This was the last book I read in 2011 that has somehow managed to go unreviewed. Since I've reviewed every book I've read since I started this blog, it's been bothering me somewhat. The lack of review isn't because I didn't enjoy it, because I did, but possibly because it neither made me incandescent with rage nor completely in love. It was ok. The lack of a "proper" review is more just because I'm fairly sure that I won't be able to remember enough detail to do it justice. Instead, you get a random assortment of thoughts. Lucky you! :)
For completeness' sake, I should mention that on GoodReads I gave it 3 stars out of 5. That rating still stands.
Welcome to the bizarre and dangerous world of Victorian London, a city teetering on the edge of revolution. Its people are ushering in a new era of technology, dazzled each day by new inventions. Airships soar in the skies over the city, whilst ground trains rumble through the streets and clockwork automatons are programmed to carry out menial tasks in the offices of lawyers, policemen and journalists.
But beneath this shiny veneer of progress lurks a sinister side. For this is also a world where ghostly policemen haunt the fog-laden alleyways of Whitechapel, where cadavers can rise from the dead and where Sir Maurice Newbury, Gentleman Investigator for the Crown, works tirelessly to protect the Empire from her foes.
When an airship crashes in mysterious circumstances, Sir Maurice and his recently appointed assistant Miss Veronica Hobbes are called in to investigate. Meanwhile, Scotland Yard is baffled by a spate of grisly murders and a terrifying plague is ravaging the slums of the city.
This is an alright steampunk novel which, while not always desperately unique, is quite fun and has decent characters. Sir Maurice Newbury is a quintessential English gent with a secret interest in the occult and he is quite charming to read about. Veronica Hobbs is a strong feminist by Victorian standards and spends a lot of her time endeavouring to prove that women can do more than flounce and swoon. I did like both of them, although Veronica was my favourite for her general pluckiness.
The pace goes in fits and starts and there were times when I just couldn't put it down. There were also times when I wasn't overly concerned about picking it up. There was something innately sedate about Sir Maurice that seeped into the rest of the story. He could be passionate at times and there were spurts of action that were great. Part of it, I suppose, comes from Mann's attempts to juggle a whole host of plotlines in one book. Almost as though he had had a number of ideas for books but decided to include them in one. Sub-plots include: flesh-eating zombie-type people roaming the backstreets of London; a ghostly figure of a policeman killing Londoners, the airship crash mentioned in the synopsis, wacky, malfunctioning (and seemingly violent) automatons and a sister that can apparently see the future. Too much? Probably...
When I've seen this book on my shelf, though, the first thing that comes to mind is my slight irritation at the ending. The inevitable side effect of having so many plots running side by side? They all have to be wrapped up. While some of the mysteries were revealed during Sir Maurice and Veronica's race around London in the few final chapters, some are left over. I had assumed that some were being "saved" for the next series and, while I was a little disgruntled, I was kind of resigned. But then came a slightly strange final chapter (or so...it was a while ago, remember) where any loose ends left drifting were tidied up through a very stilted conversation between a couple of characters that went along the lines of:
Character A: "Oh, and wasn't is strange that...happened. I wonder what came of...".
Character B: "Funny you should mention that. I spoke to [Character C] and they explained..."
Character A: "That makes sense. How nice that's settled"
So yes, don't read this if you don't like your endings a little manufactured. I've read the synopsis of the next in the series (The Osiris Ritual) and it looks as though it might be more of the same; Sir Maurice and Veronica engaged in seemingly separate investigations but eventually realising that their cases have more in common than they thought. I might pick it up one day if I see a copy in a charity shop or something but I'm not exactly clawing at Waterstones' door to get it.