At the turn off the twentieth century London is a city at the dawn of a new technological era. Glistening airships emerge from the relentless fog to soar the skies and shiny clockwork automatons carry out menial tasks for those lucky enough to afford their servitude. Testament to the genius of the minds in hidden laboratories, Queen Victoria still reigns, her life dependant on mechanical, medical contraptions. Yet below the dazzlingly wealth of industrialisation lies a scarred underbelly of sinister shenanigans, with disease and poverty scourging the lower denominations of London’s populace. With revenants roaming the slums of Whitechapel, the streets of Victorian London are a place only ventured by the brave or insane after dark.
A string of grisly murders reportedly perpetrated by ethereal glowing policemen already have Scotland Yard trying to deduce fact from fiction but when an Airship carrying foreign royalty crashes with no survivors, Sir Maurice Newbury, secret investigator to the Crown, is called upon to investigate. With new assistant Veronica Hobbes in tow, Newbury sets out on a mission of gentlemanly heroics to solve two mysteries with one laudanum fuelled chase.
The Affinity Bridge is your typical Steampunk concoction of rewritten history and bubbling imagination. Our protagonist Newbury cuts a dashing figure as a quintessential example of Victorian chivalry mixed with foppish vices and is an instantly likeable character. Perhaps this is also due to his forward thinking manner, defying the sexism of the age by appointing the young, yet sharp witted, Veronica Hobbes as his partner in crime busting investigation. The developing chemistry between the pair, whilst never realised, adds to the characterisation and also opens up further storylines, for The Affinity Bridge is the first volume of the Newbury of Hobbes Investigations series by author George Mann.
In terms of genre, we are strictly talking Steampunk but with an added sprinkling of murder mystery. However, despite being a fluid and satisfying read, I couldn’t help but feel the story fell a little short when compared to exemplary examples of either genre. In terms of Steam Punk fare, the setting certainly harbours all the archetypal characteristics of the genre, yet those accustom to the plotting prowess of the likes of Tim Powers may yearn for more. The Murder Mystery element, whilst certainly adding another dimension, lacks some of the “who-dunnit” thrill associated with the twists and turns common to the expected. Despite some added sub plots, these never really lead the reader into a false sense of deduction and by the end of book seem a little inconsequential. However for those that like the loose ends all tied up, Mann certainly doesn’t disappoint, though some may find this an unnecessary addition to the last couple of chapters.
That said, The Affinity Bridge, is still a thoroughly enjoyable read due to the authors skill in narration, characterisation and depictions. The dialogue is not only perfect for the era but adds wit and personality to the characters, with Newbury’s vices humanising his almost superhero characteristics. Veronica’s institutionalised yet insightful sister Amelia provides an extra character dimension who I’m sure will play a more prolific role in future episodes of the series.
As is common with many a book you find in the Sci-fi and Fantasy sections of your local bookshop, The Affinity Bridge doesn’t sell short of social commentary either – with the notions of technology replacing the human workforce, the elite abusing technology to remain in power and survive, there are many parallels common to conspiratory (or realist, inset your own interpretation here) thinking of our own age.
Remove your preconceptions of the “textbook” genre definitions and The Affinity Bridge is a great read and I, for one, am very much looking forward to the nest instalment of Newbury & Hobbes Investigations.