The Return of the Discontinued Man (A Burton & Swinburne Adventure)
by Mark Hodder
Cover Artist: Jon Sullivan
Review by Mel Jacob
Pyr Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781616149055
Date: 08 July 2014 List Price $18.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
The Return of the Discontinued Man is the fifth book of Marks Hodder's Burton and Swinburne series of steampunk novels. A series of attacks by a deranged Spring-heeled Jack, a time traveler from 2202, forces explorer Richard Burton to fight and find a way to stop the destructive visits. All London, Burton's world, and, indeed, all the alternate worlds caused by Spring-heeled Jack are at risk.
At first, Hodder has Burton hopping around so much, many readers, especially those who have not read the earlier books, will have trouble following the story with all the alternate histories. These differences were first created by Edward Oxford of the year 2202 in his attempt to prevent the assassination of Queen Victoria by an ancestor in 1840.
Many arguments ensure between Burton and his colleagues about the means and methods to stop Spring-heeled Jack from causing ever more damage and to avoid disaster to their particular strand of time. Odd allies aid Burton, some of which are never fully explained.
At times, logic yields to imagination and action. While considered steampunk, the series veers down many paths shifting from pure fantasy to science fiction, social commentary, and back. In the end, fantasy wins, but most readers won't care.
Politics and political alliances play major roles in the series. Burton, firmly ensconced in the privileged class, finds his attitudes changing over time. His friends rely on him for answers and to preserve their world as they know it with class structures firmly in place.
There some statements that readers may question. One such is when Burton expresses horror at the fate of Alan Turing because of his homosexually when Victorian society was equally intolerant as witness the fate of Oscar Wilde. Burton's own life and relationships could similar questions about him.
As a reviewer, I found this novel a mishmash of ideas and events some of which stemmed from Hodder's changing of history and from the works of some of the real personages he used and modified. Wells influence is clear, while others are less marked. Book 6 is on the way. Readers will be anxious to learn how Hodder resolves the problems created via the time travel journey of Edward Oxford and the ultimate fate of Algernon Swinburne, Sir Richard Francis Burton, and their world. Although, some may also decide it isn't worth the effort.