THE SECRET OF ABDU EL YEZDI
by Mark Hodder
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Mark Hodder continues his alternative steampunk history of Richard Burton with The Secret of Abdu el Yezdi. Although the general set up of this novel is similar to the earlier works in the series, History is not always quite place in the exact same alternative universe as the other novels in the series, allowing Hodder to continually examine his characters and their relationships to each other and the world around them, occasionally with bleed over from the other worlds.
The Secret of Abdu el Yezdi has a fever-addled Burton returning from discovering the source of the Nile aboard an airship when his companion, Bill Stroyan, was murdered by Laurence Oliphant. Although Oliphant's guilt was never in doubt, the murder did raise the spectre of a supernatural force behind not only the murder, but potentially everything that has happened since the assassination of Queen Victoria several years earlier, the point of divergence that plays a role throughout the various timelines that comprise the novels in this series.
Although Burton would like nothing more than to marry his fiancée and take up a position as a British governor, the powers-that-be in London feel that he can best be used to look into the disappearance of several important personages, such as Isambard Brunel and Florence Nightingale. In return for his aid, Burton is led to believe the appointment he seeks will be his. Along the way, he meets for the first time, in this version of the timeline, the poet Algernon Swinburne.
Hodder has three volumes worth of experience writing about these characters and their situations, which comes through. His characters are fresh, but at the same time are written with a sure hand of an author who is intimately familiar with the characters about whom he is writing which gives The Secret of Abdu el Yezdi a strange quality of being both familiar and unique to the reader.
While Hodder may have restarted the series with The Secret of Abdu el Yezdi, the reader is best advised to begin reading with the first book in the series, The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack for although Burton's and Swinburne's story begins anew in The Secret of Abdu el Yezdi, it is also a complex continuation of that earlier tale and Hodder's protagonists much discover the truth about not just their own version of reality, but the other as well.
The Secret of Abdu el Yezdi sets up a second trilogy and with Hodder playing around with multiple timelines and supernatural it is clear that Burton, Swinburne and their associates will find the world much more complex than they ever could have imagined with time travel and possibly travel between time lines worked into the mix. For fans of intelligence steampunk and multiple timeline stories, Hodder promises and delivers.