Posted on October 14, 2010 by Eric Pollarine
Available at Amazon.com
So, here we are readers, another late night at the old computer, another review, but this time it is a slightly different affair. Upon completion of George Mann’s “The Affinity Bridge” published by Tor, I happened upon a realization, OK, well not really a realization, more of a revelation, and not one in the biblical sense mind you, more of a traditional something that I hadn’t seen before until I opened my eyes sort of thing. Confused? Well, it seems as if you aren’t the only ones, because I am as well. So here we go with the admission stage of feeling guilty.
I do like Steampunk. But I will add this condition, when it is done well, and “The Affinity Bridge,” is in fact, Steampunk done well. I have had this book on my chopping block/to do list/reviewing schedule for quite some time now, but after I read The Ghosts of Manhattan, I was mostly convinced of my complete (and unfortunate) dislike of Steampunk as an offshoot of Science Fiction. And, truth be told, George Mann as an author.
I am not much of a fan of science fiction anyways. Yes, I know, I know-I thought we discussed this in an earlier review, and we most certainly did. But like I said, I picked up “The Affinity Bridge,” and began, because this is America, and I don’t care what the great F. Scott Fitzgerald said, everyone, dear hearts, everyone gets a second act. And I am very grateful that old Fitzy was wrong, because had I not given The Affinity Bridge” a shot, I would have missed out on one of the defining works from the author if not one of the defining works in the genre.
Now, don’t get me wrong, “The Affinity Bridge is not a work of genius mind you. But it is a book which shows us George Mann’s particular shade of expertise in writing, his sort of brilliance in prose. This book certainly has its critics and its champions and I am not really all that concerned, at least at this stage in the game, with them here. I am going to try and stay as agnostic as I can in this review, as I do not wish to spoil the enjoyment I have had while reading it.
The Skinny on the Story:
We have Sir Maurice Newbury and Miss Veronica Hobbes as being the main protagonists in this, our world of steam and automata. Where No doubt the classic trope of detective or secret agent is blended seamlessly into Sir Maurice’s character and the more traditional sidekick/Watson is given over to the Character of Miss Veronica Hobbes. The allusion, however, to Holmes and Watson is a bit of a stretch as Sir Maurice and Miss Hobbes are characters who both have more depth than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle allowed in the original incarnation of the worlds greatest detective. We find that there are similarities, but also striking differences. Where Holmes is a man of strict and almost mathematical logic, Sir Maurice doesn’t mind giving himself over to the more arcane arts in an attempt to find his answers. And Miss Hobbes, rather than being the typical sort of bumbling sidekick, always needing an explanation, is a more modern representation of both womanhood in the changing early twentieth century as well as completely capable on her own of coming to some rather striking, and correct conclusions. Littered throughout the story are characters that aid the two, such as the charmingly English and reliably stodgy Sir Charles Bainbridge, the chief inspector at Scotland Yard and a small but interesting supply of secondary characters. The two investigators are put to the test when investigating a series of unsolved murders in the Whitechapel district, as well as an airship crash with possible ties to the royal family. Through twists and turns, action and mystery we finally see all the connections as they entwine together in the books climax. Oh and did I mention the fact that there is a plague of living dead stalking the fog enshrouded slums, no? Well there’s a plague of living dead stalking the fog enshrouded streets of London’s slums as well.
The best part of this book, the absolute best part I should say, is the fact that Mann has a fantastic command of the traditional mystery. There are red herrings, there are obvious bad guys, and there are stalwart investigators and loads of passages with enough intrigue to keep you riveted. Far from the cheesy pulp of “The Ghosts of Manhattan,” Mann’s prose here in “The Affinity Bridge” works overtime but doesn’t feel strained or forced. The characters are fully fleshed out and lack nothing for presence and style; the villains are decidedly evil but somewhat sympathetic. All in all the entirety of the story is not so much a one of a kind, but a fantastic mystery with the Victorian/Steampunk aesthetic placed carefully throughout to add instead of carry.
There isn’t much, and to be honest I have seen that there are those online and in print that have said that the book lacks a certain something, but I believe that they are looking through the lens of a given genre, instead of simply taking the story on its own and just enjoying the ride. And there in resides the problem, at times, of supposed “genre” fiction. So my advice would be to step back from your top hat and your frock coat, weekend “makers,” and try your hardest to understand that Mr. Mann has created a dynamic duo that has the potential of staying power.
The Rest of It:
Decidedly though, yes, this is a “Steampunk,” story. And as much as I didn’t want to like this supposed offshoot “genre,” this book has shown me the opportunity that can present itself when the style and tropes are done right. It has also shown me that Mann, as an author, has a true calling for this story and these characters. Now, I am not suggesting that he stop at just this, I would never. What I am saying is that Mann is a British science fiction author, but the emphasis is on British, and America is a decidedly different country made up of a decidedly different landscape of characters and maybe that was what I thought was the real reason as to why “The Ghosts of Manhattan” wasn’t really all that it could have been. But now, I can not wait to start on the next in the Newbury and Hobbes series; I wait in open and elated anticipation.
Review by Eric Pollarine