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1864. London is a city in transition. The Constantine Affliction–a strange malady that kills some of its victims and physically transforms others into the opposite sex–has spread scandal and upheaval throughout society. Scientific marvels and disasters, such as clockwork courtesans, the alchemical fires of Whitechapel, electric carriages, and acidic monsters lurking in the Thames, have forever altered the face of the city.

Pembroke “Pimm” Hanover is an aristocrat with an interest in criminology, who uses his keen powers of observation to assist the police or private individuals–at least when he’s sober enough to do so. Ellie Skyler, who hides her gender behind the byline “E. Skye,” is an intrepid journalist driven by both passion and necessity to uncover the truth, no matter where it hides.

When Pimm and Skye stumble onto a dark plot that links the city’s most notorious criminal overlord with the Queen’s new consort, famed scientist Sir Bertram Oswald, they soon find the forces of both high and low society arrayed against them. Can they save the city from the arcane machinations of one of history’s most monsters–and uncover the shocking origin of . . .

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The Constantine Affliction
Average rating
5 / 5
February 10th, 2014
Even though it was published by Night Shade Books (my favorite publisher) I had no intention to read The Constantine Affliction by T. Aaron Payton. My friend Miquel (in whose wonderful blog you can read the translation into Spanish of this review) emailed me to let know how cool he found the synopsis of the novel, but I simply wasn't attracted by this book. But then something happened that made me change my mind completely: Tim Pratt revealed that T. Aaron Payton was one of his pen names. As I'm immediately interested in anything written by Pratt, I quickly grabbed a review copy from NetGalley and began reading it. And boy am I glad that I did! The Constantine Affliction is one of the best novels I've read this year. It is intelligent, surprising and, above all, a lot of fun. So it seems that my first impression about this book wasn't right at all. I wish being wrong always felt this good. It is difficult to classify The Constantine Affliction into just one genre. Because of its several similarities in setting and themes with books such as Boneshaker by Cherie Priest and The Affinity Bridge by George Mann (I found Pratt's novel more enjoyable, however, much more in the vein of Tidhar's The Bookman) we could say that it is steampunk. But it also borrows heavily from 19th century detective stories (more on this later) and horror. I even noticed some resemblance to a movie I particularly like (though it is more funny than really good), The Man with Two Brains. Let us simply say, then, that The Constantine Affliction is a tale of automata, alchemy, brains in vats, strange diseases and blackmail. And some Elder Gods for good measure. Pratt even manages to touch on social and gender issues (the Constantine affliction of the title is a disease that transforms women into men and men into women) and to raise some interesting questions regarding free will and consciousness. This may seem a rather mixed bag, but Pratt makes it work in perfect unison and seamlessly. The style of the novel is typically Prattian. If there is something I have learned by reading Pratt's work is that he is a master of dialog and The Constantine Affliction is no exception. I'd even say it is one of his best works in that regard. In fact, I've highlighted more paragraphs in The Constantine Affliction than in any other book recently, for how can you not love sentences like this one: "Mr. Adams says London is like a trash heap, whith things piled on top of other things, but the other things are mostly just more London, from a long time ago." or this favorite of mine: His hair stood on end, giving him the appearance of a demented dandelion. The plot is gripping and the pace is almost perfect, with some memorable scenes, especially on the vibrant last third of the novel. For instance, you will find an attack of clockwork prostitutes (yes, you read that right) that may come straight out from an X-rated Dr Who episode (incidentally, I must be the oddest science fiction fan around since I don't really understand what all the fuss with the Dr Who TV series is about, but I'd totally watch it if Pratt was to write an episode). Most of the characters are fascinating. My favorite one was, without a doubt, Adam, a B-movie mad scientist inspired in equal measure by the Phantom of the Opera and a synesthetic Dr. Frankestein. But I also liked Lord Pembroke's wife, Lady Winifred, who is, in fact, his old friend Freddy who has been transformed by the Constantine affliction. Theirs is a convenience marriage in more than one sense. It protects Freddy, of course, but also leaves Pimm (Lord Pembroke) free to indulge in his two favorite hobbies: playing detective and drinking. However, and this for me the biggest 'however' of the novel, Pimm is a character that I found not very appealing, despite his being the main protagonist of the story. While he is supposed to be a great detective, the Sherlock Holmes of his age, this is more told than shown since we don't really witness any deduction feat from him. All in all, this may well be Pratt's best novel to date and that is a lot to say, especially coming from a hardcore Marla Mason fan such as myself. Though the novel stands alone on its own, there is space for more stories set on this world and I'm really looking forward to reading them!
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