PrintE-mail Written by Callum Shephard

All too often the Steampunk genre is judged by its bare basics. Add in an airship, monocle and some contemporary items with gears, and to some people you’re set to go. However, the charm of the genre comes from other aspects – Archaic societal norms given futuristic technology, the Empire at a height it never truly knew, and concepts from other genres put into a new light. This is what the Newbury and Hobbes series has always excelled at, and this new outing offers to show that much more of the world.

Having resolved a multitude of seemingly impossible cases, Newbury’s star is on the rise. Held in high esteem and venerated by the public, life has never been better, but his increasing reliance upon opium is taking its toll. As such, his new case could not have come at a worse time. A criminal is performing high risk crimes with astounding success, despite having been confirmed dead for weeks. The police even have his body in the morgue, and it is down to Newbury and Hobbes to solve this mysterious riddle.

This time the steam-driven future-tech is kept largely in the background. Instead, it focuses initially upon the political and societal elements of the world, furthering the series’ world building efforts. While the steampunk elements help drive the story forwards, the focus is more upon the mystery and characters themselves. It’s used as a catalyst, to help enhance the other elements of the tale rather than overwhelm them, and this sparing approach to the story allows Mann to craft a far more immersive world. When the more occult elements come into play, the mix of body-horror and insanity gives the tale a sense of boundless energy; and there is far more thought put into how these secret societies operate than you would expect.

What sadly holds this book back more than anything else is some surprising contradictions with real-world history. While a few odd dates or even strangely paced figures would be fine, you end up with everything from misjudging when the Empire was at the height of its power to certain social norms. This makes it difficult to read even with the benefit of suspension of disbelief, and paired up with some surprisingly clichéd turns for the series, it proves to be a much weaker outing than the first two books.

The series is most definitely worth exploring for its futuristic Victorian setting and steampunk elements, and The Immorality Engine does benefit from some fascinating ideas. However, it’s definitely one best saved until after you read The Affinity Bridge or a few of the better outings.


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