This book is the third full length novel in this steampunk adventure series set squarely in Victorian times. Sir Maurice Newbury and his feisty sidekick Veronica Hobbes are called on to investigate a wave of crimes identical to committed by a murderer who the police have just found dead. Their enquiries lead them to the Bastion Society, and personal physician to Queen Victoria, Dr Lucius Fabian. Why is he so interested in Veronica’s sister, Amelia, and can Newbury and Veronica help free her from a terrible fate as a slave to the Empire?
I’ve enjoyed this series so far – but for my money, this is the book where all the ingredients mix together to provide a really gripping story with some horrific overtones. And the steampunk adventure stops being some slightly daft version of Sherlock Holmes and hits its stride.
Maurice Newbury is fighting his own demons – and the consequences of his experimentation bite deep into his personal life and create major strains in his partnership with Veronica Hobbes. Who has major problems of her own, given her concern and guilt about her sister’s fate… These internal conflicts add extra depth to these two characters, whose rather breezy attitude to date gave this series a certain amount of charm – but also allowed us to dismiss the shenanigans going on in Mann’s version of Victorian England as an amusing pastiche of the darker reality. It was also enjoyable to see that one of the characters who has regularly turned up as a regular bit player in the earlier books, Inspector Bainbridge, has been given a far larger slice of the action this time around – to the extent that we actually see the action through his viewpoint on several occasions.
There is a sombre feel to this novel that gives it extra edge, right from the beginning, with the bleak funeral scene that wouldn’t look out of place in a Dickens novel. Queen Victoria is something of a shock – the terrifying monster lurking in the shadows and kept alive by her steam-driven chair is a world away from the white haired matron we are used to seeing adorning various history books and stamps.
What hasn’t changed, is the speed at which the narrative whisks along. Mann is adept at interleaving the necessary scene setting with the various actions scenes that regularly punctuate this engrossing book. While the previous steampunk adventures have always been entertaining – which was why I made a point of picking up this book – this time the narrative braids all the various sub-plots into a really satisfying climax that contributed to the explosive denouement – literally. The fall-out from all the action is equally intriguing and the final hook has left me determined to track down the sequel, The Affinity Bridge. Where I enjoyed the previous books, this one is my favourite steampunk novel to date – and I’m very much hoping that the next book will deliver yet more steam-driven goings on with a same calibre.