Friday, September 14, 2012

Book Review - George Mann's The Affinity Bridge

The Affinity Bridge by George Mann
Published by: Tor
Publication Date: July 1st, 2008
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

In our world, Queen Victoria would have died at the turn of 1901, but in November of that year Victoria lives still via machines, past her time on this earth, in this world. Preserved as ruler. Sir Maurice Newbury works as an "investigator for the crown" for this indomitable woman who plans to outwit death, by any means necessary, should further measures need to be taken. While he works at the British Museum as an expert on ancient societies and the occult, it is his dabbling in the occult that Victoria calls upon from time to time, making his Museum job more a cover than anything. Or as Newbury and his clever assistant, Victoria Hobbes, would say, the museum is there between the interesting adventures.

Queen Victoria has several mysterious situations at present that need Newbury's expertise. There is a plague of revenants, zombie like corpses attacking people in the fog, a string of deaths in Whitechapel that are linked to a mysterious glowing policeman, but most importantly, a crashed airship that had a minor royal on board and among the lists of the dead, well they where all dead except the pilot who was missing. While Newbury longs to find a satisfying conclusion to the murders in Whitechapel and help Scotland Yard and his copper friend Sir Charles Bainbridge, Victoria has insisted that the crash of The Lady Armitage comes before everything else.

Going to the company that made The Lady Armitage, Chapman and Villiers, they discover that the company has been expanding beyond their regular line of airships to encompass Automatons. Villiers is a scientist who left France under a cloud because of his unorthodox experimentations, but Newbury can not help marvelling at the work shown to them. They have created simulated life. A simulated life that coincidentally may be responsible for the disastrous air crash, no matter Chapman and Villiers's denials.

The closer Victoria and Newbury get to the answers, the more in danger they are. Maurice needs help from "The Fixer" on more than one occasion to keep him alive at all. Add the ubiquitous presence of the unnerving automatons everywhere and then throw in a dash of an insane asylum and laudanum addiction and you can see it's going to be a miracle if they can solve the cases and keep themselves alive. Now just a quick rest for tea and off into the foggy fray they go!

I distinctly remember the day I picked up this book. I was in Saint Louis on the way to my best friend's wedding in Arkansas. We had stopped for two nights in Saint Louis because my friend Matt's family is there and it was a very nice half way point. Upon planning a trip to any town I research the bookstores in advance. I was very excited to go to Left Bank Books, which I had heard so much about. But being in a literary town I have high standards. Sadly, the bookstore left me wanting... yet... there, below a window in the basement I found this book. I had been wanting to buy it, there was more than a little cover lust and I loved the handling of the type, especially how George Mann's name was framed, also, I've always loved the name Hobbes since Calvin and Hobbes. So the bookstore itself was a bust, yet the find made me joyous. I had even greater joy later upon learning that George was going to be at last years Teslacon. I was going for Gail Carriger, but I met two more authors there that I now consider friends, George was one of them.

The Affinity Bridge spoke to me on so many levels. One being the sheer Britishness of it. Just count the times they have tea and you will start to feel the call of Queen and Country... is that a stiff upper lip developing? Also, I adore people who, while working covertly, also have a cool day job; British Museum, hello! I'd take that any day! Though it was the pacing that drew me in more than anything. Some Steampunk books have a flaw of constant action with a quick tea break. This break neck speed doesn't always appeal to my Victorian sensibilities, or even my British sensibilities. You would not see The Avengers rushing about. Sure, they had an action packed punch up when needed, but they took the time for the crime to unwind, sure, in their case many people died, but the leisurely pace from one clue to the next with taking lots of time for tea and strolling arm and arm to the crime gives the book a nice lazy Sunday afternoon vibe. Action packed, yet relaxing and inviting.

I also liked the automatons. Given how they play out, there are many Doctor Who Cybermen references that could be bandied about. In particular the fact that the Chapman and Villiers plant is located in Battersea and they used the Battersea Power Station made famous by Pink Floyd for the conversion facility in the David Tennant two-parter, Rise of the Cybermen and The Age of Steel. Yet, George makes them far scarier than I have even felt the Cybermen where. With their fluidity of motion and their mirrored eyes, I would be more likely to compare them to Steampunk Cylons. Needless to say, they freaked me out, and once we find the reason for their malfunctioning, they go into the truly terrifying category. Well done George, you have succeeded in giving me robot nightmares that Doctor Who has failed to do since I was a little girl playing in my grandfather's gravel pit.

Finally there is the Blue Policeman. He caught me at page whatever he first appeared on and George cleverly kept him off stage for awhile, but not too long, pushing me forward to find out what the frak was going on. Side note, I view frak is perfectly acceptable in this review because of the automatons similarities to cylons, end note. I also loved that, most likely, it was a mystery in a mystery. Always keep us guessing George and you'll always keep me reading, though maybe edit that fight scene on the train a little but thanks for downplaying the "zombie card". Can't wait for the next one, Egyptian overtones I hope judging by the title, The Osiris Ritual!


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