Affinity Bridge by George Mann

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Affinity Bridge by George Mann

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Category: Crime
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: JY Saville
Reviewed by JY Saville
Summary: A promising steampunk mystery set in a well thought out version of Victorian London, which spoilt itself a little by an over-reliance on handy coincidences. Good fun with a thrilling climax, worth reading as a starter if the whole series appeals.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: July 2015
Publisher: Titan Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1783298273

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London, 1901: airships and automata herald a shining future in a city of steam-powered road trains and carriages. Queen Victoria is still alive (after a fashion) and one of her trusted Crown Agents has his work cut out investigating some decidedly odd goings-on in the capital alongside the chaps at Scotland Yard. Revenant corpses and vengeful, ghostly policemen in the dense fog of Whitechapel don't phase Newbury, however, accustomed as he is to dabbling in the occult.

Sir Maurice Newbury is handsome, clever, dashing, modest, and every inch the hero. Like an elegant blend of James Bond and Indiana Jones working as a stand-in for Sherlock Holmes while he's on sabbatical, he's a Victorian investigative secret agent moonlighting as an anthropology academic who specialises in religion and supernatural practices. He has near-miraculous stamina and powers of recovery, and there's just enough of a hint of darkness behind his boyish grin to make him interesting.

The novel is billed as a Newbury and Hobbes Investigation so equally important is Veronica Hobbes his proto-feminist assistant, thoroughly modern and feisty except when she's being tender, feminine and uncertain. Ostensibly assisting Newbury in his academic endeavours, it's not clear how or why she becomes involved in the investigative end of things, but naturally she turns out to be invaluable.

George Mann has written a number of Sherlock Holmes books (as well as Doctor Who novels) and that suitably old-fashioned style comes through here, though it's not entirely serious, delivered with a disarming grin. The characters are neither wholly original nor fully fleshed out, but I didn't mind in the slightest as it's a steampunk adventure not an introspective character piece. Neither did I mind that the fight scenes went on a bit and were somewhat showy (Maurice is that sort of hero, after all). In fact, up until halfway I was loving this novel and would have highly recommended it but I felt it let itself down as the strands started coming together.

I liked the blend of old and new, a mixture of horse-drawn carriages and the new steam-powered variety for instance. Sometimes steampunk (or other alternate history) writers forget that technological change is not instantaneous and ubiquitous. The Affinity Bridge also acknowledges that new tech is expensive and therefore reserved for a select few, and there was even a moment of concern for the workers whose livelihoods are usurped by all of this progress.

I did get swept up in events and was suitably tense as we raced towards the denouement, but there were a few too many places where I stopped and groaned because of some bit of magic intervention – luckily this had just happened, or coincidentally there was this kind of weapon nicely to hand. If it had been a more unashamedly tongue in cheek romp I would have accepted them and laughed, but as it is they seemed too convenient. There were also a few events that seemed to have had no purpose by the time I reached the end, or were over-egged initially and then resulted in an anticlimax. This is a new edition of The Affinity Bridge, which was first published in 2008 and there are a number of other books in the series. It does set some things up for a continuation so it's possible some of the unresolved events get picked up in later volumes.

Sadly I was left with a vague feeling of dissatisfaction, but I know I can be hypercritical once something about a book has annoyed me, so I'm quite sure other readers of steampunk and historical mysteries will enjoy this. I'm also sure they would enjoy Grandville by Bryan Talbot the first in a series of detective graphic novels set in an alternative steampunk England featuring anthropomorphic animals. We've also enjoyed Wychwood by George Mann.

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