Fiction review: Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon

AUTHOR: MARK HODDER

Publisher: Pyr/Prometheus Books
Reviewed by mi: :ha

Cover of Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon, featuring a man in a spider-like robot fighting a monster.Coming as the third volume of a trilogy that includes The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack and The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man, Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon sets an alternate 1863 England as home to a central character that refused to marry and thus settle for less. Instead, he became the King’s Agent in charge with the defense of his country and king.  Focused on Sir Richard Francis Burton’s final quest for the third Eye of Naga, the missing element in a puzzle that revolves around manipulating events in order to avoid a worldwide war, Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon is a steampunk safari with almost feverish characters, all determined to untangle the biggest of evil mysteries no matter what. Competing with an expedition led by the devious John Hanning Speke, who tries to get his hands on the same Eye of Naga, Burton begins his journey and initializes his second attempt at locating the original source and dark secrets of the Nile together with many of his companions and best friends from the previous volumes of the trilogy. Trying to maintain his own mental sanity while continuously sliding between his own memories and two different time sequences, Sir Burton manages to stay alive against all odds, attempts at sabotage, and not so good inner motivations. His walking expedition through Africa feeds on small victories only to be later defeated by impressive and visceral forces aligned to prevent them from getting what they want.

Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon is almost everything you could expect from a steampunk narrative, a brilliant and insanely creative cocktail of time traveling, cultural clashes and historical characters caught in unfamiliar roles and decades. For instance, just try to imagine Oscar Wilde as a cunning yet innocent cabin boy; or Friedrich Nietzsche as a psychic-powered leader of Germany who has tremendous powers backed by an impressive variety of biological weapons including huge arachnid carcasses powered by steam engines and designed to be used as killing machines. Somehow, Hodder succeeds to make all these characters work together in a fine exercise of narrative control; he manages to keep everything from falling apart while keeping you wholly entrenched and cross-fingered for Sir Richard Francis Burton and his irresponsible-in-thought, masochistic-in-action partner Algernon Charles Swinburne. But he manages to do all this without being the annoying intruder who seems to know everything and can’t prevent himself from being ironic. Definitely a book that leaves you wanting for more, with an open ending that leaves space for a future sequel. So let’s hope Hodder isn’t too determined to put an end to this amazing trilogy. But till then, planning a re-reading of the first two volumes may strike you as a really good idea.

 

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