The Affinity Bridge (Newbury & Hobbes Investigations) by George Mann
So I'll be the first to admit I didn't read The Affinity Bridge in the best state of mind. 'Please let it be better than that last one,' I said under my breath while starting it. And, thankfully, it was. The writing is quite good, clear and straightforward and Victorian enough to give a little flavor without bogging down its plot. The heroes of the book are Sir Maurice Newbury, anthropologist by day and secret agent of the queen by night (or ok, day as well..) and his assistant Miss Veronica Hobbes. Sir Maurice is a comfortable Victorian gentleman, a scholar of the occult, and something of action hero. Miss Hobbes is more of a mystery. She seems at first to be little more than a hired secretary, but she's very intelligent and daring and Sir Maurice includes her in all details of his investigations. Both characters are fleshed out in interesting ways over the course of the story, and there are indications of even more interesting developments in the future.
As for the plot, I'm less enthused about that. But I can't tell you if there's anything actually wrong with it, or if its a symptom of my current overdose of steampunk fiction. There's a series of mysterious murders by a spectral policeman, a mysterious airship crash, and clockwork automatons going berserk. Oh, and the almost contractually required zombies. I can't fault anything in these elements other than to say that I've seen very similar stories before. But the real fault of the plot lay in the fact that the vast majority of the books is spent in long action sequences. I've never found action sequences particularly interesting to read. Often they just come off as someone trying to describe what something would look like in a movie. Steampunk fiction loves action sequences, however. I felt the ones in this book were too long, too frequent, and too difficult to believe. Sir Maurice, a scholar and an anthropologist, spends most of his time performing action movie hero stunts: fighting on the tops of trains, dangling from airships, fighting off zombies, being attacked by automatons... Around the third lengthy sequence in 24 hours of him being physically abused by all this action, I stopped believing in it. I was also stuck wondering why he was always the only one who was involved in the action, even when he had his friend from the police force standing next to him. I was starting to wonder if his friends just stand back and shake their heads, "Oh there goes Maurice, running after a train again..."
So, ultimately, yes, I recommend this book. The characters are well done, and I'm interested in future books in the series.
As for me, I'm taking a break from steampunk fiction. Because there are only so many books about male/female detective teams having adventures involving airships, clockwork men, and spooky stuff that you can read...