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Thursday, July 2, 2009

"The Osiris Ritual" by George Mann (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)


Official George Mann Blog
Order "The Osiris Ritual" HERE(hc) or HERE(slipcase edition)
Read "The Shattered Teacup", a Newbury investigation (pdf) HERE
Read FBC's Review of "The Affinity Bridge" HERE
"The Affinity Bridge" in the US at Tor/Macmillan

INTRODUCTION: The Affinity Bridge was a personal favorite of mine in 2008 and the next series installment "The Osiris Ritual" became a highly awaited novel for 2009. In consequence I have been pestering Mr. Mann for a review copy for a while and I was absolutely delighted when a pdf of the book containing the two short stories that will be included in the UK hardcover edition and the extract from the author's new series "The Ghost of Manhattan" appeared in my inbox in early June.

I read the book the same day I received it, putting aside any other book I was reading at the time and my high expectations were fulfilled by a very entertaining page turner that I could not put down until I finished it. After reading the novel, I asked the author to provide us with an overview of the series considering that it will run at least six novels and one collection and you can read George Mann's spoiler free but insightful answer in the note following the review. Taking Mr. Mann's insights into account in my re-read of the novel the following day added an extra layer to my already great enjoyment of "The Osiris Ritual".

OVERVIEW: Welcome to an alternate version of London, year 1902, where airships roam the sky, mechanical cabs are starting to displace the horses and coaches, automatons are starting to replace servants and even pilots, and Queen Victoria is going as strong as ever as a part mechanical, part human ruler in the care of strange Dr. Fabian.

The story of Sir Maurice Newbury as "Sherlock Bond" with an addiction to opium and the arcane and his plucky assistant Veronica Hobbes, her very unusual sister Amelia as well as the assorted cast of strange characters encountered in "The Affinity Bridge" continues and deepens here.

Chief Inspector Sir Charles Bainbridge is also present but like the Queen, he takes a more backstage role in this novel than in the first one, leaving Maurice, Veronica and Amelia as the main POV's

In "The Osiris Ritual" there are three seemingly unrelated threads:

Lord Winthrop a famous Egyptologist has returned from the Middle East with an unusual mummy and intends to unveil it a party for the cream of London society; Sir Maurice and young journalist Purefoy of The Times are in attendance; it is said that the mummy has dark curses laid upon those who will touch it; what will happen to Lord Winthrop?

Veronica is on the trail of a presumed serial killer; girls are disappearing and that is connected with a traveling performer, the stage magician Alfonso.

Maurice gets an express order from the Queen to bring agent Caspian in; formerly undercover in St. Petersburg but returning unauthorized to London, Caspian is a very weird personage as Maurice discovers.

And over this hovers the long shadow of Newbury's predecessor as Queen's expert agent on the occult, one Dr. Knox who seemingly loyal and dedicated to the Empire, had a gruesome agenda; discovered some 5 years ago, he used his arcane knowledge to escape and murder the agent in charge of his arrest and the Queen and Sir Charles fear constantly that Newbury will cross that line too.

The novel stands at about 300 pages and the ending ties the main threads above while clearly segueing into the next installment which is now one of the most awaited novels of 2010 with the promised arc ending and major revelations and twists. In the hardcover edition there will be two short stories featuring Newbury, Sir Charles and Veronica as well as an excerpt from the author new series "The Ghosts of Manhattan" (mobsters and steampunk in NY cca 1925!!)

The first story "What Lies Beneath" takes place immediately after the ending of "The Osiris Ritual" and alludes at its events though it has no direct connection with them, while the second story "The Shattered Teacup" takes place between "The Affinity Bridge" and this novel and is offered free online by Snowbooks both in pdf format and as a special audio rendering.

ANALYSIS: When I started "The Osiris Ritual" I had no clear idea what the book will be about in the big picture sense; will it be a standalone, a direct sequel to "The Affinity Bridge", a second novel in a series? I knew the setup from Affinity which I just loved, I knew it will be some kind of mystery/secret agent investigation with something involving Egyptian mythology and of course I love the writing style of the author, but I had no idea how the series is structured.

I saw hints about the deeper background in the first novel and as The Osiris Ritual progresses I saw more tidbits that imply a deeper structure than a fairly straightforward "Sherlock Bond" type of mystery/adventure in a steampunk setting.

So in a sense "The Osiris Ritual" is a middle novel of a trilogy with the threads building for a powerful climax in "The Immorality Engine", but its main threads are brought to a conclusion too, so it can be read as a standalone.

For the author style which I personally love, the story linked above will showcase it better than any short excerpt and I would urge anyone wanting to give a try to the series to check it out.

None of the characters is "perfect". Maurice has his oppium addiction and the seeds of doubt that start to plague him as he delves more into the secret world of his trade, while Veronica racked by guilt about Amelia's fast decline and impending death and as a sort of atonement for that, throws herself into finding the presumed serial killer and saving the young women that could be his next victims. For both, personal danger is something they almost court recklessly and beyond their call of duty. No "cool, calculating, all knowing" secret agent or detective here, but two very emotional characters and that is a big plus for me adding "life" to the series.

Even the unflappable Sir Charles finds brandy as the only antidote to the bleak, brutal world he inhabits. Only Amelia who starts assuming a more and more central role here is emotionally detached; she still has visions, but her fast and furious decline and imminent death has detached her from her feelings as a way to cope, though of course there is Dr. Fabian and his miracles so who knows, Amelia may have a hope somehow, but at what cost?

We then have three elements: steampunk alt-London cca 1902, the mysteries from the threads mentioned in the Overview and the characters themselves whose inner struggles occupy the central stage more and more. Does it mesh well?

The first volume was first and foremost a book of the superb universe imagined by Mr. Mann, with both characters and action important but not the main attraction for me at least. Here though Maurice and Veronica, with Amelia to a lesser extent take clear center stage and it worked very well for me.

Just great stuff and highly, highly recommended!


Note: Graciously answering my query for more information, George Mann told me the following (reproduced with the author's permission):

George Mann:

"The stories and the extract (from The Ghosts of Manhattan) will be in the limited UK hardcover edition only - the paperback due out in September will just be The Osiris Ritual on its own. I don't know for sure yet, but I imagine the US edition will also just be the novel itself.


I have a rough plan for 6 novels so far, but there are also novellas and short stories exploring different characters and different aspects of the world, and the series could run for a good while if people want more. I have plenty of material!

The first three books form the first arc. There are themes running throughout the first two books that are all teased out in book three. So the seeds for everything have been planted, and I'm hoping that readers will see things in a different light as everything comes to a head in THE IMMORALITY ENGINE.

The format of the books, of course, is to have a 'standalone' mystery - or a new case - each book, but the real arcs are the character arcs and the overall stories that make them who they are. So whilst they can be read as standalone mysteries, there's really two three book arcs, with major themes and a few underlying story arcs.

Then there's going to be a short story collection in the UK, featuring a prequel novella about the death of Newbury's previous assistant, Templeton Black, as well as a Newbury & Hobbes novella set between Affinity and Osiris, and a whole bunch of other short stories too.


Then book four kicks off a second arc of three books. Something *major* happens in book four and that has serious repercussions through books five and six as the characters come to terms with what has happened. It changes the dynamic and introduces new blood. "

5 comments:

The Reader said...

Hi Liviu

Great review & especially with the author's note at the end. I hadn't heard of this book at all, goes to show I do need to read much more. Thanks for pointing this one for us.

Btw the plot & setting sounds similar to The Somnabulist by Jonathan Barnes which had a pretty weird storyline & characters,

Mihir

Liviu said...

I loved The Somnambulist and (to a lesser extent) Domino Men, but I would not compare them too much with this series; The Somnambulist is more in the fabulist tradition, depending a lot on weirdness of the setting and strangeness of characters than story which is rather thin, and the characters do not really change, while AB+OR are Sherlock Bond steampunk super agent with shades of Indiana Jones so it's much more action oriented, while the character arcs are quite important too.

If you love Sherlock Holmes, James Bond or steampunk the series is for you, while Somnambulist was more in the gothic literature tradition.

The Reader said...

Thank Liviu

This does sound like what I would enjoy, I'm going to pick this 1st book soon.

Mihir

ediFanoB said...

Hi Liviu,

excellent review! Thanks for additional information from George Mann.
I read The Affinity Bridge and The Shattered Teacup and I like them as much as you do.

Maybe I'm crazy but I sent a pre-order for
The Osiris Ritual, The Ghost of Manhattan and The Immorality Engine. Can't wait for the delivery of my paperback copy of The Osiris Ritual in September 2009.

Liviu said...

Thank you for your kind words;

Mr. Mann is busy writing those two books - he finished Osiris not that long ago (I know since I have been pestering him for a pdf arc for a while now - the books I really, really want, I pull out all stops to get them asap, and I mean asap), luckily the small press UK publication has this advantage of bringing stuff much faster than in a big publication machine so Osiris made it to print in time.

Any news from him that I find out and is public, I will announce here and in the meantime enjoy The Osiris Ritual...

I am very, very curious where the series goes next - I edited spoilers from his answers, but they were spoilers for the first two books so I have no idea what's next either :)

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