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.


Newer Post Older Post Home