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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