Steampunk meets Sherlock

BANNER_BookReview2013

So, this is a double review of books by George Mann. Mainly because I read the two books in reverse order.

Tor sent to me a review copy of The Osiris Ritual, which I reviewed a while back (on the old site) and have included in this post (down below). After reading that one, I determined to read the previous book, The Affinity Bridge, which was the first in the set.

I like it better, actually.

THE AFFINITY BRIDGE (Tor, 2009)

Mann introduces us to a world of steampunk and zombies. No, really. But it works. That’s the interesting thing. This book has so many different pieces that cross genres, but Mann puts it together in a way that feels natural.

In his role as consultant for Scotland Yard and investigator for the Crown, Sir Maurice Newbury is in the midst of hunting down a mysterious killer in the Whitechapel district, where several lower-income residents have turned up dead. While searching for clues to what folks are reporting as a glowing ghost of a policeman, Newbury and his new assistant, Miss Veronica Hobbes, get pulled into an investigation of the crash of an airship piloted by a newfangled automaton, which has gone missing.

All the while, a plague is going through London, making people “revenants” (zombies).

So we have robots, dirigibles, zombies, steam-driven horseless carriages, and Queen Victoria on life support Borg devices.

It’s a fun romp, and I found it much more satisfying than The Osiris Ritual, mainly because it incorporates the steampunk elements much more solidly. The sequel only has them in passing reference, outside of the primary antagonist.

Veronica Hobbes is a great character, too. She’s an anomaly – forward-thinking independent woman who also appreciates some of the old-fashioned ways of doing things. She’s a liberated woman, but likes the attention she gets from Sir Maurice. All of the characters are well-rounded and fully realized.

The one thing I have a beef about: Sir Maurice Newbury is too much a copy of Sherlock Holmes – tall, elegant, black hair, impeccably dressed, keen of mind, addicted to an opiate… I really hope Mann changes things up for this character.

THE OSIRIS RITUAL (Tor, 2010)

In his follow-up to The Affinity Bridge, George Mann once again takes readers into the slightly steampunked world of Sir Maurice Newbury and his assistant, Miss Veronica Hobbes.

In this outing, Newbury and Hobbes are working several pieces of mystery at once. Newbury is tasked by the Queen to retrieve an agent returning to England after spending several years in Russia. But when he disappears from the train, Newbury now has to find him – especially after discovering that this agent may have been trailing Newbury’s predecessor, Dr. Aubrey Knox.

Turns out Knox may be looking for the secret to immortality, and may have found a clue in the remains of an Egyptian mummy recently brought to England. Artifacts in the collection hint that something called “The Osiris Ritual” may have been more than just rumor.

In the meantime, Miss Hobbes is searching for the answers in the disappearance of several London girls – girls who wouldn’t especially be missed, but still, her sense of principle is in play, and she narrows her list of suspects to one illusionist who may or may not be at the center of it all.

Tor Books says this is a steampunk mystery, but it’s not really. The presence of steampunk is minimal to the point of being incidental, with the notable exception of Agent “Caspian” having availed himself of a rather remarkable bit of machinery to stay alive – as I read it I kept picturing General Grievous, for some reason… When I read the Tor write-up that mentioned “steampunk”, I was very excited. I was somewhat disappointed to discover that the steampunk in this story is residual at best.

It’s a fun read, and it’s well-crafted, easy to follow, and all of the threads come together quite nicely. But it’s too much pastiche for me, in some ways. Newbury is an obvious rip-off of Sherlock Holmes, complete with drug habit. Hobbes is more than she seems, which is a nice departure from the typical girl in the story of this stripe.

Most of the elements seem to be lifted from other stories: The Prestige, Captain Nemo, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, among others. But despite that, The Osiris Ritual is still a good bit of fun, well worth the time. And I’ll be coming back to find out what’s happening with Miss Hobbes’ sister and the mystery surrounding the asylum…

But please, Mr. Mann, no vampires.

Jason P. Hunt

Jason P. Hunt (founder/EIC) is the author of the sci-fi novella "The Hero At the End Of His Rope". His short film "Species Felis Dominarus" was a finalist in the Sci Fi Channel's 2007 Exposure competition.

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