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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

“The Affinity Bridge” by George Mann (Reviewed by Liviu C. Suciu)

Official George Mann Blog
Order “The Affinity Bridge
HERE (Hardcover) + HERE (Paperback-September 1, 2008)
Read Reviews via SF Signal, Strange Horizons

INTRODUCTION: George Mann is fast becoming one of my favorite science fiction/fantasy editors in his position at Solaris Books. I’m especially a fan of the Solaris Book of New Fantasy and New Science Fiction anthologies, particularly The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction: Volume II, which was one of the best anthologies I’ve read this year. So when I heard about Mr. Mann's Victorian alternate history novel, “The Affinity Bridge”, I was intrigued and an online excerpt from the book sold me on it. Actually, I enjoyed the excerpt so much that I ordered the beautifully bound small-sized hardcover immediately rather than wait for the soon-to-be released paperback. And I have to say that it was worth it since the novel is a fun romp with great characters that you do not want to leave…

SETTING: Welcome to an alternate version of London, year 1901, 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. But there are downsides too, like a nasty plague that rots the brain transforming people into mindless zombies before killing them; poverty and slums; and a society that is essentially patriarchal though it allows limited scope for women. The occult, magical elements hover in the background, with the sfnal mostly in the forefront, so “The Affinity Bridge” is more or less a science fantasy novel that should appeal to lovers of both genres.

FORMAT/INFO: The hardcover edition of “The Affinity Bridge” I own stands at 319 pages divided over thirty-one numbered chapters, a Prologue and an Epilogue. At the end of the book is a twenty-eight page short story called “The Hambleton Affair”—subtitled a ‘Maurice Newbury investigation’—which is recounted by Sir Maurice to Chief Inspector Sir Charles Bainbridge and is quite powerful on its own. The novel is present tense third-person via the eyes of the two main characters: Sir Maurice, famous British Museum professor and Crown Investigator—think James Bond dabbling in the occult in a Victorian society—and his assistant, the plucky and very likable Veronica Hobbes. Other characters of note are Chief Inspector Sir Charles, Victoria's sister Amelia who is presumed mad and interned in a lunatic asylum—though in her nervous attacks she is more like an oracle who can see the future—and Queen Victoria herself. The book, while structured as a dual mystery—one a police investigation, the other a Crown investigation, both of which obviously converge at some point—is more of an adventure romp in a very inventive milieu since the mysteries themselves are not that subtle. The ending is superb and wraps-up the current threads so that “The Affinity Bridge” is mostly self-contained. But there are larger issues hovering in the background and the epilogue will leave your mouth hanging open as it gives the reader a mouthwatering taste of the next installment in what promises to be one of the most interesting new sff series out there…

The Affinity Bridge” is available through independent UK publisher
Snowbooks in three different versions: a Library Hardback Binding (July 1, 2008), a Paperback (September 1, 2008), and a glorious Slipcased Limited Edition, signed by the author, numbered out of 500, and includes a specially minted bronze coin. A US version of “The Affinity Bridge” will be published by Tor in 2009 I believe. "The Affinity Bridge's" cover was done by Emma Barnes, the Managing Director and co-founder of Snowbooks.

PLOT HINTS AND ANALYSIS: After a horror-like prologue which introduces the brain-eating virus that transforms people into zombies, the action starts at a London séance where Sir Maurice and Sir Charles are in attendance and Newbury cannot hide his annoyance with the childish tricks of the host that supposedly bring people in contact with the souls of the dead. The older Chief Inspector is more tolerant, but then he asks Maurice with help in the mystery of the “glowing policeman”—a serial killer who mainly targets vagrants, beggars and thieves. When a new body is found, Veronica and Maurice visit the crime scene and start making progress on the case using Veronica's “outsider” insights on the issue. However, the Queen summons Sir Maurice to investigate an airship that mysteriously crashed recently because a Royal nephew from Holland was onboard incognito, and from there the book really starts rolling...

The Affinity Bridge” is very easy to read and I felt very comfortable in its milieu while marveling at the inventiveness and wondering what new stuff the author would introduce.

Character-wise, Maurice Newbury is an engaging cross between Sherlock Holmes—occult dabbling, opium habit, etc.—and James Bond. Like Bond, the Crown Investigator deals with affairs of state, uses gadgets, attends secret meetings, has a Mr. Q-like “Fixer”, and gets into plenty of hand-to-hand fights with villains and hair-raising escapes. The only real difference is the lack of women because of the Victorian era.

The true star of the book though is the plucky, sensible, “regular middle class girl” Veronica who likes to challenge the still mostly patriarchal society as an assistant Crown Investigator participating at “ugly crime scenes unsuitable for a lady” and so on, but at the same time years for “simpler” times, when there were not so many machines, contraptions and such. Basically, Veronica provides a sharp contrast to Maurice who is an “early adopter” of technology and loves the new modern “toys” however imperfect they have been so far.

The stodgy older Sir Charles meanwhile, has some surprises not quite up his sleeve, but close so to speak, and the trio's interactions work extremely well. Then there are the Amelia seizures/prophecies scenes which are also show stoppers and I hope to see her free of the asylum and part of the team in the next installments.

In closing, as long as you do not expect an involved, complicated plot, then “The Affinity Bridge” will charm and entertain you. And like “The Minutes of the Lazarus Club”, George Mann’sThe Affinity Bridge” is one of the biggest surprises of the year and I can’t recommend the book enough…


Anonymous said...

I can't wait to sink my teeth into this book....The cover is so appetizing, and along with your recommendation - how could one possibly deny themselves the pleasure of this book.

Anonymous said...

Definitely looks like a novel checking out more. Any link to that online excerpt? :)

Liviu said...

Check this review that has two small paragraphs from the book. I do not remember for sure if I read a bigger excerpt, but I know that the book sounded so good that I ordered the hc edition from Book Depository in mid August, with the mmpb coming out September 1 - and available now at less than half the price I paid - and I do not regret it since I read the book on my vacation at the end of August.

I took it with me to read when I waited in line at tickets at Boston's Aquarium and at some stores there later and lots of people eyed the beautiful cover.


Anonymous said...

Oh that's what it's about!

Thanks for the review. I like the idea of this one!

Makkarii said...

Loved this book and can't wait to read the others in this series.


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