Book Review: "The Aylesford Skull" by James P. Blaylock
- by Ninja Ross, 17 April 2013
James P. Blaylock is one of the founders of steampunk. He’s the reason there’s a steampunk costume of every comic book character in existence (seemingly). But is his new novel good enough to justify the praise?
Well... Yes, to be blunt. That’s the short review, for ya. It’s a good book and Blaylock is actually a pretty good writer and proves that the Steampunk genre should be getting more attention from mainstream audiences.
This book takes place in Aylesford, England, in the summer of 1883. While St Ives’ nemesis, Dr Ignacio, Narbondo, is suspected of digging up a grave and taking the skull. So, that kind of explains the title, right?
Dr Ignacio also abducts St Ives’ son, if skull stealing wasn’t dramatic enough for ya! All this in order to realise some crazy plot that only someone with a name like Dr Ignacio Narbondo could come up with.
Elsewhere, Above the Egypt Bay, we have pirates and murder! Arrrrrg! Ye scurvy dog! Batten down the steam vents, hoist the airship thing! Arrrrrg! Could this plot be any more dramatic?!? I ask you!
This is a story full of twists, humour and action. There’s something for everybody, even if you only like the sepia text, which is nice. Dick’s mentoring is evident in Blaylock’s use of interesting characters and his engaging writing style, so if you ARE reading it for the text colour, maybe you’ll fall in love with that, too.
While the plot is pretty dramatic and has pretty much everything I look for (pirates, steam, skulls) in a book, it’s not the thing that really makes it stand out. Sure the supernatural elements mixed in with science and old time machines is nice. But St Ives himself is the one who makes this truly worth reading.
Langdon is a pretty great protagonist. He’s laid back, eccentric and a pretty friendly guy. In a world filled with Batman wannabes, gritty heroes who drink too much and heroes who are dangerously close to being the bad guy of their own story, it’s kind of nice and refreshing to read about a nice guy.
The best thing about his personality, of course, is that he’s not boring. As I said, he’s eccentric. This guy shrugs off death threats like it’s no big thing. When he accidently kills a bad guy, he offers to look after his family. This guy has class and he’s a bit nutty.
But it’s this over confidence that REALLY makes the abduction mean something to the reader. We’re introduced to someone loveable and cocky and we fall in love with that. At least, I did. But this makes his vulnerabilities stand out even more. When he’s forced into action for the love of his son, it has more of an effect. It’s more emotional.
It also helps that he’s enemy, Dr Ignacio, is a nut job. His slightly over the top villainous scheming and mad scientist personality contrasts with St Ives pretty well, making the scenes between them a joy to read.
It’s easy to question if the world REALLY needs another gentleman protagonist like Sherlock Holmes or John Steed form The Avengers, but with all the gritty reboots, maybe he’s not as common as he seems. Maybe this could be a welcome return to loveable rogues.
You can buy "The Aylesford Skull" on the Titan Books website. Are you a steampunk fan, happy to have Blaylock back in the writing saddle? Have you read "The Aylesford Skull"? Let us know below!