Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Affinity Bridge

by George Mann
Reviewed by Jodie

Anyone who reads Estella’s Revenge regularly will know that several of its contributors are big fans of Snowbooks, an independent publishing company that really is the whole package. Not only are they publishing fabulous fiction authors like Sarah Bower, the current darling of the book blog world, but they also market their books effectively, run a friendly blog and have an eye for what makes magnificent cover art. So, it’s a great pleasure to be reviewing one of their newest publications, The Affinity Bridge by George Mann, a detective story set in an alternative Victorian London.

The cover art of this sci-fi history offering is exquisite. The details like old style fonts, colour schemes and news style announcements bordering the main image of an orange blimp fit well with the period feel of the novel. The design is full of so many elements that readers will want to spend minutes examining the cover before even opening the book. It is the ultimate shiny object for the book-enamoured magpie. The spine, often one of the most neglected areas of book design features the title in pale blue and the author’s name in pale green set on a background the colour of lovingly polished wood. A pocket watch separates the two sets of text, with its minute inner mechanism on display and then the whole background is finished with a gold glitter effect. The design of this small element of the cover shows a dedication to perfection.

The novel inside the covers begins almost like a conventional Victorian detective story, written by a modern author. Sir Maurice Newbury and his new assistant Veronica Hobbes are asked by Newbury’s friend Charles Bainbridge, the Chief of Police to help with an investigation into a series of murders in Whitechapel. However before they can get far with their enquiries they are diverted to the case of an airship crash by orders of the queen, as Newbury is an agent of the Crown. Many readers will feel they comfortable with this type of book and well acquainted with the traditional vernacular of "I bid you well and good night." and "I say!" that runs throughout the dialogue. The pairing of Hobbes and Newbury will also feel familiar. He is incisive and dashing, while she is capable and strong willed and both are filled with good British sense.

However there is soon plenty of genre mixing as Mann integrates sci-fi elements into his novel. There is a werewolf like plague spreading across the poorer sectors of the city, reducing human beings to rotting, animalistic killers. Basic robots are present in the form of "automatons" built to serve the public but for some reason beginning to malfunction. Showing a flair for fun and bravery Mann has even steampunked Queen Victoria herself, making her half queen and half machine. These elements provide much of the action with Newbury battling with plague victims and being savaged by automatons in dramatic, violent fight scenes, quite unlike anything seen in a Sherlock Holmes story. There are also unusually graphic admissions to the weaknesses of the main characters. As used as readers might have become to Holme’s well controlled cocaine habit ‘The Affinity Bridge’ contains a more realistic pictures of the opiate addicted detective sprawling unconscious on his floor after bingeing on laudanum. Scenes like this and Veronica’s visits to her sister in an asylum help the book to transcend categories like "cosy mystery" or "Victorian pastiche".

The Affinity Bridge is an energetic novel, which reinvigorates both the detective and the sci-fi genre. Independent publishers like Snowbooks are to be praised for ensuring that beautiful, well written books are around for readers to adore.

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