1.22.2012

Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon, by Mark Hodder

Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon
Expedition to the
Mountains of the Moon
The third Burton and Swinburne adventure almost brings the series around full circle to where it began--almost, but not quite. By the end, I was worried that this might be the last book in the series. But Hodder leaves room for the this extraordinary world and its extraordinary characters to rewrite history once more.

The Burton and Swinburne books are a wildly complicated steampunk/alternate history. I tried to explain the plot to someone yesterday only to realize that the job would require a ream of graphing paper to work out the time lines, plots, and motivations. Or they could just, you know, read the series.

The Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon picks up almost immediately where the second book ends (which picked up where the first book ended). They could almost be seen as one massive book that was published in three parts they work together so well. After the second book, it's clear that the British get their hands on the remaining Eye of Naga before their enemies do. Sir Richard Francis Burton is to lead the expedition into the Lake Region of Africa, racing his former colleague John Henning Speke, who is working for the Germans. Before he can even leave Old Blighty, however, he faces assassination attempts and sabotage.

The expedition is only one part of the book. Before long, Hodder introduces another thread to the book. This thread begins in 1914, not 1863. And the narrator of this thread is, inexplicably, Burton, too--inexplicable because Burton died in 1890. That's not the only historical paradox in this thread, either. The Great War had been going on for a long time. Europe is lost. The British Empire only consists of the central African city of Tabora and the surrounding territory. The British have few weapons and few men left to fight. The Germans have terrible biological weapons that have decimated them. History as we know it has seriously gone awry and Burton has landed smack in the middle of it with some crucial parts of his memory missing. His only companion in this reality is war correspondent named Herbert George Wells. It's clear that this later reality is a consequence of all the time travel paradoxes of the previous books. Time has snarled up into a nasty Apocalyptic tangle.

Hodder takes us back and forth between 1863 and 1914, ratcheting up the tension as he goes. There are so many close calls in this book that you have to keep reading just to see who lives and who dies as Hodder prunes back his cast of characters. I can't say much more without getting dangerously into spoiler territory, not just for this book but for all three. Instead, I have to say that these books are highly entertaining and thought-provoking reads. Each new book deepens the story by revealing new layers to what started out as one man trying to erase a smudge on his family's history and subsequently derailing history. I marvel at Hodder's ability to convincingly creating such a wildly complicated story.

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