Thursday, 2 September 2010

‘The Affinity Bridge’ – George Mann (Tor)


I received a copy of George Mann’s ‘The Osiris Ritual’, for review, a few days ago and my first thought was, ‘this looks cool but wasn’t there another book that came before it...?’ I wasn’t mistaken, how could I have been? A couple of years ago now, it felt like everyone was saying what great fun Mann’s ‘The Affinity Bridge’ was but it turned out to be yet another book that I never quite managed to get round to. When you’ve got a reading pile that’s spilling off the shelves and onto the floor, sometimes it really is best to try and read what you’ve got first before finding yet more stuff to read!
It’s better to arrive late to a party than not turn up at all though! Especially when there’s that ‘warm afterglow’ of everyone having enjoyed a book and you can fit right in nicely. At least that’s what I thought when I asked for a copy of ‘The Affinity Bridge’ to go with ‘The Osiris Ritual’. I actually ended up feeling wondering what the fuss was all about...

Victorian London sits on the very edge of an unprecedented industrial revolution. Airships add a new feature to the city’s skyline while trains rumble through the streets and automatons are programmed to carry out menial tasks across London. All of this is overseen by a Queen Victoria kept alive by a primitive life support system and this isn’t the only dark side to London. A zombie plague sweeps the slums and there are reports of a glowing policeman hunting the streets for his unsuspecting prey. An automaton pilot missing from a crashed airship could be just the thing to tie these two events together and it’s the job of Sir Maurice Newbury and his assistant Miss Veronica Hobbes to solve an unfolding mystery that could have dire consequences if it’s not dealt with...

A blurb like that can’t fail to impress can it? I’ll bet you read it and found yourself thinking that you wouldn’t mind some of that yourself. The reality for me though was a little different...

‘The Affinity Bridge’ is a perfectly serviceable detective novel with a mystery that I for one wanted to see resolved. Revelations hang together (albeit very loosely) and everything does fit together by the end of the book. The steampunk flavour to the setting initially promises much as well; I don’t know an awful lot about steampunk but I like what I’ve see so far and I was looking forward to more of the same here. And there are zombies to be found as well! If you know me at all then you will know that it only takes the merest hint of zombies for me to pick a book up and get reading. When the zombies don’t turn up until page two hundred and fifty four of a three hundred and thirty six page book though... Even a zombie fan like me can end up feeling a little short changed though. They’re in a very brief prologue and then that’s it until well over halfway through the book!

This example is symptomatic of the issue that I had with ‘The Affinity Bridge’; namely that George Mann decides to sidestep everything slightly outlandish that he’s put in the book (to make it great) in order to concentrate on the more mundane areas of the plot. There are just enough elements of steampunk for the book to fit in the subgenre but certainly not enough to make it feel like the steampunk book it purports to be. I came away with the feeling that I’d been reading about historical Victorian London with a few extra bits bolted on to make it stand out a little. I’m not saying that Mann had to really over egg the cake but a little more flavour could have made all the difference here. When the robots and automatons finally attack, Mann proves that he can write an exciting scene to set pulses racing but it just left me thinking, “Why haven’t you done this some more...?” Same deal with the big revelation right at the end. Although it has been done before, the evil plan of Mann’s villains is dressed up superbly and makes for a fine read right at the end of the book. The problem I had with it though is that the outlandishness here is completely at odds with the more mundane London that Mann has painted earlier. The two pieces didn’t quite gel and that made the story stumble when it should have soared...

As I mentioned earlier, what you’re left with is a detective story that does its job well enough but isn’t as eye catching as the subject matter could have made it if it had been properly employed. I will be back for ‘The Osiris Ritual’ though, purely because of the relationship gradually building up between Newbury and Hobbes as well as the characters themselves. Both are ‘pleasingly pulp’ and worth following, even though I’m not sure I’ll ever forgive Mann for the ease with which Newbury escapes the aftermath of a lethal situation. If you’ve read ‘The Affinity Bridge’ then you’ll know what I’m talking about...

It’s the characters that will have me back for the next instalment and I’m hoping that the world building elements of ‘The Osiris Ritual’ will be of a higher standard than they were this time round. ‘The Affinity Bridge’ is a novel that promises much and then only delivers half of it...

Six out of Ten

5 comments:

Niall Alexander said...

Oh...

Damn it all. I've been eyeing up this series for ages, too.

Megan said...

I've read a few books like this lately, that promise much and deliver little of it. It's damn annoying is what it is.

Graeme Flory said...

Niall - Don't let me put you off! There's enough here for me to give 'The Osiris Ritual' a go although the anticipation has dimmed somewhat...

Megan - I'm right there with you!

Stefan Fergus said...

I've been hearing mixed things about Mann's books - some say great inventiveness, but poor delivery/execution.

I guess I shall just wait a little longer to get to this series.

Arsyn said...

Agreed, Mann's delivery of the story does find itself lacking any deep spark but I found the characters and the dialogue to make up for that. At least enough to still enjoy the book and even to check out "The Osiris Ritual". This is easily one of those light and fun reads.