James P. Blaylock has delivered a wonderfully engrossing, exciting and satisfying steampunk adventure with The Aylesford Skull. The book is part of a series of stories about Langdon St. Ives, a brilliant and somewhat eccentric professor, scientist and explorer who is also a devoted family man with a wife and two charming children. He is a champion in the same vein as Sherlock Holmes or Indiana Jones. It is fitting that Arthur Doyle gets to play a part in the adventure.
It is not necessary to have read the previous books to enjoy and understand this one, although it might help further explain the motivation of the villain and some references to the past. It will simply leave you wanting to go out and immediately find the others so you can enjoy more of these wonderfully real characters and exciting plots.
The villain, Ignacio Narbondo, is involved with ghosts and necromancy and other nefarious plots, no stranger to murder — and he holds a grudge against St. Ives. There can be fewer villains as dark as this one, even in Dickens. When he kidnaps four-year-old Eddie, St. Ives’ son, it is imperative that St. Ives find him and rescue him as soon as possible. At the same time, there is reason to believe even more than the fate of a child may be at risk, as Narbondo and his vile crew are revealed to be involved in a plot that could endanger much of London, and even the Queen.
St. Ives, his neighbor Mother Laswell, who happens to be the mother of the villain, and his colorful crew of friends and associates set out to rescue Eddie and do away with Narbondo. They will have to face many ruthless and bloodthirsty villains along the way. as science and magic combine for both good and evil intents.
Every character in this book is detailed and believable, especially St. Ives and his wife Alice, Mother Laswell and her soulmate Bill Kraken, and the orphan Finn Conrad. Even the villains, who include a dwarf and a giant, seem not too hard to believe in the context of the story.
The Aylesford Skull is highly recommended to steampunk fans but also to anyone who craves a ripping good yarn in the Victorian vein, with airships, ghosts and elephants thrown in for good measure.