British Empire. It reminds me a lot of Ian Tregillis's Milkweed Triptych.
This is a thick, meaty adventure in a genre I'm not usually that interested in (steampunk), but I enjoyed it, though I thought sometimes the author just threw in extra historical references and characters in to pad it out. The big reveal of the secret arch-villain was entertaining, followed of course by an even bigger Big Bad. There is a meta-story about how history has been changed and that a handful of people (including Burton and Swinburne) know they are living in an altered timeline and all these psychic powers and strange science inventions aren't supposed to work.
Mostly Hollywood-style entertainment, but a good read.
Also by Mark Hodder: My review of The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack.
My complete list of book reviews.