Review: The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi

Posted: July 10, 2013 by in Books We Love (5/5 single_star) Meta: Mark Hodder, Alternate Historical Fiction

EXTRA! EXTRA! Read all about it! Burton & Swinburne books to continue in amazing new adventure of intrigue and mayhem! Deviltry! Betrayal! Vampires! It’ll cost ya more than a dime, but will be worth every ha’penny you spend to get it!

THE SECRET OF ABDU EL YEZDI (Amazon) is the fourth Burton and Swineburne novel (yes, lovers of the series, make note of the fact that Swineburne is still a part of things!), and a novel that I was most ravenously hoping to get my hands on this year. I couldn’t help but crow my pleasure when I last met up with the boss for the most recent round of new books and noticed the familiar font of this series. All it took was a single glimpse of the smallest corner of the book, just the top of the author’s name in that large, familiar script, to make me want to snatch the ARC right out of Steve’s hands and start reading right then and there. There are few authors that can make me act in such an unprofessional manner. I’m sure you faithful readers know a few of mine by now. Anything written by these authors will typically turn me into a raving fanboy, if not complete lunatic, post haste. Mark Hodder is one of them.

Before I get started though, let me wipe the drool from the corner of my mouth and take just one somewhat-somber moment to give some serious love to Jon Sullivan for the amazing-tastic work he’s done on all the covers for this series and the cover of this book in particular, and also to Lou Anders and Pyr Books for the extra panache and special treatment they seem to have given the series as a whole. In a publishing world where smallish paperbacks with simple covers have become the “new thing” (whatever that means), it is awesome to see this series getting the benefit of an extra mile of work in the art and cover department. Just wow and cool. I can’t say enough good about the great publishing choices that have been made to make Hodder’s work stick out on the shelf. He so deserves it, and man do the books look impressive.

Now, back my drooling.

EL YEZDI starts off in a place that I never expected it to. It begins with Sir Richard Francis Burton. But it doesn’t start with the Sir Richard Francis Burton that we’ve known up to this point. This is, after all, a “time travel” story, and like all good speculative fiction readers we know that no time travel story is complete without at least a few insurmountable paradoxes, multiple historical timelines, and a general sense of what-in-the-heck-is-going-on-here. Thankfully there are a plethora of the first, more than enough of the second, and very little of the last.

This new Burton has just returned from one of his many trips to Africa, and London is nothing like what has come before. In fact, it’s positively benign as compared to the vaulted menagerie of imagination that has been present in the series up to now. It’s a London that, while somewhat fantastical, is very similar to the one portrayed in SPRING-HEELED JACK. We’re starting over in many ways, and this is immediately apparent.

During Burton’s return trip home and in the middle of a malaria-induced recovery haze, Burton walks in on the murder of his long-time friend William Stroyan. The butchery is part of a summoning to bring something or someone into this world from another. Once home, Burton sets off to find out what is going on and why his friend was murdered. The game is a foot. Er. Afoot. Um… ah, whatever.

Like a phoenix that burns to ash as it rises anew, EL YEZDI provides both an end and beginning to a story whose doors I never want to close.

Once into the thick of things, Burton learns about Abdu El Yezdi, a medium of impressive power that has been leading the British government down the historical path that they should follow to avoid a war of devastation and destruction with Germany so massive that it will crush the British Empire for good. None of those in the know have any clue as to who El Yezdi actually is or what he wants. They only know that the things he leads them to do have turned out well for England. And that’s enough for now. These “nudges” have led to the technological advances that have begun to be seen in the streets of London.

This book was very interesting. In some ways, it felt like a connector book, because we’re moving from the story of the old Burton and into the life of the new. The story seemed smaller, less busy, but was therefore much more personal. Life is different for this Burton. His brother survives. He’s soon to be married to Isabel. The hints of addiction to a cocaine-laced tincture have begun to take root in him. This book, for me, was intensely more character-oriented. It was an opportunity for the world to try anew to destroy Burton, and oh does it do a number on him. Along the way, we see old friends and new—the old not always playing the same parts as before. He’s asked to do things that both terrify and horrify him (and me alike!). Piece by piece, he uncovers the trail to learning both who El Yezdi is and also who was summoned at the outset of the tale. And oh is that tale delicious.

This book is still intricately connected to the previous books. There is no break between them. No closing of the loop. There is yet more to be told. Although humorous as always, this book very much grabbed me by the heart-strings and made me hurt with Burton like I never have before. This book solidified Burton anew for me. It gave him new motivations, ones so much more delicate than a simple (simple!) trip to find the source of the Nile. This book has completely changed what I expect from further books in the series, and I love it all the more for that fact. Hodder has earned himself a permanent spot in my rank of favorites. The next book of this series can’t come soon enough, and yet all I can do is wait.

Like a phoenix that burns to ash as it rises anew, EL YEZDI provides both an end and beginning to a story whose doors I never want to close.

  • Recommended Age: 15+
  • Language: Very mild, PG-worthy
  • Violence: There is some definite violence and death, but no real gore to be had
  • Sex: A few more S&M references with one hilariously-wrought scene of it

Although it would be technically possible to read this book and understand everything, you really don’t want to miss out on all the fun.  Happy shopping, but more importantly, happy reading.


  • Irene Jennings says:

    This performs the three-card trick by adding a fourth novel to the series and maintaining the same level of plot inventiveness. It's a joy! However, you will not appreciate just how much of a joy unless you have read the first three in the serial. Note I said serial and not series. These are NOT standalone books and you will seriously miss out if you do not read them in order.


  • Sharon Mills says:

    I have a review copy to read but have not read the previous 3. Will it still make sense enough for a review?

    • Dan Smyth says:

      While I “think” that it could still make sense and also be a good read, much of the impact and many of the ah-ha moments (which is so much of what made this book great for me) will be lost on you because of not having read the previous three. This series is really good, and though I know it'd take extra time and effort, I would really suggest reading the previous volumes beforehand. This not only because of the increased enjoyment that I think you'll receive from the book, but also because this guy is one of my favorite authors and I love to turn people on to authors like this whenever possible. Yes, Hodder deserves a good review, but more than that, I think, he deserves another constant reader. This will most readily be accomplished by you reading them all. 🙂 Your choice though, of course. Best of luck in whichever path you take, but be sure to come back and let us know what you think of it.

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