Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Book Review - George Mann's The Casebook of Newbury and Hobbes Volume One

The Casebook of Newbury and Hobbes Volume One by George Mann
Published by: Titan Books
Publication Date: October 22nd, 2013
Format: Paperback, 400 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

From disappearing valets to monstrosities lurking in the shadows of Cheyne Walk, creatures from the deep to lost Indian jewels, become an armchair detective with the best from Sir Maurice Newbury to the Doctor John Watson. And every great detective has to have his or her Moriarty. We learn more about Sir Maurice's adversary, Lady Arkwell, as well as Veronica Hobbes's "chess" partner with whom she has had several contretemps, Zenith the Albino. Whether you are returning to the world of Newbury and Hobbes or just stopping in for your first visit, this collection of stories will chill your spine and leave you wanting to read just one more story before your bedtime. That is if you can sleep once you find out the secret of "What Lies Beneath."

I have said it before and I'm sure I'll say it again, books with short stories are always a risk. There's the whole consistency issue as well as flow. I can guarantee that you will spend more time thinking about that one story that wasn't up to scratch then you do all the other ones that were great. But more importantly is the flow of the book. Because each story is so different and starts a new narrative there's sometime not the impetus to keep going to the end, especially if you hit one of those weaker stories. Luckily The Casebook of Newbury and Hobbes is the exception that proves the rule full of unique individual stories within a connected world.

The Newbury and Hobbes series has always lent itself to comparisons with Sherlock Holmes, and rightfully so in my mind. Therefore, like Conan Doyle's writing, it lends itself to the short story format. In fact sometimes the longer Newbury and Hobbes books have too much going on and these little stories are a nice way to have a short and sweet little tale that isn't bogged down by the overarching narrative but still gives you nudges and winks as to the universe they inhabit.

What sets this above other compendiums though is that we are given insight into George's process. At the back of the book there is a timeline of events (very handy), but more importantly little story notes in which George talks about why he wrote the story or what drove his decisions. It gives you a feeling that at the end of perusing this volume, like Newbury and Bainbridge, you have sat down on opposites sides of the fireplace in great comfy chairs and had a chinwag with George as to what he was doing. The insight into his writing makes it all the more memorable. There was one turn of phrase that caught me most when he was discussing "The Maharajah's Star" and that was that he likes the "smaller, nested stories that all come together at the last moment." This is exactly how I feel and also how I think some of the stories work and some don't.

To succeed the stories need to be encapsulated, like a little jewel that sparkles on it's own but only at the end does it shine out and radiate among the expanded universe. Which is an overly flowery way of saying separate but connected. Take "Christmas Spirits" as the prime example and easily the weakest story in the book. In this loose re-imagining of A Christmas Carol Newbury dwells on his life and what has happened and what is to come. This stories makes almost no sense without the knowledge gleaned from the longer books. It pulled me out of the moment and destroyed the flow of being entranced by these jewel like stories.  Which goes to show what a balancing act it is when compiling a collection. Just one that's not quite right and you're distracted.

But this one flaw which might have more to do with my hatred of that particular Dickens tale leads me to that aspect which George just nailed, and yes, it oddly has to do with Dickens. George is able to mimic other writers. I wouldn't say he's aping them, because despite giving the feel of Arthur Conan Doyle or Wilkie Collins his writing is still distinctly his own; clean, concise and conversational, with an approachability that I feel Nancy Mitford is the paragon of and which George captures as well. But he's able to lend an air to his stories that connect with writers that are contemporary to his stories, giving them a depth most other Steampunk books aren't able to do.

In my favorite story "The Dark Path" George gives us a more classic detective story that brings to mind Wilkie Collins and The Moonstone... a copy of which is found in the missing valet's room. A coincidence? I think not! "What Lies Beneath" gives us an utterly delicious and creepy story that would have made Poe proud. While the aforementioned "Christmas Spirits" channels some Dickens and "The Case of the Night Crawler" brings John Watson back to life, though in a far more modern story then Conan Doyle would have penned. By writing in this way he acknowledges his predecessors while creating his own path. I am again reminded of something George said in his story notes. George says that in "Old Friends" he shows that "the old guard [can] retire in peace ... safe in the knowledge that someone else is out there now." Well, the old writers can retire in peace safe in the knowledge that George is carrying on their legacy in grand style but never forgetting what he owes to them!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Tuesday Tomorrow

A Deadly Measure of Brimstone by Catriona McPherson
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: November 18th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In A Deadly Measure of Brimstone, Dandy and the whole Gilver clan travel to a spa town for a weekend of relaxation which is quickly interrupted by a slew of mysterious— and deadly—events.

The men of the Gilver family have come down, between them, with influenza, bronchitis, pneumonia and pleurisy. The family repairs to the town of Moffat, there to submit to the galvanic wraps and cold salt rubs of the splendid Laidlaw Hydropathic Hotel.

But all is not well at the Hydro, and the secret of the lady who arrived but never left cannot be kept for long. And what of those drifting shapes in the Turkish bath? Just steam shifting in the air? Probably. But in this town the dead can be as much trouble as the living."

I am very excited for a new Dandy Gilver book but I am heartbroken that it doesn't have a cover by Jessica Hische, aka the reason I picked the series up in the first place because of the striking covers!

The Paris Winter by Imogen Robertson
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: November 18th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"There is but one Paris. -Vincent Van Gogh

Maud Heighton came to Lafond's famous Academie to paint, and to flee the constraints of her small English town. It took all her courage to escape, but Paris, she quickly realizes, is no place for a light purse. While her fellow students enjoy the dazzling decadence of the Belle Epoque, Maud slips into poverty. Quietly starving, and dreading another cold Paris winter, she stumbles upon an opportunity when Christian Morel engages her as a live-in companion to his beautiful young sister, Sylvie.

Maud is overjoyed by her good fortune. With a clean room, hot meals, and an umbrella to keep her dry, she is able to hold her head high as she strolls the streets of Montmartre. No longer hostage to poverty and hunger, Maud can at last devote herself to her art.

But all is not as it seems. Christian and Sylvie, Maud soon discovers, are not quite the darlings they pretend to be. Sylvie has a secret addiction to opium and Christian has an ominous air of intrigue. As this dark and powerful tale progresses, Maud is drawn further into the Morels' world of elegant deception. Their secrets become hers, and soon she is caught in a scheme of betrayal and revenge that will plunge her into the darkness that waits beneath this glittering city of light."

This looks very intriguing!

Serenity: Leaves on the Wind by Zack Whedon
Published by: Dark Horse Books
Publication Date: November 18th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 152 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In the film Serenity, outlaw Malcolm Reynolds and his crew revealed to the entire 'verse the crimes against humanity undertaken by the sinister government--the Alliance. Here, in the official follow-up to the film, the crew has been in hiding since becoming everyone's most wanted, and now they are forced to come out. River uncovers more secrets, leading these former Browncoats on a dangerous mission against the Alliance that, with hope, will bring them together again..."

Ah, who am I kidding. Sure I hated the movie but I adore Firefly so much I'll probably read this too.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Newbury and Hobbes Dream Casting: Ben Miles as Sir Charles Bainbridge

Name: Ben Miles

"Dream" Character Casting for the George Mann Newbury and Hobbes Miniseries: Sir Charles Bainbridge

First Impression: Berkeley Square... only it wasn't him! OK, I'm totally confused. I would have put money on the fact that he was the soldier that Hermione Norris was fooling around with... I think I must re-watch the entire series to see why I got it wrong. Really, I'm doing it for us, not just for me. So I guess that means The Forsyte Saga and Dartie it is for my first impression. Which is really a shitty first impression, because the character doesn't have anything redeeming about him till he dies...

Why they'd be the perfect actor for the Newbury and Hobbes Miniseries: In recent years he's gotten very good at being cast as either a gentleman or a cop, and I can't think of a better way to describe Bainbridge then as a gentleman cop. Also he looks good with a big bushy moustache.

Lasting Impression: I want to say Coupling, because yes, he did make an impression on me... but really it's Zen! Why? Because for the first time I really saw the depth in his acting and saw that he was more then just a womanizing ass.

What else you've seen them in: More a TV actor then a film actor, though he has starred in some big name movies like Speed Racer, Ninja Assassin, and The Affair of the Necklace, if you're a BBC miniseries addict you sure know who he is. He spent many years perfecting the womanizing ass until he transitioned to elder statesman with perhaps a little bit of darkness thrown in. Just look at his role in the newer tv adaptation of Dracula or even the aforementioned Zen! Though personally my favorite of all his roles was as Sir Timothy Midwinter in Lark Rise to Candleford. Why couldn't he and Dorcas have worked it out? Or at least she could have ended up with someone better then Gabriel. Yes, I am still bitter. 

Can't believe it's them: V for Vendetta. Really, that's him! I mean a lot of that movie is, OMG, look who it is because it's peopled with British actors I know and love, but still, V for Vendetta man!

Wish they hadn't: Under the Greenwood Tree because I literally can not think of a more forgettable miniseries of all the miniseries I have ever watched. Though as the Parson this does mark his transition out of being a womanizer, and for that I am very happy.

Bio: Ben started acting on television in the mid-90s after training at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, but it wasn't until 2000 when he was cast as Patrick in Coupling that he got his big break. Which begs the question as to why he hasn't appeared on Doctor Who! I mean come on Steven Moffat, you gave him his start, get on this! End rant. After this many roles followed in numerous miniseries. He is married to a fellow actress, Emily Raymond, and among his theatre credits is a stint in Richard II opposite his father-in-law. Lately he has been starring more and more onstage and can be seen as Thomas Cromwell on Broadway when Wolf Hall transfers there next year. Though I'm still bitter that my friend Mike got to see him and a plethora of my other favorite actors on Broadway a few years back in the revival of The Norman Conquests which went on to win a Tony. Perhaps I might go and see Wolf Hall to level the playing field...

Friday, November 14, 2014

Book Review - George Mann's The Executioner's Heart

The Executioner's Heart by George Mann
Book Provided by the Author
Published by: Tor
Publication Date: July 9th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Newbury has been sinking further into the mire his friends had hoped to extricate him from. His days are made up of dark arts and drugs. Yet little do they know he is doing it for them. His and Amelia's visions of a darkness to come brought by the sinister Executioner need to be studied so that it can perhaps be avoided. Though with bodies turning up with their hearts ripped out, perhaps the darkness is nearer at hand then they had hoped. With motives being questioned and no one knowing who to trust, can Sir Maurice and Veronica survive the darkness to find a bright future?

The way George's books are written they lend themselves to be read at breakneck speed wherein you never set them down. Alas life almost never allows for such luxuries. Work, appointments, commitments, sleep, anything and everything can be thrown in your path of just wanting to read one more chapter. The more interruptions that happen the more the story loses it's immediacy and the more likely you are to forget salient details and the narrative to lose it's impact. As it happens I had been reading the previous volume during my downtime at a Steampunk convention (fun for the tie-in, but hard when you just had to leave for a panel during a fight scene.) After the close of the convention I had factored in a few days of rest and recuperation before transitioning back to real life. This time allowed me the luxury of getting to read The Executioner's Heart without interruption.

I have just finished the last page and I seriously don't know what to do. The book enveloped me completely and I was just mesmerized. The best stories compel you ever onward, waiting for the next twist, the next chapter, the next book. I gobbled this volume up and I am sated. I just hope it will last, because while I'm not saying that I've reached the point of searching for cheap airfare and just showing up on George's doorstep, each book has built on the previous volume creating a greater story as we watch the characters and George's writing develop, and I do want more. As soon as possible. I know where you live George.

George has a knack with his characters. They have depth and originality. You can view them all as real people that you could meet on the street, that is if you could get to the street where they live. But what really makes his books stand out, which I'm sure I've mentioned before in passing, is that not just the heroes and heroines are well rounded but so are the villains, more so in this volume. In the previous three volumes we have gotten an understanding of those who would thwart Newbury and Hobbes, but in The Executioner's Heart we get even more insight. By having chapters telling us the story of The Executioner, we get a glimpse into what makes her tick, literally. By having these little flashes of her past, while we can't condone her actions, we come to an understanding. We know why she is what she is, but even the why and the how bring up more questions.

The clockwork heart and other infernal devices that have been prolonging Queen Victoria's life have long been a theme in this series, but now they are literally the heart of the matter. With Queen Victoria and The Executioner we have two individuals living beyond their time on earth by clockwork hearts. Both these women are depicted as, well, excuse the pun, but heartless. They are cold and calculating. They do what needs to be done. This brings the idea of man versus machine into stark relief. What is it that makes us human? We talk about love and emotion as being a part of the heart, when really they are seated somewhere in our brain.

But is it the removal of this organ that makes us less then human? Is it just this that sets these two women apart? Or is it the end result of that procedure that makes them something else? Is it living beyond their time that is what breaks them? Seeing the world change and not being a part of that change eroding your humanity? Immortal creatures from Gods to vampires are all in some way monstrous in the stories we tell. Is this because they are unable to connect to what it is to be human? There are just so many questions posed and as the book comes to a close, well, the answer is more important then ever. Gaw George, I might not have the next volume but you have left me so much to ponder!

One fact though I never need to dwell on is that at the end of the day the true villain is the one who tries to justify their deeds as being for "The Greater Good." Every baddie ever from Voldemort to the Neighborhood Watch Alliance of Sandford has used this excuse for their actions. Personally if anyone started spouting this dogma in front of me I'd take to my heels immediately. Or you know, go all righteous on their asses like Newbury. The thing is evil deeds cannot be justified. There aren't gradations of evil or wrong. If you do something wrong it's wrong. Yes, you could do something more wrong, but that's just going more evil, you're already evil from the wrong act. Having some people die without their say to save more... just no. It might be a "tough decision" but committing evil is never for "the greater good." There will always be a taint. Always.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Book Review - George Mann's The Immorality Engine

The Immorality Engine by George Mann
Published by: Tor
Publication Date: September 27th, 2011
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

A certain criminal, Edwin Sykes, has turned up dead. Only after his body is found a burglary with his signature all over it is perpetrated. Is this a copycat or something more sinister? Sykes was a member of The Bastion Society, an organization that seems a little too highbrow for such a criminal lowlife. The head of the society, an Enoch Graves, gives Sir Maurice, Veronica, and Bainbridge a run around that convinces them that somehow these two crimes are connected to not only each other, but to the society. When Sykes turns up dead a second time, despite erroneously thinking perhaps this is a case of twins, the erstwhile investigators turn all their attention to the society. But soon Bainbridge is distracted by an attempt on the Queen's life, and Newbury and Hobbes take some risks that might prove their downfall. One thing though is known, that whatever happens Veronica's sister Amelia will pay the price with her life.

It has been my experience that there comes a point in a series of books that will either cement the longevity of the series and make it a viable franchise or will make you inherently know that the storyline is bound to collapse and fail miserably. This is the book in the Newbury and Hobbes series in which I just knew that this series had wings. While this in no way is throwing shade at the previous two volumes, there was just an extra something that made this book spark with the potential this series will achieve. I personally think that it all comes down to the expansion of the universe of these characters that leads one to feel that longevity is possible. What made me most excited was that the narrative isn't contained to the events in the books. What I mean is that Sir Maurice and Veronica often reference events and cases that we haven't heard about while not detracting from the narrative.

While yes, these might be out there as short stories which I haven't read yet, what I adore is that their narrative lives aren't bound by just the stories in the three volumes I have read so far and the allusions to other adventures aren't clumsily inserted making it necessary to find out if indeed you missed something or were supposed to by an anthology for the one story you wanted. I like to think of the characters I know and love in a book are having adventures when I'm not around, it makes them more realistic if you will. Many series recount all the adventures, one after the other in volume upon volume, and there's just something so restricting about this. Something contained and episodic. By lacking this restrictive container the series has so much more potential for expansion, I just thrill at what is to come!

What drew me into the book most of all, aside from that heart stopping flash-forward, was The Bastion Society. The real reason I was interested in them wasn't the megalomania of their leader Enoch Graves with his delusions of being King Arthur, oh no, but their underlying belief system? Oh yes. The Bastion Society's tenants are that great deeds should be done to keep England the England of myth and legend. By doing what needs to be done in this life, our next life shall be better. Earlier this year when I did a theme month for Lauren Willig's book That Summer, I spent a lot of time researching and reading about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. They believed in chivalry and deeds worthy of myth. Truth in art that will withstand time and show the past for those in the present. All beliefs that are eerily similar to The Bastion Society.

Therefore I was thrilled when Newbury and Veronica were lurking around Packworth House and many of the Pre-Raphaelite paintings were strewn about the meeting house's walls. Of course none of the art was mentioned by name, but by golly, I can recognize their artwork my the meanest description there is, and there it was. There was a frisson of happiness that I saw this correlation and then George took it one step further by placing the artwork on the walls. It felt like a special in joke just for me and anyone else who might get it. Plus, the fantastical imagery thus created in my mind of, what if the Brotherhood did take up arms like The Bastion Society did... Rossetti, Hunt, and Millais on real horses, not just posing for each others paintings, I literally can not stop smirking at this idea.

Yet there was an aspect of this chivalry that I think went to far, and that is Veronica as the damsel in distress. She has never been one of those swooning women in these paintings! If anything the men are more liable to swoon. But in this book where she has finally taken center stage she seems somewhat watered down. When the time comes she is able to kick the arse and take the names that we know she has always done, but there's some underlying current that second guesses her that I just don't like. Newbury, who has always been solicitous is almost overly protective, which could be written off as his growing feelings for Veronica coupled with the mores of the day, but it just didn't sit right this time around. Veronica herself seemed to even wonder at her own abilities and this I shall not tolerate! A kick ass character can have self doubts but there's a point you reach when their acts of daring do and chivalry outweigh any possible doubts, and The Immorality Engine was weighted a little lopsidedly...

But in the final analysis, it all comes down to the fact that George is able to handle concepts and characters better then most writers out there. While reading The Immorality Engine I was reminded of a show that just aired on BBC America, Intruders, which I watched solely for John Simm. The show was about rebirth and resurrection, and the idea that there is a secret society that has found the secret to immortality, all high and mighty concepts that in the end was a hot mess with plot holes and a narrative disaster that even the best of actors couldn't act their way out of. The third volume of George's series handles similar concepts and conceits and in such a clear and profound way that at one time I literally looked up to my friend who was working on a project while I was reading (at a Steampunk Convention no less) and said, "If Intruders could have captured these concepts half as good as George did here it would have been an awesome show." Instead we are just left with the consolation of an awesome book. I know, it's such a disappointment.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Bane Chronicles by Cassandra Clare
Published by: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication Date: November 11th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 528 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Fans of The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices can get to know warlock Magnus Bane like never before in this collection of New York Times bestselling tales, in print for the first time with an exclusive new story and illustrated material.

This collection of eleven short stories illuminates the life of the enigmatic Magnus Bane, whose alluring personality, flamboyant style, and sharp wit populate the pages of the #1 New York Times bestselling series, The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices.

Originally released one-by-one as e-only short stories by Cassandra Clare, Maureen Johnson, and Sarah Rees Brennan, this compilation presents all ten together in print for the first time and includes a never-before-seen eleventh tale, as well as new illustrated material."

You might be finding it odd that I would even mention this book given my Cassandra Clare hatred... well, Magnus Bane was the only ok character and it's not all written by Clare, so I guess it's a meh, kind of interested in it feeling I have. Or I'm a masochist.

The Laws of Murder by Charles Finch
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: November 11th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"It’s 1876, and Charles Lenox, once London’s leading private investigator, has just given up his seat in Parliament after six years, primed to return to his first love, detection. With high hopes he and three colleagues start a new detective agency, the first of its kind. But as the months pass, and he is the only detective who cannot find work, Lenox begins to question whether he can still play the game as he once did.

Then comes a chance to redeem himself, though at a terrible price: a friend, a member of Scotland Yard, is shot near Regent’s Park. As Lenox begins to parse the peculiar details of the death – an unlaced boot, a days-old wound, an untraceable luggage ticket – he realizes that the incident may lead him into grave personal danger, beyond which lies a terrible truth.

With all the humanity, glamor, and mystery that readers have come to love, the latest Lenox novel is a shining new confirmation of the enduring popularity of Charles Finch’s Victorian series."

Because duh, obviously I'd buy this.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Newbury and Hobbes Dream Casting: Scarlett Johansson as Veronica Hobbes

Name: Scarlett Johansson

"Dream" Character Casting for the George Mann Newbury and Hobbes Miniseries: Veronica Hobbes

First Impression: My first impression of Scarlett was rather forgettable in Ghost World as the rather boring best friend. Though in all honesty, I don't really remember much about Ghost World at all, I watched it the day of my grandfather's funeral because I was too sick to go with a horrid inner ear infection, so perhaps I should maybe watch this movie again sometime?

Why they'd be the perfect actor for the Newbury and Hobbes Miniseries: Not only does Scarlett have the requisite beauty to play Veronica, as well as looking fabulous in historical costumes, but if her recent showing in The Avengers movies proves anything is that she can kick serious ass as well. In fact it was that most Steampunky and David Bowie-y of movies, The Prestige, that had me thinking that the dynamic duo of Newbury and Hobbes couldn't do better than Hugh Jackman and Scarlett Johansson... that was until I recast Hugh, sorry Hugh.

Lasting Impression: As the bored bewigged girl in Lost in Translation. In fact I think this is the first time a lot of people started to sit up and take notice of her. Not only did it revitalize Bill Murray's career, establish Sophia Coppola as more then just an art house director, but it really got the bigger offers coming in for Scarlett.

What else you've seen them in: Well, if you haven't seen The Avengers and Scarlett as Black Widow, well, I don't know what planet you've been living on. Before her becoming ubiquitous in the Marvel franchise, she did a lot more art house films with big name directors, from Sophia Coppola to Woody Allen, even a film with Brian De Palma. She's made a few missteps with a bad movie here and there, but for every The Island there is a Her, where people are protesting award category rules to allow her to be considered even though only her voice is in the movie.

Can't believe it's them: North!?! Literally her first movie role and something I remember seeing in the theatre! All I remember was watching this movie as a jaded high schooler and thinking, damn, this is shit. And you can hold me to that review.

Wish they hadn't: Have you seen Scoop? If you haven't I would avoid it like the plague. I remember the insanely wonderful press of the movie, it's Woody Allen, it's Scarlett Johansson, it's Hugh Jackman! It's putting me to sleep with how boring it is... oh look, she can swim. Yawn. If you want to see good Jackman and Johansson just watch The Prestige!

Bio: Scarlett, unlike a lot of celebrities, seems to not make much of a splash and was able to successfully transition from a child actor (though only in a few roles) to an adult actress without too many bumps in the road. She has a very distinct husky voice and usually garners critical acclaim for many of her movies while mixing them up with blockbusters that really pad the bank account. Oddly she was married to Ryan Reynolds for a few years, and I always thought it a bizarre pairing, an amazing actress who has played opposite heartthrobs like Colin Firth with the guy who played Berg on Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place, a show I really want on DVD for Nathan Fillion FYI. She's also stared in a few plays, again to rave reviews, and oddly released an album, seeing as I hadn't heard about that I'm guessing it wasn't released to rave reviews... She just had her first child, a daughter named Rose and has a lot more Marvel-ous movies coming soon!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Book Review - George Mann's The Osiris Ritual

The Osiris Ritual by George Mann
Published by: Tor
Publication Date: August 3rd, 2010
Format: Hardcover, 319 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Newbury and Hobbes are not working in tandem. Sir Maurice is off on assignment for the Queen looking into the "return" of another agent, William Ashford, who may have gone rogue and who may be involved in a high profile killing of the Egyptologist Lord Winthrop, whose discovery and then death are front page news as written by Newbury's new protege, George Purefoy. Veronica meanwhile is concerned about a spate of disappearances of young women, all who visited a magician, The Mysterious Alfonso, and participated in his stage show. They are both so wrapped up in their own cases that they don't realize the danger they are putting themselves in by working separately. Soon Veronica is trapped and in danger deep under a theatre, while Sir Maurice is racing across rooftops, not even sure if he's chasing the right man. They need each other to put things right before it's too late, or before the Queen gets tetchy.

I have an inkling that while I had heard of George Mann and The Affinity Bridge it wasn't until I heard about the second book in the series, The Osiris Ritual, that I really sat up and took notice. I am more then a bit of an addict for anything Egyptian. Like my love of Victoriana, it's the darker side of Egyptology that I am drawn to. The plagues and curses brought down for desecrating the dead, hold me back. When you crave bedtime stories about King Tut's Curse and Lord Carnarvon's dog howling and dropping dead at the same moment his master died, well, it's not that much of a surprise that that person grows up to dwell on stories of mummies and devours the entire oeuvre of Elizabeth Peters.

I still occasionally have nightmares that the Rame Tep from The Young Sherlock Holmes might come for me. But this nightmare is tinged with a deliciousness, because sometimes it's a good thing to be scared by something you can't explain. Though of course I like my Egyptian thrills from a nice comfy armchair versus up close and personal, the time my parents took me to the King Tut exhibit and I spent the entire time crying in a stairwell at The Field Museum in Chicago because by father and brother had convinced me that the mummy would curse me is a case study in why books are best. Armchair traveler for life, stamp my passport please!

Therefore the opening of The Osiris Ritual is a dream come true. I got to sit in my comfy chair wrapped snugly against the cold and read about a mummy unwrapping ceremony. The erstwhile and eager reporter George Purefoy was my entre into this world, we stood in awe together, and who wouldn't want to be brought under the wing of Sir Maurice Newbury and listen to his insights? The lush opulence of Lord Winthrop's house with all his artifacts, the ton gathering around as the mysterious sarcophagus was placed on the table, sigh. If I could just sink into a book and live in the moment, I would have chosen this one.

At TeslaCon, where I met George a few years back now, there was a staged mummy unwrapping, and while it lacked the intimacy of a true unwrapping, I was surprised that it was able to still contain that frisson of excitement. Though at the unwrapping we attended there was no chance of a curse, or at least I assume so. Here reading the book, I was just holding my breath till the "curse" took effect, and to my heart's delight I didn't have long to wait. Like all good storytelling while we are given an answer to the "curse" the book was able to suspend our disbelief and make us believe in the magic of "what if?"

Though in other parts the magic faltered a little. This would be the magical pairing of Sir Maurice and Veronica. The problem here was that they were separated for most of the book. Yes, I do understand that the main reason for this was that they were pursuing different cases and that it narratively worked for them to be separated so that they were ignorant that their cases were linked and therefore drew out the suspense for us readers. But it just somehow didn't click. Newbury couldn't exactly hook arms with George Purefoy and go walking down the street to face the next foe, it wouldn't be the same.

Yes The Avengers occasionally went off and did their own thing, Emma taking one lead, Steed another, but it's never the same with them apart, and that's how it is here. I also realize that the growing attraction between the leads has to be drawn out in some way, you can't have them get together too early and then have them lose their chemistry and destroy the series a la Moonlighting. But just using the simple expedient of keeping them apart seems a bit too contrived. There are many more reasons for them to not get together, and it looks like in future this will work far better for George's storytelling then this move did.

Though this separation was just a niggling problem in a book with a lot going right for it. What I loved most, which was oddly not Egyptian, was the hunt for the two former agents for the Crown, William Ashford and Newbury's predecessor, Knox. Not only was George able to portray the depth of these characters, making the villains have just as much going for them as the hero and heroine, but the relationship between Ashford and Knox reminded me powerfully of another famous book that has influenced the Steampunk genre. I'm talking about Frankenstein.

The monster that Ashford has become is very much created as a result of Knox's actions. Therefore the two have this creature/creator relationship that mirrors Shelley's work in many interesting ways, most of which I can't say without screaming "spoilers" beforehand. Needless to say there are just so many layers and connections to itself and other great stories that this is a penny dreadful to be savoured and returned to again and again just to see what you missed last time.

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