On the plus side, it is mostly all mad science and not magic. But even that gets a little iffy at points. On the negative side, the mad science gets more than a little campy along the way. There are some aspects that are just a little over used in the book, such as hypnosis, and people going mad. Everyone in this book seems to go mad at some point it seems. Still, despite all that, there is a decent base that future books could build on and become stronger with. While not on my immediate list, I will probably get the second book just to see if the author improves his world.
I find the story made compelling more by it's characters ... But still great.... And Doyle is an excellent Narrater
I really enjoyed this story. The narrator did an excellent job. The story is fun & imaginative with a touch of simple here and there. It's like the "easy read" books you take to the cabin.
Full disclosure: I am an English teacher, so the writing errors may not bother others as much. I also just bought the second book in the hopes that the plot magic will continue and the writing magic will grow.
The good: the plot took quite a while to get off the ground (about half of the book, actually), but when it got going, it was quite good! I liked the explanation for steampunk Victoriana as an error created through time travel, and I enjoyed watching inexplicable events from earlier chapters explain themselves.
1. Death by Exposition: in normal conversation, people speak in short bursts. It's rare for one person to speak for long. In this novel, people lecture for ten or more minutes at a stretch in order to give "background" that the person listening would already know if it's so common knowledge. This is apparently what passes for normal conversation.
2. Department of Redundancy and Repetition: hey, did you read the description of the book yet? Then you'll know that Burton is both a "famous explorer" and a "king's agent." Learn to love those phrases, my friend. You will hear them in almost every paragraph. It gets old after the third time.
3. Toxic Description: This is what drove me up the wall. I searched for Mark Hodder's Wikipedia page just to make sure he wasn't actually in 8th grade before I tackled this section. Typically, grade and middle school students have a lot of trouble sorting out necessary and helpful details from unnecessary and tangential fluff. They get it eventually, so why is a published, adult author still confused about necessary versus unnecessary details?!
For example: there is a scene where Burton is trying to go to bed and take a nap. It has nothing to do with the plot and merely serves as a bridge between scenes. The scene takes him from the door of his house to his bed. "He staggered up the stairs and collapsed into bed" would do it nicely. Instead, we get lavish descriptions of the architecture of the house, digressions on what Burton plans to do with the spare bedroom in the future, a lovingly detailed discussion of the maid's schedule for the whole day, babbling about Burton's decorating decisions in his study and bedroom, and other trivia. It is useful to know about Burton's rapiers by the fire in a later scene. None of the rest of it ever comes up again.
THE WHOLE BOOK IS LIKE THIS. You will be treated to descriptions of random passers-by, itemized lists of everything worn by random characters (important or not), engineering treatises, and geographical ramblings when there's a plot to get to. I mentioned that it takes well over six and a half hours for the book to really start -- THIS IS WHY.
4. Unbelievable Talent: If Nancy Drew (who developed a new super-talent in every book) and James Bond (catnip to women) had a kid, that kid would be Burton. The talents just became laughable by the end because they were so ludicrously overplayed and poorly introduced. Rather than implying things and letting the reader figure them out ("Oh, gosh, he's speaking Swahili! And Bangalore! And French! And Linear A! And Klingon! He must be good with languages!"), the author brings whatever action to a screeching halt, identifies the talent specifically, and rambles about it for a while.
The talents are also hilariously improbable. Burton is a mastery of absolutely everything under the sun. I started out just rolling my eyes. By the end of the book, I was so amused that I'd pull out my headphones and share the news with my husband whenever new talents popped up like mushrooms after the rain.
"He's a master linguist who speaks 24 languages! Of course he is. He's a master fencer who studied under the best fencing master in the world and is so amazing that he created and named his own unstoppable fencing move! OF COURSE he is. He's a master of espionage and disguise who managed to cross the Sahara and sneak into Mecca disguised as a local! OF COURSE HE IS. He knows kung fu and can punch a man out in one hit!" And so on.
5. Uh, shouldn't you know that?: For all the exposition the characters provide and for all of Burton's mastery of everything in the universe, there are some really weird and glaring omissions. Burton hangs out with the Libertines. He is friends with them. He debates their philosophy with them. Yet, halfway through the book, he inexplicably requires a "conversation" (read: long winded lecture) to clarify who the Libertines are. Dude, you were just in their club debating philosophy with them. Why is this conversation happening? (See comments on poorly incorporated exposition.)
6. Linguistic oddities: so, Mr. Hodder is well acquainted with the thesaurus, and it shows. This is occasionally awesome, but it more often comes across as a bit fake. When the author repeats the same titles eleven million times throughout the book because he can't think of another way of phrasing things but then yanks "ingress" out of thin air instead of "entrance" or "door," something is up.
Also, it jarred me when he would go from throwing around curse words to using prim language. There's a scene where he describes a yard littered with "dog (excrement)," but then goes on to say a cop fell on his "bottom." Um...okay? We were all excited by cursing four lines ago, and now we're back to kindergarten language?
Increasing my ops tempo by allowing storytellers to whisper in my ear(buds).
Steampunk has its own appeal and this story rides that for all its worth. The first third is awash with alternate history Steampunk elements, but after a few hours the story simply must carry the day. In this regard, this it is only partly successful. The middle third is little more than filler, padding the book out to novel length. Then in the past third we are treated to a section from Jack’s perspective. He is the most interesting character in the story. This section is an interesting exploration of time-travel paradox and is a lot of fun. But then near the end we return to Burton and Swinburne who must solve the mystery and bring the novel to an anticlimactic finish. Not enough to justify continuing with the series.
Gerard Doyle sounds so much like Simon Vance (aka Robert Whitfield) that I had to do a biographical search to validate, or in this case, invalidate that notion. Apparently Doyle and Vance are not the same person—at least that is what THEY say—but I am not so sure. At any rate, Doyle is every bit as competent as Vance would have been with the same material, so this audiobook has that much going for it.
I have been looking for a new series, having devoured most of Orson Scott Card's works and have finally found it. Great premise, great characters and a thoroughly satisfying audio presentation.
I've read some steampunk now & then, but this one goes beyond my willingness to continue reading.
If steam powered personal helicopters and self controlled steam powered street cleaners in 1800s England interest you, good luck.
A lighter hand and it might have been enjoyable.
Now lets see if Audible books can really be returned.
Geeky painter girl who loves all things Whedonverse. Audio book addict. :D
Interesting concept, but got bored with the last 3rd of the book, which mostly just rehashed the 1st this of the book from a different viewpoint.