Saturday, 9 March 2013

Burton & Swinburne in Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon

Mark Hodder

It is 1863, but not the one it should be. Time has veered wildly off course, and now the first moves are being made that will lead to a devastating world war and the fall of the British Empire.
The prime minister, Lord Palmerston, believes that by using the three Eyes of Naga—black diamonds possessing unique properties—he’ll be able to manipulate events and avoid the war. He already has two of the stones, but the third is hidden somewhere in the Mountains of the Moon, the fabled source of the Nile.
Palmerston sends Sir Richard Francis Burton to recover it. For the king’s agent, it’s a chance to redeem himself after his previous failed attempt to find the source of the great river. That occasion had led to betrayal by his partner, John Hanning Speke. Now Speke is leading a rival expedition on behalf of the Germans, and it seems that the battle between the former friends may ignite the very war that Palmerston is trying to avoid!
Caught in a tangled web of cause, effect, and inevitability, little does Burton realize that the stakes are far higher than even he suspects.
A final confrontation comes in the mist-shrouded Mountains of the Moon, in war- torn Africa of 1914, and in Green Park, London, where, in the year 1840, Burton must face the man responsible for altering time: Spring Heeled Jack!

Burton and Swinburne’s third adventure is filled with eccentric steam-driven technology, grotesque characters, and bizarre events, completing the three-volume story arc begun in The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack and The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man.

The third - and perhaps final - chronicle in the adventures of the explorer Richard Burton and poet Algernon Swinburne.  This follows on from almost immediately from the second volume where the defeat of the Russian interlopers and the acquisition of the second of the Naga diamonds has prompted / necessitated a return to Africa and the area of the source of the Nile in order to find the third diamond.

In this the two, along with their phalanx of friends are opposed by Burton's rival John Speke and the Prussians who are both supporting him and eugenicists.

The story unfolds in three different time frames; the present time of the expedition, in 1914 some 20/30 years after Burton's death in an Africa devastated by a terrible war that the British have lost to the rampaging plant and animals of the Prussians and in a 3rd time that I'm going to avoid discussing.

For me the book didn't sing as loudly or as clearly as the previous two.  It was, like the expedition, a bit of a slog in parts.  It never let up the pace and was quite fantastic for pretty much it's entirety but I adored the others and so this one even though it fell short of that level of love was still head and shoulders above most of the stuff I read to get me through the day.

I'm not sorry if this is the end of the series - even if the end was a little odd.  It's been a trip and I very much look forward to where Hodder goes next.

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