Book Review: ‘The Aylseford Skull’
Author: James P. Blaylock
Plot: In steampunk England of 1883 the brilliant and eccentric scientist Professor Langdon St. Ives is heading to his country home for a break from solving mysteries. When his nemesis, the hunchbacked Dr. Ignacio Narbondo, gets up to no good in the area he abducts Langdon’s son to protect him while he opens up the gate to the spirit world.
Review: Sometimes you look at every other review giving positives notices to a new book and for all you want you just don’t get in to it. This is my situation with The Aylseford Skull. Part of the problem is perception. The title boasts Blaylock as a legend of the steampunk genre and while there’s no doubting that he pioneered the increasingly popular sub-genre the reader’s expectation may not match up with what they get. This is a story that has had some elements of steampunk sprinkled over it rather than fully immersed. The side-plot about getting an elephant to pull open the barn doors to house their new flying machine is fun, but it’s as steampunk as it gets.
This is, of course, an issue with the reader’s expectations rather than the writer. There are other reasons why the story is difficult to delve into. The misadventures of villain Narbondo has been established and explored in previous books and there’s little to get a grip on here. The characters do discuss the fictional background to the character but there’s a substantial amount time between his history and the present and new readers will find him lacking. Langdon and the rest of the cast don’t fare much better, at least they can be visualised.
Chapters skip from one character to another, documenting their encounters with various one-note characters who further the story. Quite often these feel anti-climatic as the characters try and outwit each other. There’s a clear whiff of Sherlock Holmes around the writers influence but without the wit and fun of Holmes and Watson. Everything feels needlessly dry, with plodding exposition to propel things forward where there should be thrills.
Given the number of reviews quick to praise the novel it’s very possible that this is the exception to the rule, so you may well enjoy it. This reviewer, however, found it rather dragging. Shout out to the artist who provided the cover…great design.