Author: George Mann
Genre: Speculative Fiction, Steampunk
Publication Date: July 2009
Hardcover: 334 pages
Welcome to the bizarre and dangerous world of Victorian London, a city teetering on the edge of revolution. Its people are ushering in a new era of technology, dazzled each day by unfamiliar inventions. Airships soar in the skies over the city, while ground trains rumble through the streets and clockwork automatons are programmed to carry out menial tasks in the offices of lawyers, policemen, and journalists.
But beneath this shiny veneer of progress lurks a sinister side.
Queen Victoria is kept alive by a primitive life-support system, while her agents, Sir Maurice Newbury and his delectable assistant Miss Veronica Hobbes, do battle with enemies of the crown, physical and supernatural. This time Newbury and Hobbes are called to investigate the wreckage of a crashed airship and its missing automaton pilot, while attempting to solve a string of strangulations attributed to a mysterious glowing policeman, and dealing with a zombie plague that is ravaging the slums of the capital.
Get ready to follow dazzling young writer George Mann to a London unlike any you’ve ever seen and into an adventure you will never forget.
Stand alone or series: Book 1 of the Newbury & Hobbes Investigation series
How did I get this book: Review Copy
Why did I read this book: When I first caught wind of this book from Tor.com (for their fantastic steampunk month a few months back), I knew I had to have it. Victorian setting, check. Intrepid male-female duo, solving mysterious supernatural phenomena, check. Steampunk, check. Plus, I’ve been hearing nothing but praise for editor-turned-fiction author George Mann (his Ghosts of Manhattan is high on my wishlist).
The year is 1901, in fair London, where we lay our scene. By virtue of a steam-powered life support system, Queen Victoria remains alive and on the throne. Mechanized taxi cabs and dirigibles are the norm, as are occult influences and dealings. Revenants – that is, brain-rotted, flesh-hungry corpses – roam the fog-shrouded streets of the city and a vengeful glowing policeman spectre prowls London by night, killing unsuspecting victims with his ghostly touch.
To whom does the Crown turn in such desperate times, where such diabolical acts can be committed?
The answer is simple: to the esteemed (and dashing) academic Sir Maurice Newbury and his lovely (and capable) assistant, Miss Veronica Hobbes. Sir Maurice, a gentleman and a scholar, works by day amongst the dusty stacks at the British Museum, with Veronica Hobbes as his dutiful, intelligent secretary. Their true calling, however, lies in investigations around London. Hot on the trail of the spectral Glowing Policeman murders, Newbury and Hobbes are summoned away to another site by the Queen herself – a dirigible has crashed, and everyone on board has been killed, incinerated…except for the pilot, who has strangely gone missing. The plot thickens when the duo learns that the pilot was in fact an automaton, one of the new mechanical men that have come to replace human pilots aboard Chapman and Villiers Air Transportation Services’ increasingly popular dirigibles. With dominant industrialists Chapman (heir and business man) and Villiers (mechanical genius, though quite possibly mad), ghostly apparitions, not-so-harmless automatons, and flesh-hungry revenants thrown into the mix, Newbury and Hobbes have their hands very full of an increasingly perilous mystery.
The Affinity Bridge marks the first adventure of this enterprising duo that is Maurice Newbury and Veronica Hobbes, and what an introduction it is! The Affinity Bridge is a genuinely fun book. Featuring fast-paced plotting that manages to nicely tie together three seemingly disparate mysteries together with one fell swoop, Mr. Mann writes with deft sure-handedness, making for a light, highly enjoyable read. So far as steampunk goes, Mr. Mann has the aesthetic down pat – The Affinity Bridge is set in Victorian London (well, Victorian, thanks to the fact that the Queen is still alive by artificial means), complete with mechanized taxi cabs, berserk automatons, and equipped with the quintessential icon of Victoriana SF – the Dirigible. There’s also a sort-of supernatural, occult element to the story, which adds a nice spin to an otherwise very traditional world. In addition to the aforementioned revenants (those afflicted with the zombie plague), the book opens with a seance, and over the course of the novel it becomes clear that Sir Maurice himself entertains – even dabbles in – the dark arts. Though this isn’t the main focus of the novel, it is most certainly an intriguing plot seed for future books in the series. (On another note, I have to say that I am quite enjoying this popular crossover with steampunk and zombies. I especially loved how the revenants fit in to the overall mystery by the end of the book…but I won’t spoil that for you.)
So far as the rest of the setting goes, Mr. Mann’s turn of the century London feels pretty spot on with only a few exceptions. Most notably, the gender roles felt a trifle off, especially in the case of the charming Miss Veronica Hobbes. Veronica is a young, high ranking gentleman’s secretary – but she’s also the daughter of a genteel, well-to-do family. She’s fairly young and attractive, and from what I can tell from the book, Veronica is not in “spinster” territory. And yet, she’s living on her own (with neither parents nor chaperone), off the meager means she makes as a secretary? It doesn’t quite add up – but that’s a very minor niggling criticism, overall. Otherwise, the social mores seem right on point – down to the Gentlemen’s Clubs and manners of dress – and the details are all are very fun.
Then, there are the characters. I loved the dynamic duo that is Maurice Newbury and Veronica Hobbes – Sir Maurice is the laid-back intellectual (who isn’t afraid to throw himself into the fray and get his hands dirty) with his own personal demons, while Veronica is a strong (figuratively and literally) sidekick. There’s also a delightful attraction between the two characters, which always makes for good fun. While Maurice’s cheerfulness is delightful, the true standout character of the novel, for me, was Veronica. I loved the interludes between her and her institutionalized sister (another tantalizing plot seed for future novels), and I loved how Maurice and everyone else tended to admire her but still underestimate her. She’s very much a woman of her time period (read, she’s not annoyingly glib or incongruously modern or badass), but she shows her mettle – and I totally dig that. There are echoes of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson here (if Watson were an attractive young lady), smatterings of the formidable Amelia Peabody and Emerson Radcliffe from Elizabeth Peters’ truly excellent Amelia Peabody books. And, oh yeah, it feels similarly entertaining in the manner of Gail Carriger’s Soulless (which was released last year) – but I infinitely prefer Mr. Mann’s novel to Ms. Carriger’s intimation of supernatural “steampunk” (while The Affinity Bridge definitely counts as steampunk, Ms. Carriger’s novel falls much more into the gaslamp category).
The only criticisms I have for The Affinity Bridge lay with its inherent lightness – it’s not exactly a deep book that challenges the constraints of society. But then again, it’s not meant to be. The characters are a tad undercooked, the mystery was a tad predictable – but that said, I’m looking at this as an optimist. There’s plenty of room for growth – and with George Mann’s skill as a storyteller in this well-realized steampunk setting, I have no doubts the series will keep getting better.
BUT IS IT STEAMPUNK?! Yep, yep, yep. It most certainly is, in the most traditional sense of the subgenre. It’s set in Victorian London with steampowered machinery galore – and this technology plays a central role to the plot. Hence, it is Steampunk (not Gaslamp), and a pretty gosh darn fun one at that.
Notable Quotes/Parts: You can read a full preview of the book online HERE.
Additional Thoughts: For those readers bummed out about the hardcover prices for books, you’ll be ecstatic to hear that The Affinity Bridge will be available from Tor Books in trade paperback format (4/27/2010)!
Furthermore, fans of Newbury and Hobbes need not wait long for the next mystery! Book two, titled The Osiris Ritual, will be out in August of this year.
Death stalks London and the newspapers proclaim that a mummy’s curse has been unleashed. Sir Maurice Newbury, gentleman investigator for the crown, is drawn into a web of occult intrigue as he attempts to solve the murders. And he soon finds himself on the trail of a rogue agent – a man who died to be reborn as a living weapon.
Meanwhile, Newbury’s able assistant, Miss Veronica Hobbes, has her own mystery to unravel. Young women are going missing from a magician’s theatre show. But what appears to be a straightforward investigation puts Miss Hobbes in mortal danger.
Can Newbury save his assistant, solve the riddle of the mummy’s curse, capture the deadly man-machine and stop the terrifying Osiris Ritual from reaching its infernal culmination?
Verdict: A solidly enjoyable romp through a steam-powered Victorian London, The Affinity Bridge blends action-filled mystery with a winsome, intrepid pair of protagonists. Definitely recommended (especially to those looking to ease into steampunk without feeling hopelessly overwhelmed!).
Rating: 7 – Very Good
Reading Next: Girl Genius by Phil and Kaja Foglio