BOOK REVIEW: The Aylesford Skull

51+9aq-DcTL._SL500_AA300_Awarding winning writer James P. Baylock one of the founding fathers of modern steam punk has released his first full-length novel in twenty years.

It is the summer of 1883 and Professor Langdon St. Ives brilliant but eccentric scientist and explorer is at home in Aylesford with his family. However a few miles to the north a steam launch has been taken by pirates above Egypt Bay, the crew murdered and pitched overboard. In Aylesford itself a grave is opened and possibly robbed of the skull. The suspected grave robber, the infamous Dr. Ignacio Narbondo, is an old nemesis of Langdon St. Ives. When Dr. Narbondo returns to kidnap his four-year-old son Eddie and then vanishes into the night, St. Ives and his factotum Hasbro race into London in pursuit…

As both a newbie to steampunk (please don’t shoot me!) and also to Mr Baylock (seriously put the gun down!), I had no idea really what to expect. However I found myself delighted with the book, it very much had a feel of Sherlock Homes (Arthur Conan Doyle even features as a character) but if Holmes and Watson had airships, steam boats and such things.

The plot follows Dr. Narbondo whose sole aim at the beginning seems to be to try and make The Aylesford Skull of the title – this is a ‘skull lamp’ that is believed by spiritualists to project an image of the person the skull belonged too. However the plot soon thickens with pirates, shootings, kidnap, attempted poisoning, ghosts and bombings all thrown into the mix. And then there is the ‘steampunk’ itself – at the start we have a steam launch sailing down the Thames toward Gravesend, then we have an airship that St. Ives uses to travel to London – it seems a very cool way of bringing the Victorian era (which can seem a little overdone) into the future a little.

I really liked the characters and felt that they were all well rounded – however I do think that I may have lost a little from not reading any of Mr Baylock’s previous novels, but don’t let that stop you. You really empathise with the characters and I challenge anyone not to really want to hit Narbondo by the end of the book. As I live near London and work in Kent I really loved the settings of this book – I could almost feel myself there and I think that helped to pull me into the story. At times I felt he got a little caught up in his characters, especially when they are sitting down to eat together and I felt that it slowed the pace a little. However once you get nearer to the end and Narbondo’s true outcome is determined the pace really picked up and before I knew I had finished the book.

I would recommend everyone new and old to Steampunk and Mr Blaylock to pick up this book – you will be glad you did.

Titan Books are also simultaneously re-issuing two further Langdon St. Ives tales in paperback: Homunculus (winner of the Philip K. Dick award) and Lord Kelvin’s Machine

NB. To celebrate this new book, a limited run of 750 copies of The Aylesford Skull is available in jacketed, signed hardcover with a unique jacket design. The special edition boasts a forward by K.W. Jetter and an introduction by Tim Powers (the other two ‘founding’ fathers of steampunk), as well as a tip-in sheet signed by all three.

Rating: 4/5
Reporter: darkphoenix1701

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