Even though my copy of this book was brand new, it completely deteriorated during my reading. I don’t know if it was the extreme temperatures while passing through Wyoming during my transcontinental drive, or just bad book binding, but it seemed extremely apt given what was happening in this installment of the Burton & Swinburne series by Mark Hodder. (Read about Book 1 and Book 2)
After years of waiting, Sir Richard Francis Burton’s fondest wish has been granted. Though the circumstances of his return to Africa are not quite what he expected, he finds himself on an expedition to rescue not only the future of the British Empire, but the entire fabric of time. He must race the Prussians to the fabled Mountains of Moon to recover the remaining Eye of Naga diamonds, or face the terrible future he glimpsed through the eyes of medium.
Many of the characters the readers have come to know tag along, including the Clockwork Man (now imbued with the intelligence of a philosopher and friend, Herbert Spencer) and of course, Algernon Charles Swinburne. Unexpectedly, Burton also encounters another familiar face in the form of his former fiance, Isabel. There had been rumors of an all-female band of guerilla warriors on the dark continent, but he never could have guessed that it was being led by the love of his life, a highborn lady of the English aristocracy. But, as Burton knows all to well, Africa changes people.
The trek is long, arduous and fraught with peril. And not unlike my copy of the book, the characters begin to fall apart. They lose all track of the passage of time, in part because their instruments fail to work the closer they get to the powerful energy of the diamonds. But it isn’t just their machinery, their minds seem to be unraveling in the wake of their quest.
The seemingly endless journey through field, forest and desert is mirrored by another far in the future. Burton has somehow been transported from the year 1863 to 1914 and is living through the very war he is trying to prevent. His only friend is a war correspondent named Bertie Wells, and together they dodge the strange, genetically manipulated forms of plant life that the Prussians have militarized. It is a war of geneticists vs. technologists, and Burton has somehow wound up in the middle, both in his present and in the future.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Though their trek is long, they meet many interesting people and cultures along the way. The people giving Burton his orders are obviously colonialists with little respect for the native people, Burton is not. Because the reader gets to view them more or less through his eyes, it does not end up feeling imperialist or respectful at all. There are different dialects and clear voices granted to even the briefest encounters, which I love both as a reader and an Anthropology major.
The plant creatures and weaponry fabricated by the Prussians are totally terrifying, and the machines employed by the British are equally interesting and unique. I felt that Hodder had a fresh take on what is an oft-explored trope in Steampunk the prevention of World War I. As I said in last week’s review, I didn’t like The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man as well as I would have liked, but it is totally worth it to get to Mountains of the Moon.