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Literature / Burton & Swinburne Series

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Sir Richard Francis Burton, the king's agent, and his somewhat erratic assistant, the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne, inhabit a world that isn't as it should be. Technology is out of control, distorting the British Empire's cultural landscape almost beyond recognition, and other, rather more surprising forces are attempting to manipulate history. Together, Burton and Swinburne must battle to save the present... from the future!


The Burton & Swinburne series is a series of speculative fiction books written by Mark Hodder, a British author who lives in Valencia, Spain. Although framed as an alternate Victorian England, several of the books explore key historical events or phenomenon in British history, with the first case revolving around Springheeled Jack. Similarly, many noted historical figures make an appearance (including Burton and Swinburne themselves) and the series takes place in actual locations such as the Cannibal Club or London's East End.

The books in the series are:

  • The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack (2010)
  • The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man (2011)
  • Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon (2012)
  • The Secret of Abdu El-Yezdi (Aug 8, 2013)
  • The Return of the Discontinued Man (July, 2014)
  • The Rise of the Automated Aristocrats (August 13th 2015)

With the six installment capping off the series.

This series provides examples of:

  • Arch-Enemy: Edward Oxford a.k.a Springheeled Jack and Burton are this to each other. Every book has its troubles rooted in the actions by Oxford, sometimes directly and other times as a side-effect of what he's done, and Burton is obligated to deal with this as England's top agent. Oxford hates Burton because he was killed by him.
  • Automatic Crossbow: Burton takes down a thug carrying a steam-powered crossbow and uses this weapon to disable the time-suit of Springheeled Jack. This gives Burton the chance to kill him.
  • Battle Trophy: Burton got his favourite Sword Cane, a finely-balanced mastercrafted weapon with a silver panther-headed pommel, by defeating a foe in battle.
  • Blessed with Suck: Trying to perfectly recreate 23rd century genetic engineering with 19th century-level technology is going to be impossible. As such, the genetically engineered animals all have flaws in addition to their new abilities. The giant draft horses are strong enough to pull a house but they generate a ton of crap, the messenger dogs are incredibly fast and are intelligent enough to memorize many different street addresses but they require a small fortune in quality meat to stay alive and etc.
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  • Brain Uploading: Features in the second book with the titular Clockwork Man. The sixth and final installment sees Disraeli proposing to do this for the entire ruling class, securing their primacy and privilege for eternity.
  • Body Horror: From the first book there's the Eugenicists whose MO comprises of turning people into animal hybrids, and in the second book there's the man claiming to be Sir Roger, who is massively bloated with a lumpy, egg-shaped head on the cover. It's revealed that some of the black diamonds of the book are inside him. It's also revealed that he's wearing the face that the villains surgically removed from the real Sir Roger.
  • Close-Enough Timeline: There's simply too many alterations to the timeline to revert everything to the original. So Abdu El-Yezdi and the rest of those helping Burton and Swinburne opt to manipulate the timeline that's close enough.
  • Face–Heel Turn: With the change of timeline that prevents the science of the Eugenicists from happening, several characters end up becoming terrorist thugs instead of the police science division that they previously were.
  • For Want of a Nail: In the first book, many of the social changes in the alternate history are sourced back to Springheeled Jack coming into the past and accidentally causing the assassination of Queen Victoria to be successful.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Most of the technology derived from steampunk engineering was made by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, based on the 2nd hand accounts he heard of the technology of the 23rd century.
  • Genetic Engineering Is the New Nuke: Literally. Eugenicists genetically engineered their own version of a Fantastic Nuke. They create a Destroying Angel toadstool bomb so huge and toxic that it wipes out a city and the last vestiges of civilization. This forces Burton and Swinburne on a quest to create a new timeline that prevents this.
  • Hate Plague: The second book has Burton and Swinburne dealing with a lower class that gets increasingly agitated due to the antagonists' powers; the climax has them rioting and killing in the streets. The
  • Historical Domain Character: Many of the characters in the series are historical figures, from Florence Nightingale to Charles Darwin. This also goes for the two protagonists, Burton and Swinburne. The story spends a lot of time exploring how all of their lives have deviated due to the alternate history.
  • In a Single Bound: Springheeled Jack from the first book has all of his jumping powers from legend; the book explains it as him having spring-loaded stilts to walk on.
  • Neck Snap: Burton does this to Springheeled Jack.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: A good description of Spring-Heeled Jack, as he went back in time to stop an attempted assassination of Queen Victoria that few people would know about and ended up causing the attempt to succeed, which led to all of history being altered.
  • Schizo Tech: Victorian England has advanced Steampunk mechanical technology and crude genetic engineering alongside the standard technology of the day, even the characters comment on how quickly all this new technology is appearing. It's all due to a 23rd Century time traveller Edward Oxford telling Henry Beresford, the 3rd Marquess of Waterford, stories about the future and Henry then relating those stories to major figures in the science community as inspiration.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: This was the motivation of Springheeled Jack (aka Edward Oxford's descendant), who went back in time to try and stop his ancestor from attempting an assassination on Queen Victoria and tainting their family name forever. When that backfires spectacularly, he tries to stop Edward Oxford's child from even being born, but he doesn't get the times right and only traumatizes a lot of young women in the process.
  • Sins of Our Fathers: The book posits that the descendants of Edward Oxford, the man who attempted to assassinate Queen Victoria, put up with the stigma of their ancestor all the way into the future where time travel is possible. This is why Springheeled Jack tries to go back and prevent Edward Oxford from even making the attempt.
  • Spring-Heeled Jack: In The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack, Sir Richard and Algernon are called to investigate Spring-heeled Jack's attacks on numerous women. It turns out that Spring-Heeled Jack is a time traveller, and the reason for this alternative timeline. The descendant of the man who tried to murder Queen Victoria, he went back to stop him but only caused the assassination to be a success. To try to undo the damage, he attempts to ensure his relative is never born but can't find the right woman. His incredible leaping abilities are explained as the result of spring-loaded stilts he uses to walk on.
  • Stalker with a Test Tube: Springheeled Jack accidentally killed his male ancestor when he tried to stop the assassination of Queen Victoria, he's in danger of obliteration. After some Toxic Friend Influence from hedonist Henry de la Poer Beresford - the 3rd Marquess of Waterford, he gets a plan to find his young female ancestor and rape her so she'll be pregnant, ensuring that his lineage continues.
  • Too Kinky to Torture: Algernon Swinburne has a brain that interprets pain as pleasure, and he almost worships the Marquis de Sade; when he goes undercover as a sweep, his supervisor whips him for doing a poor job and he's absolutely enthused afterwards. This is played with in that when Beresford starts actually torturing him (via attacking him like an animal) he eventually stops finding it pleasant.
  • You Are Not Ready: In the final book, with the black diamonds destroyed and Isambard Kingdom Brunel dead, there's no more reproduction of the Steampunk technology. Burton and his allies are then enable to manipulate British society to slow down the rate of technological advancement until historical events develop in a similar way to the original timeline.