My Rating: 3/5
Welcome to London, a city in transition.
The year is 1864 and much has happened in the last few years. The latest scientific advancements have led electric cars, gas lamps that light the sky and the popularity of clockwork pleasure houses.
Oh, and there is a strange illness known as the Constantine Affliction that makes the afflicted swap genders.
Things are going as per usual for casual detective and itinerant drunkard, Pembroke “Pimm” Halliday when a series of murders are brought to his attention by a crime lord. At the same time, the journalist Eleanor Skyler, or E. Skye, is on a hot scent for a story that may uncover a conspiracy that reaches to the top branches of government. When their paths cross, they both get more than they bargained for.
This book was a lot of fun. I wasn’t quite sure what I was expecting when I initially picked it up from the library. I’ve had difficulty getting into Steampunk books before. A book from my past must have sat with me wrong and convinced me that similar novels would be too caught up with their world-building to tell their story. I’m not quite sure which book encouraged this notion.
The Constantine Affliction, however, has many things going for it. T. Aaron Payton (aka Tim Pratt) clearly did a tremendous amount of research when he built this world. It had all the fun of your standard Victorian detective story while mixing in some of the era’s more Gothic influences. There were passages which I felt could have been ripped from the pages of a Penny Dreadful. Along with that, the author pays clear homage to these influences. The book was filled to the brim with literary allusions that made my Victorian fangirl heart sing.
I also like that Payton took the time to critique some of the Victorian mores that would be a bit more unsavory by today’s standards. The Constantine Affliction and the fallout from the disease offered an excellent critique of gender roles and the notion of “separate spheres.” Society, despite the fluidity of gender, tries to cling desperately to a stringent status quo. There are laws in this world that you’ll always be recognized as the gender you’re born as and some go through incredible lengths to keep up the facade. Payton makes a point in trying to point out that mind never truly changes even if the body takes on a new appearance and the author discusses how far a person physical characteristics comment on the soul.
The characters were also quite captivating. They were witty and engaging. It was a lot of fun reading the interactions between Pimm, Ellie and Winifred. As the plot thickens and lives are put at stake, the book remains relatively lighthearted through their banter. I would kind of recommend the book on that alone.
Now, my critiques more lie in the twists and turns in the mystery of the book. It got off to a good start but took an unexpected twist into the extraterrestrial. I won’t spoil it beyond that. The last 50 pages introduced another plot point quite hastily and seeing how it played out was a bit bewildering. The ending kind of dampened my initial enthusiasm but I was okay with it for the most part. It’s why this book became more of a 3 for me than a 4. Almost everything else was perfect.
Overall, however, the book was really enjoyable. Others might look upon the plot twist as clever since it’s really hard to see it coming. I guess I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to the trajectory of my detective stories.
This book actually piqued my interest in other steampunk titles. Does anyone have any suggestions?