Mark Hodder, known for his successful Victorian steampunk Burton and Swinburne series, has now given us this offering, due to be published in 2013.
Transported to the alien world of Ptallaya by a strange and terrifying ritual, Victorian missionary Aiden Fleischer and his brilliant but damaged assistant, Clarissa Stark, are stranded. Befriended by the Yatsill, a race of bizarre telepathic alien mimics, the travellers watch in amazement as the society around them transforms into a parody of London. But as the dual yellow suns of this new world slowly set, a red sun is also rising, and with it come the Blood Gods, an ancient and indestructible evil…
And there you have it… At least a tiny slice – because Hodder is very adept as covering a lot of story in a relatively short space. This – in the best tradition of the genre – is certainly action-packed and Hodder manages many nods to the original derring-do adventure stories that some of us were brought up on, without jarring modern sensibilities. It’s a very neat trick and lot harder to pull off than Hodder makes it look.
As well as ensuring that his writing style has the right period feel, which means that he can’t use all those nifty modern words with their snappy punch – he also manages to give us a real insight into Fleischer’s disturbed mental landscape. Fleischer is well and truly messed up… a failing vicar, whose parishioners appeal to be deserting him in droves, he opens the door to a vagabond woman and takes her in – which proves to be a life-changing moment. The historical backstory that he provides at the start of the book provides extra poignancy by the end, when we really care about Aiden Fleischer. While ensuring that the main character is suitably complex and interestingly flawed, Hodder also whisks us along a truly out of this world story at a breathless pace, throwing in all sorts of interesting twists so that the reader is constantly having to revise her initial impression of what is going on, as the protagonist learns more about the situation(s) that he is trying to grapple with.
Clarissa Stark is Aiden’s fascinating sidekick. There is a certain tongue in cheek treatment of this female paragon, which I found amusing and works well, given Aiden’s evident inexperience with the opposite sex. As for the world in which they find themselves stranded – an awful lot happens. And it is to Hodder’s credit that I managed to keep track of it all – with the possible exception of some of those fiendishly complicated alien names…
The faux London is a delight – there were all sorts of little details that the aliens included which poked fun at the Victorian era, while fully exploiting this period of gung hoe exploration, where intrepid Brits swarmed over the planet, heedless of some shocking conditions… Hodder’s protagonists show the same dauntless spirit here, and there were a couple of times when I read the list of injuries they had endured and yet still managed to march ever forward. Did it matter that in reality, they probably would have pegged out during the first night? Not in the slightest.
All in all, this is a delightful read. I’m not the most ardent fan of steampunk and yet found it an enjoyable, engrossing adventure. I’ll certainly be looking out for the sequel.