Airships and automatons are abound in The Affinity Bridge by George Mann, the first book that was suggested to me for my Queue the Quipster feature. This entertaining detective story is a delightful piece of steampunk fiction and Mann delivers a fun mystery with the beginning to his Newbury & Hobbes Investigations.
Welcome to the bizarre and dangerous world of Victorian London, a city teetering on the edge of revolution. Its people are ushering in a new era of technology, dazzled each day by unfamiliar inventions. Airships soar in the skies over the city, while ground trains rumble through the streets and clockwork automatons are programmed to carry out menial tasks in the offices of lawyers, policemen, and journalists.
But beneath this shiny veneer of progress lurks a sinister side.
Queen Victoria is kept alive by a primitive life-support system, while her agents, Sir Maurice Newbury and his delectable assistant Miss Veronica Hobbes, do battle with enemies of the crown, physical and supernatural. This time Newbury and Hobbes are called to investigate the wreckage of a crashed airship and its missing automaton pilot, while attempting to solve a string of strangulations attributed to a mysterious glowing policeman, and dealing with a zombie plague that is ravaging the slums of the capital.
There are countless parallels that can be made between The Affinity Bridge and many other books but it is the characters which are most obviously reminiscent. For starters, Sir Maurice Newbury is a crown investigator whose academic background comes with a side of laudanum addiction. His partner, Veronica Hobbes is essentially every strong Victorian era character thrown into a sidekick that could take Robin any day- in a ruffled skirt mind you. While both of these characters seem somewhat familiar, I don’t quite mind it. For me, there was a certain amount of comfort in knowing how characters might react. This let me focus on the mystery at hand as well as wonder how each character got to be how they are. Perhaps the idea of a 40 year old male anthropologist addict is a bit tired, but knowing who the character was during the course of the book only made me more intrigued as to his past and future. Afterall, there are many roads to the same destination.
The investigation at the heart of The Affinity Bridge is the perfect amount of simplicity with side plots and red herrings to be entertaining. Though a mystery, fans of that genre may be disappointed at how easily it can be solved. This being said, I think it was a prime example of how a simple mystery can have several side plots which intrigue the reader and where each loose end is satisfyingly tied.
The one downside to Mann’s focus on a fun novel is that oftentimes you expect it to be a little more fun. The two main characters Newbury and Hobbes are new to working together and as such don’t have the witty repartee that we have come to expect from watching police shows. The Affinity Bridge always seems to be missing something and for me that was humor. Frankly, neither Newbury and Hobbes are funny and with Mann’s lighthearted air one of them truly should be.
Steampunk elements are fluidly entwined in The Affinity Bridge and as such, I was able to fully take in the world of Mann’s dreaming. A fast paced novel, The Affinity Bridge is a perfect example of how to take light reading to a more in depth setting. Mann’s alternate London is not overly unique but a world which steampunk fans will feel comfortable in. Though I am in no rush to read what Mann has in store for Newbury and Hobbes, I know that I will certainly return to this series to cheer me up on a rainy day.