In Victorian London airships circle, steam-driven taxies are the new rage, and clockwork automatons have become status symbols for the rich. Zombie attacks plague the slums, a serial killer in the form of a supernatural glowing policeman raises alarm, and Queen Victoria herself is kept alive through a horrific life-support system. In this familiar yet alien London, Sir Maurice Newbury conducts investigations for the crown that enter into the realm of the supernatural and occult and his new assistant, Miss Veronica Hobbs, breaks barriers of the time to join him. Two separate investigations converge in this dark, yet proper steampunk Victorian world as Sir Maurice and Miss Hobbs settle into their new partnership.
In The Affinity Bridge Mann channels the likes of Sherlock Holmes and Sexton Blake. This is a detective story that harkens back to an original-feeling buddy-cop tale, with a healthy dash of sexual tension thrown into the mix. In fact it feels much like the homage made by Michael Moorcock with his Sir Seaton Bregg stories, only without the biting satire, subversive humor, exotic settings and crazy alternative histories within a multi-verse. While Mann suffers an apparent lack of depth in comparison with Moorcock, this isn’t (necessarily) a bad thing. The mystery may not present many shocking twists and turns (i.e. it’s a bit predictable), but the presentation is a joy to read while maintaining a fresh feel about it.
Mann captures Victorian-era London very well, yet he truly excels with that proper, stuffy British-ness that one associates with the time. People are respectful, kind, and often insincere while insults are decidedly passive-aggressive. The British Empire is at its height and the riches and the confidence it bestows on the people (well the upper classes anyway) shows through.
This success also breeds failure – when a character is stuffy, respectful and insincere, they are hard to get to know. They become caricatures of society and what they should be. Mann seems to strive to show us more of both Newbury and Hobbs yet can’t quite get past this prevailing image of the times. At the same time, I’m not convinced that he really wants us to see too much of his characters. This is the first adventure in a series with more to come – Mann is clearly holding back a bit for the future, sacrificing the present as a result. This tendency to hold back leads to further issues where character aspects just don’t play out as they should. For example, Newbury’s clear interest and obsession with the occult seems to go nowhere and didn’t really add much to the plot, yet Mann clearly places great importance in it, particularly for future novels. Also, Mann shakes things up at the end with implications for future events, yet these revelations are so drastic they seem too far out of character from what’s been presented to be entirely credible. The overall resulting feel is that of unevenness.
The Affinity Bridge by George Mann is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s got a wonderful, classic steampunk vibe and presents a very enjoyable reading experience that at times becomes a true page-turner in-spite of the stuffy Victorian setting. Unfortunately the characterization comes across as uneven, and a few aspects of the plot often feel just as uneven. However, for me, the good outweighed the bad by a large enough margin for me to recommend this piece of the latest steampunk invasion. 7/10