At the end of Mountains of the Moon, our heroes, and in fact time itself, are left in rather dire straights. If you remember, I actually read the books out of order, so for me when I got to the end of book 3, a lot of what I had already read in book 4 made a lot more sense. If you are reading them in the proper order, you would have been left with a sense of indelible loss as well as a dash of “What the heck can Hodder do to get out of this?!” The answer is: break all the rules.
The Secret of Abdu el-Yezdi begins prior to the events of the Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, but in a different alternate version of the Victorian era. Sir Richard Francis Burton and Algernon Swinburne have never met, but Queen Victoria was assassinated. Burton has never been a servant of the crown, and is mostly interested in the books he is writing and marrying Isabel (whom we saw him break ties with at the end of Book 1 in the original timeline). I will spare you the details, but the similarities and differences between original story timeline, the actual historical events, and this new version of reality are myriad and interesting.
Ever since the assassination in 1840, there has been a marked rise in the activity by and interpretation of spirits. Mediums are in high demand and have the ear of the most powerful men in the empire. The most influential of the spirit guides is called Abdu el Yezdi, who has been responsible for steering Britain away from the seemingly inevitable war with Germany. Just as the two nations are about to sign a treaty that will ensure WWI never takes place, el Yezdi goes silent. Burton is charged with seeking him out, and is told that el Yezdi already spoke of how Swinburne will help him. But how do you even start to search for a ghost?
There is a dark force at work and its influence is spreading. The beast is calling for blood, and it seems to have a special taste for those whom Burton holds dear. Somehow the deaths of prominent mediums, the arrival of a ghost ship, and the growing number of people who have lost their own sense of self are somehow tied into the disappearance of el Yezdi, and it is up to Burton and Swinburne to figure out how.
The humor and satire from the earlier books is mostly gone, but I still really enjoyed reading this story. Hodder proves once again that he has a powerful imagination for answering ‘what if…?’ which continues to develop in the following book, The Return of the Discontinued Man, which I am currently reading. One of the biggest reasons I liked this one was because of the wide range of dialects. The Mister and I have been reading this series out loud, and I loved getting to do accents like French, German, Russian/Eastern European, and cockney. This aspect of Hodder’s work reminds me of Mark Twain and how important regional dialects were to his works like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
I read another review that was quite scathing, mostly because of what the reviewer considered “name-dropping,” but the comments made me wonder if this person had read the other books. Yes, there were several prominent Victorians mentioned, but it was always as a means to show how this timeline differed from the old one so I didn’t have any problem with it. And Hodder does such a great job of showing, not telling, using this method that it didn’t really phase me. This might also be because I read Spring Heeled Jack and then Abdu el Yezdi, so the differences were readily apparent and were fun intellectually. So, the humor may have been largely absent, but the wit was still there in the form of these games of ‘what if…?’