The Aylesford Skull

The Aylesford Skull by James P Blaylock
Big comebacks seem to be all the rage these days, but while the thought of Five, Atomic Kitten, Honeyz, 911, Liberty X and B*Witched rising from the dead to wreak hell on Earth will have most of you sobbing into your green tea, there's one big comeback I think we can all agree is most welcome. Step forward James P Blaylock, founding father of the Steampunk genre, and his first steampunk novel in almost two decades, The Aylesford Skull, featuring Blaylock's best-known character, brilliant but eccentric scientist/explorer Professor Langdon St.Ives.

Once again St. Ives is up against the nefarious Dr. Ignacio Narbondo who exhumes his brother's grave in.. erm.. Aylesford, and steals the contents. Pretty soon St. Ives is on the case and up to his armpits in spiritualists and clairvoyants, smugglers and pirates, and mystical skulls that have the power to draw-out the spirit of their one-time owner. But things take a turn for the absolute worse when Narbondo kidnaps Langdon's son, Eddie, and he has to pull out all the stops to get to him before Narbondo can use the boy in his macabre plans.

If you're familiar with Blaylock - and you should be - then you'll know exactly what to expect from The Aylesford Skull, if you're not then you can easily jump in feet first with this book, it's a rollicking good story, chock-full of action and adventure and while it doesn't overshadow the story, it's replete throughout with all the trimmings of the steampunk universe. What brings a slight twist here are the slightly magical and supernatural elements but never fear, they are seamlessly woven into the story without jarring against the SFnal Steampunk base.

The plot twists and turns brilliantly, always keeping you guessing and always dropping you right at the perfect cliffhanger, so you'll often find yourself muttering "Just one more quick chapter" long past the time you should be doing something else. As you might expect in such a plot-driven book, some of the characters don't get the page-time that they deserve - and there are a lot of characters - but St. Ives carries the book wonderfully and characters like Hasbro, his longtime companion, Finn the gardener or Langdon's nemesis Narbondo are beautifully well rounded even if, like Narbondo, they don't get nearly enough story time.

In keeping with the Victorian-era setting the language is lush, and rich, and slightly comic to our modern sensibilities while the fight scenes are pretty full-on, bloody and, at times, quite brutal. For anyone familiar with London your heart will soar just a little at times as recognition of the places that Blaylock mentions dawns on you and you will find yourself mentally tracking the journey while you read.

All-in-all The Aylesford Skull is a terrific yarn full of excitement and derring-do, the pace is relentless and the thrills and spills come thick and fast. It deserves to bring Professor Langdon St.Ives, and more importantly his creator, James P Blaylock to a wider, younger audience who can then go back and discover his other books like 'Homunculous' and 'Lord Kelvin's Machine', but for anyone waiting for Chris Wooding to get his finger out and finish the next Ketty Jay novel, The Aylesford Skull is the perfect way to spend that time.

The Aylesford Skull is published by Titan Books, and is available with free delivery from The Book Depository and on the high street from Blackwell and all good book stores.

This article was posted as part of the Aylesford Skull Swashbuckling Blog Tour celebrating the release of James P. Blaylock’s first full-length steampunk novel in twenty years [The Aylesford Skull, Titan Books, £7.99].

For the opportunity to win a limited edition of The Aylesford Skull in a jacketed, signed hardcover with a unique jacket design, just tweet “I would like a limited edition of the Aylesford Skull @TitanBooks #Blaylock”.

Details about The Limited Edition (available Feb 2013) 750 signed and numbered editions:

  • Jacketed, cloth-bound hardcover with ribbon
  • Signed by James P. Blaylock
  • Exclusive foreword by K.W. Jeter and introduction by Tim Powers

26 signed and lettered editions:

  • As above encased in a custom-made traycase

Be the first to find out when The Aylesford Skull (Limited Edition) is available, by signing up to Titan Books mailing list here:

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