Friday, May 26, 2017

The Constantine Affliction: Review

The Constantine Affliction (2012) by T. Aaron Payton (Tim Pratt) is a steampunk mystery meets fantasy meets science fiction meets a few literary allusions along the way. You'll find nods to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mary Shelley, and Virginia Woolf among the clockwork automatons, alchemical science, and bizarre 1950s-B-movie monsters lurking in the Thames River. I particularly enjoyed discovering the real identity of Adams, the man who does autopsies (and other work) when a murder needs investigating. But I get ahead of myself...

The date is 1864 in Queen Victoria's England. Of course, this is a steampunk version of Victorian times, so it's not quite the Victorian England one is familiar with. There are calculating engines, airships, and flying machine that will soon replace the dirigible airships. There are magnetic field manipulators and clockwork ladies of the evening...and those unspeakable monsters which no one has seen but everyone talks about. There is also the titular Constantine Affliction. A strange disease which, when it doesn't kill the afflicted, mysteriously changes the person's gender after a period of high fever and delirium. The disease has been spread through prostitutes (thus the clockwork variety, immune from disease and easily cleansed) and has reached the highest levels of power--claiming the Queen's consort, Prince Albert as one of the highest profile victims.

From this world, we meet Ellie Skyler, an intrepid female reporter who hides her identity behind the byline E. Skye. To her editor's dismay, she refuses assignments to cover the latest in Paris fashion and writes of the monsters in the river, interviews those who have been Afflicted, and plots to enter a clockwork brothel in (gasp!) male attire. Little does she know that her venture into masculine recreation will lead her to a plot to overthrow the Queen. We also meet Lord Pembroke "Pimm" Halliday, younger son of the aristocracy, who to his family's dismay dabbles in detection. He has been blackmailed into investigating the murders of prostitutes--some of the few remaining of the human variety--working for one of the most notorious men in London. Abel Value threatens to ruin the reputation of Pembroke's wife Winifred (who just happened to have been Pimm's best friend Freddy before the Affliction struck him) if he doesn't investigate.  Like a certain Professor Moriarty from another Victorian England, Abel Value is thought to be behind most of the crime in London--but there is never any evidence to connect him to it. 

Working from different angles, Ellie and Pimm find themselves on the same track and join forces to stop the man who lurks in the shadows behind Value--before monsters even worse than those rumored to be in the Thames are let loose on an unsuspecting England. 

This is a rollicking good novel that could definitely be a fine steampunk mystery series if Payton/Pratt decides to continue with the characters. Pimm and Ellie work well together and make an excellent team as well as an interesting couple. Winifred/Freddy is charming as well--stealing every scene she's in and adding color to the detective efforts. She could have her own book--life after the change and where it takes her after she and Pimm & Ellie sort out their relationship/s. The mystery plot isn't the strongest point--not much of a mystery really and those who want clues to discover on their own may be a bit disappointed, but it's well worth it for the overall story and adventure. Most interestingly, the book addresses issues of gender in a fresh and fascinating way. Should those changed by the Affliction be tied to their birth gender? In a world where inheritance so often was tied to oldest sons--what happens when an eldest daughter changes and becomes the eldest male child? If for no other reason, I would like to see Payton/Pratt write a sequel that examines the results of Victorian adjustment to the new order of things in terms of gender and gender equality. ★★★★

[Finished on 5/23/17]

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