George Mann’s first novel ‘The Affinity Bridge’ taps neatly into a number of popular themes: take steampunk and mix with a dash of zombies and sprinkle with an underlying mystery to solve whilst it’s at it and then cook for about 270 pages. Sir Maurice Newbury, advisor to the Crown, has a lot on his hands – a glowing policeman, a plague that turns people to zombies and a crashed airship. Oh, and a set of malfunctioning bronze automata on the loose..
***Mild spoilers follow here in***
This is London in the reign of Queen Victoria, but with pistons, engines, steam and airships. And it’s bloody good fun. Who wouldn’t want to read a novel with zombies lurking in Whitechapel? The story evokes the atmosphere of Victorian London nicely and the various plot strands are juggled nicely whilst keeping the story moving. The debt to Sherlock Holmes, and in part, the tale of Jack the Ripper is evident, but I’d liken this more to a Victorian episode of The Avengers than anything.
Briefly touched upon is what the technological developments will mean for London. On one hand, they are preserving the Monarchy in the case of the device that keeps Victoria alive, and Newbury’s fascination with how these machines work and what they could do versus Hobbes’ feeling of discomfort at how they could revolutionise London by putting so many out of work. It is an interesting theme, especially given the development that an automaton crashed the airship at the centre of the plot and is now missing – Newbury and Hobbes’s reaction to the machines neatly playing them off against each other at times.
Character development outside the main three characters is slim – but for a detective story to work there always have to be stereotypes that fit certain roles. Where Newbury, Hobbes and their boss Banbridge are involved however, there are several tantalising hints of where their relationship could go. Newbury and Hobbes’ relationship is more Steed and Mrs. Peel than Moonlighting – an added element because of their intellectual sparring with each other, something that is particularly well written in the book. Hobbes, who could have ended up the screaming damsel in distress instead becomes more of a rounded and altogether modern character.
The best way to approach The Affinity Bridge is as if it is the pilot episode for a series. References to past adventures and foreshadowing are abound. The next two books, I’m sure, develop the characters and the series further and there have been short stories to further develop the mythology. Approaching it this way for what it is, allows to you enjoy the ride much more. Not a steampunk novel, nor a straight Sherlock Holmes-style mystery, The Affinity Bridge is a rollocking ride through a alternative take on Victorian London and should be applauded for the way the multiple stands of the various plots tie together. Not perfect, but there’s much fun to be had here. The twist at the end is likely to make you want to reach for The Osiris Ritual at any rate.
The Fiction Stroker will give this four strokes of out five: