Now I have an e-reader which I use quite a lot but this edition of ‘The Affinity Bridge’ provides the reasons you should still buy paper-based books. The jacket is superb with embossed text and graphics. The back has a sidebar down the right reprinting some ‘Vexing News’ headlines. The whole thing is just very tastefully done, drawing you into the Victorian steampunk world crafted by George Mann. Another very nice touch is that the first page of a chapter has a different layout to the other pages. It all adds to the presentation of a very good book.
Of course, the presentation would be meaningless if the story was poor but fear not, this first instalment of the ‘Newbury And Hobbes Investigations’ is a very good read indeed. Set in Victorian London, with a few steampunk embellishments, it tells the story of Sir Maurice Newbury and his assistant, Miss Veronica Hobbes, as they investigate an airship crash and provide assistance to tackle a spate of gruesome murders. The grisly murders are said to be the work of the ghostly blue Policeman. There’s also the zombie plague sweeping through the slums of London making outside in the foggy nights of London a very dangerous place to be.
I think the author has been very brave here as any Victorian detective character is bound to be compared to Sherlock Holmes. Sir Maurice Newbury is nicely differentiated and can stand the comparison, although there are similarities. Miss Hobbes is also a nice touch and the perfect complement to Newbury. However, the tale begins with a prologue in India where three soldiers have an encounter with victims of the zombie plague. Rather than the more traditional name ‘zombie’, these unfortunates are called revenants in this late Victorian world. As expected, the encounter does not go well for the soldiers and only one very injured soldier survives.
The story properly begins with a séance, where we are introduced to Sir Maurice Newbury and his good friend, Sir Charles Bainbridge, a Chief Inspector of New Scotland Yard. They are only attending out of politeness to their host as neither was convinced that it is anything but a charade. This rather pedestrian event sets the pace for the first part of the book. There is a murder and then a crash of an airship but Sir Maurice and Veronica hardly get into second gear as they leisurely investigate. It is only when revenants attack and seriously injure Sir Maurice do things really take off. The pace of the story moves up a gear with chases, narrow escapes and a few killings before drawing to a satisfying conclusion with a delectable twist in the epilogue.
While this is a steampunk novel, the steampunk elements are not overlay pervasive, leading to an environment not that different to how we imagine late Victorian London to be. The main emphasis is on the plot and to some extent the relationship between Sir Maurice and Veronica. It is a very enjoyable read and I’m kicking myself for not picking it up when it came out in 2009. Still, I see that there are three more ‘Newbury & Hobbes’ novels and a collection of short stories so I will have enough to tide me over the long drawn out winter nights.
(pub: TOR/Forge. 336 page small hardback. Price: $24.99 (US), $31.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-2320-0
pub: TOR/Forge. 334 page small enlarged paperback. Price: $13.99 (US), $16.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-2322-4)