The Affinity Bridge, by George Mann
Posted January 18, 2011on:
The Affinity Bridge, by George Mann
written in: 2009
where I got it: Library
why I read it: Had heard good things, especially about the 2nd book in this series, The Osiris Ritual.
With steampunk being the trend du jour of 2010, I couldn’t not read George Mann’s The Affinity Bridge. The first in a series of Victorian steampunk mysteries starring investigators Maurice Newbury and Veronica Hobbes, The Affinity Bridge takes place in a smoggy, dangerous London, where if the zombies don’t get you, the mad scientist might.
With a cover as researchers at the British Museum, Newbury and Hobbes are able to hid their true jobs as investigative agents of the Crown, focusing on cases the police are having trouble with. Right away the reader is introduced to a handful of mysteries – an automaton airship crash that killed everyone on board, a growing plague of zombies in Whitechapel, stories of a supernatural glowing policeman who kills random paupers, and to top it off, the brother of one of Newbury’s employees has gone missing. Mann makes sure the reader believes these mysteries are connected.
Hidden behind Newbury’s stodgy, formal, upper class british gent personality lies addictions to laudanum and the occult, and an adorable concern for the safety and general well being of his assistant, Miss Hobbes. Veronica Hobbes, however, can hold her own, and more than once it is she who is saving Newbury’s skin. Constantly underestimated because she is a woman, Miss Hobbes takes advantage of everyone’s preconcieved notions to get useful information out of people. For me, Veronica Hobbes was the best part of The Affinity Bridge, I wish she was given a bigger role from the start.
As steampowered horseless carriages plow through London and a breathing machine keeps Queen Victoria alive, the two investigators meet with the industrialist who runs the airship company and the mad scientist inventor who works for him, designing and creating the automatons who pilot the ships. Newbury is in awe of the inventions, while Miss Hobbes shows concern for people who will lose their jobs to the robots and further automation in society.
It’s not long before corpses start piling up and automatons start attacking people. What’s the secret behind the engineering of the clockwork automatons? Is there a way to stop the zombie plague? Newbury and Hobbes are running out of time, and the Queen wants an explanation right now, not least because a royal cousin was killed in the airship crash (what he doing on a cheap coach class passenger ship anyways?). The two investigators will have to use every tool at their disposal and risk ignoring the proprieties of proper British society to end the killings and solve the mystery.
While the mysteries were compelling, and the characters (especially Miss Hobbes and her sister) kept my attention, I had some major issues with The Affinity Bridge, mostly involving the style of the dialog, and the ending.
I understand that Mann wanted Newbury to be the image of a stodgy British gent, but at times the dialog became needlessly formal, with conversations focusing on formalities at the cost of moving the plot forward. This got old. Fast.
Although hints are dropped all over the place that all the mysteries could be connected, everything is wrapped up too quickly and too neatly at the end, with little in the way of connections. Mann gave himself plenty of elements to build a wild and wicked conclusion (hello, mad scientist?! programmable robots? vigilantism?), but at the end it’s almost as if he purposely shied away from taking a single risk. Shelved under steampunk, The Affinity Bridge had plenty of steam, but little in the way of punk.
I hate to be knocking this book (believe it or not, it pains me to diss any book), but if you are looking for Steampunk mystery or suspense, there are now enough quality titles available that you won’t be missing anything if you skip The Affinity Bridge.