Saturday, April 26, 2014

Book Thoughts: "The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi" by Mark Hodder

This here is the fourth book of the Burton and Swinburne series, the third of which I previously reviewed here. No picture of this one, since I borrowed it from the library, but rest assured this copy had the ugly North American cover style I ranted about in my last review. Unfortunately, outward appearances were the least of this book's problems.

Without giving away too much about the whole series, The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi takes place in an alternate Victorian era in which Queen Victoria herself has been assassinated. This assassination involved time travel, which caused a massive deviation from "real" time that not only dramatically altered everyone's lives, but the very nature of time itself. From the time of Victoria's death, a mysterious person by the name of Abdu El Yezdi has been controlling history by communicating via mediums with England's major political figures, but has suddenly stopped. Several influential doctors and scientists are being kidnapped as well, and it's up to our titular Burton and Swinburne to figure out what's going on.

I was stunned by how disappointing this book was. The first three Burton and Swinburne books were so good -- like really, really good -- and I was pretty excited to see where things were headed next, but this was a total letdown. It had many of the same ingredients from the previous books, such as meticulous attention to detail and a clever mix of historical and fantastical elements, but instead of the usual fast-paced and compelling story, we got a drawn out homage to Dracula.

Seriously, a huge portion of this book is a retelling of Dracula, and it pissed me right off. It's not even a particularly inventive retelling, which is next to unforgivable when you're dealing with a story that's been done and redone as often as Dracula. The 100+ pages spent on this endeavor felt like a total waste of time. This portion of the book also felt oddly disconnected from the rest of the story, as if we started out zipping down the interstate, then had to take a really long detour through nothing but cornfields for a few hours before getting back to the main road.

The final straw for me was the treatment of the female characters. There are precious few women in the Burton and Swinburne world, but they have always been strong, intelligent characters who stood on their own, and never served as mere male motivation. However, due to the Dracula framework, one of the strongest women in the series is reduced to the role of Lucy Westenra. No one should be reduced to Westenra status, left to whimper and swoon while all the big strong men figure out what's going on and fight to save her. It was a massive demotion for the character and I felt a bit betrayed by it.

However, there were some good points. After all the tragedy in Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon, it was fun to see all the main characters getting back together. Also, the ending provided just enough of a teaser to keep me optimistic about the series as a whole. Book five is forthcoming, and the first three were strong enough for me to forgive The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi, provided this is a one-time thing.

Title: The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi
Published: 2013, Pyr
Pages: 381, 395 with notes and background info on the real life characters
Would Recommend: Not as an entry into the Burton and Swinburne world, since it's definitely the weakest in the series. Read The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack and go from there.

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