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Book Review

Book Cover

The Aylesford Skull


Author: James P. Blaylock
Titan Books
RRP: £7.99, US $14.95, Cdn $17.95
ISBN: 978 0 85768 979 5
Available 25 January 2013

For Professor Langdon St Ives, Victorian Britain is a wonderful, but distinctly unsafe place. Between the wonders of airships and advancing technology, anarchists are abroad, intent on causing civil strife. Having moved his family to Aylesford, for safety, Langdon has inadvertently moved them closer to his nemesis Dr. Ignacio Narbonda, who means to open a door between the world of the living and the dead. Langdon’s fight to prevent this catastrophe pit rationality against arcane arts...

The Aylesford Skull (425 pages) is a new steampunk novel from one of the founding fathers of the genre, American author, James P. Blaylock. This latest book is another Victorian adventure which pits St Ives against his nemesis, Narbonda, a relationship not unlike that between Holmes and Professor Moriarty, although the books have more to do with good fighting evil than criminal deduction.

The story opens with pirates attacking a small boat carrying barrels of bones, before it switches to St Ives, who survives a bomb attack at his club. These seemingly unrelated acts take on a more sinister aspect when St Ives returns home to discover that not only has a grave been robbed and a young girl murdered, but a stranger has attempted to poison his family. A meeting with Mother Laswell throws light on Narbonda’s past, just before he kidnaps one of St Ives children. With Narbonda heading for London, St Ives engages in hot pursuit.

Baylock has constructed his world with a form of magic realism, where science and the supernatural exist against a convincing nineteenth century backdrop. The book is highly detailed, not only in the environmental descriptions but also with the use of nineteenth century language and rhythms of speech. It all builds a rich experience.

Characters are well drawn and engaging, this also holds for the lessor players as well. The labyrinthine plot remains engaging without losing pace, blending both drama and humour.

Blaylock remains an accomplished writer able to produce a book which should appeal to not only Steampunk fans, but also lovers of Victorian adventure novels. The technological aspects of the book are not over emphasised, fitting in naturally with the story.

It’s been many years since Blaylock produced his last St Ives book; hopefully his audience will not have to wait as long for the next.


Charles Packer

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