James P. Blaylock is one of the founding fathers of steampunk and The Aylesford Skull is his first full-length steampunk novel in twenty years. Lots of reasons to be excited and do note the competition mentioned at the end of this review.
I hadn’t read any of Blaylock or his Professor Langdon St. Ives character before. I was initially worried that that would put me at a disadvantage as I started reading The Aylesford Skull. I do feel that having a better understanding of the characters would have added an extra layer of enjoyment to the book I quickly found that I didn’t need to have read any of the previous adventures to enjoy this one. Blaylock quickly builds up his characters and gracefully recaps any pertinent events.
Doctor Ignacio Narbondo is an evil blight.
It’s Narbondo who returns in this adventure, stealing The Aylesford Skull – an occult object he has a unique connection to – and engaging in an audacious kidnapping that threatens to destroy the life of St Ives.
The book follows the back and forth of the kidnapping. This is no ordinary event. The poor hostage gets passed around like a rugby ball. It keeps the pages turning.
This is a steampunk novel and yet it doesn’t ram the genre down your throat. Don’t expect references to weird and wonderful technology all the time, and sometimes it is too easy to forget this isn’t a standard Victorian setting. Then there’s mechanical launches, airships and other devices that come to the fore and really stamp Baylock’s authority on the setting.
The other twist of note in The Alyesford Skull is the skull itself. It’s a device that seems to be able to connect to the spirit world. As a first time reader of a St. Ives adventure I enjoyed trying to guess whether we were really dealing with ghosts and spirits or whether this was some sort of The Illusionist style steampunk trickery.
Lastly, I think it’s worth noting the strong female characters in the novel. Although St. Ives may be the headline character, this is a book about many people and our hero would certainly been at a significant disadvantage without his friends and family.
Perhaps that’s what The Alyesford Skull is about. It’s about legacy. This tale is about building a better tomorrow by supporting those people around you in the here and now.
Blog tour and competition
This review is taking part in the Aylesford Skull Swashbuckling Blog Tour celebrating the release of James P. Blaylock’s first full-length steampunk novel in twenty years.
For the opportunity to win a limited edition of The Aylesford Skull in a jacketed, signed hardcover with a unique jacket design, just tweet “I would like a limited edition of the Aylesford Skull @TitanBooks #Blaylock”.
Details about The Limited Edition (available Feb 2013)
750 signed and numbered editions:
Jacketed, cloth-bound hardcover with ribbon
Signed by James P. Blaylock
Exclusive foreword by K.W. Jeter and introduction by Tim Powers
26 signed and lettered editions:
As above encased in a custom-made traycase
Be the first to find out when The Aylesford Skull (Limited Edition) is available, by signing up to our mailing list here: titanbooks.com/signup.
My copy of the book was provided for the tour and review. The Aylesford Skull, Titan Books, £7.99.