The book soars along at a swift and near relentless pace, incorporating zombies, ghosts, action, mystery and implied glimmers of artificial intelligence, but for all its genre trappings, it fails to properly establish its own identity. A few neat ideas stand out, such as a cane transforming into an electricity-shooting rifle and the ultimate revelation behind malfunctioning clockwork automata, but there is little truly distinctive enough to make the story stand out.
To its credit, the book acknowledges the poverty, disease, violence and crime rampant in Victorian times that steampunk’s rose-tinted vision of the past often glosses over in favour of a romanticised view of the world being nothing but potential, and the story’s forays into the less salubrious areas of the city give a necessary counterpoint to the quiet and peaceful world inhabited by the upper classes.
An unfortunate glaring oversight is the lack of development of the story’s central duo. Hobbes’ institutionalised sister grants her an emotional side beyond her stoic determination, but being concerned about appearing unladylike while kicking a door open is as close to characterisation as she otherwise gets. Newbury is frustratingly even less developed. While he is undoubtedly a talented and loyal servant to Her Majesty, we got no indication of how he first embarked upon his calling, or indeed what it is that drives him to regularly risk his life in service to the Empire. The largest insight to his character is an addiction to laudanum (a possibly unintentional parallel to Sherlock Holmes’ crack habit), a dependency he attempts to hide from everyone, himself included. It’s entirely possible we’ll be granted greater insight to his character in subsequent books (due for publication at an alarming rate), but for now he remains a blank enigma.
Aside from this there is nothing major wrong with the book; it’s certainly an enjoyable and easy read. It just feels that tighter plotting and a more streamlined vision could have created something new and compelling, rather than familiar and distinctly average.
THE AFFINITY BRIDGE / AUTHOR: GEORGE MANN / PUBLISHER: TITAN BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW