The Affinity Bridge
by George Mann
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am sorry to say this so early on in my blog, but I could not finish this book. I vowed to give it 100 pages before I gave up, and I did. However, I did learn a lot from reading it, especially about my own taste and style, so I thought I'd devote some time to it on the blog.
The story takes place in steampunk Victorian London, where Sir Maurice Newberry (a paranormal investigator) and his new assistant Ms. Veronica Hobbes try to solve the mystery of the crashed airship and the glowing murderous bobby, while trying to avoid the zombie plague. This is a recipe for awesomeness, yes?
Alas, it does not fulfill its potential. First, the characters are incredibly flat. Sir Maurice is a good-natured, reserved middle-aged English gentlemen. He accepts a woman as his assistant and treats her as a (delicate and feminine) partner. He is extremely attentive to her. He has a problem with laudanum, which is probably his most interesting attribute. But there is absolutely no color or texture in his character, no unique voice.
Ms. Hobbes was even more disappointing. When I see boy/girl detective partners, I expect playful snarky banter. Maybe I've been spoiled on too many episodes of Castle, Warehouse 13...or really any other boy/ girl detective paring. I wanted it to be Emma Peel and John Steed. I got bland, restrained, grey, blah. For example, I have no idea why she was hired. Sir Maurice has complete confidence in her abilities, though all we saw her do in the first 100 pages was clean well, make tea, state the obvious (at which everyone gasps and sputters to hear such wisdom from a girl), and vomit at the sight of bodies. I would have loved to see some glimpse at the extraordinary, a reason why a woman would get that position, a reason why Sir. Maurice treats her like trusted friend only after a few days. They are quite touchy-feely too, and makes you think there are romantic flutterings, when that does not seem to be what the author intends.
The style bothered me the most. It may be because I recognized a lot of my own flaws in his writing, but it got to the point where I got so annoyed by the frequent blunders, couldn't read any more. It was like being beaten to death with a swarm of cotton balls.
1) Repetition: First, he repeats metaphors mere pages apart. For example, he describes a crashed airship as a beached, dead, half-rotted whale, and then a page away describes it as a dead ancient primordial beast (with the skin rotted in places, and the ribs exposed, etc). Second, he repeats information. For example, he mentions in a telegram to Newberry and Hobbes that 50 people were killed in the airship crash. When they are told the same information at the crash site, Ms. Hobbes gasps in surprise and horror. Third, he has a bad habit of describing the same action from two different POVs without adding anything new to it: He describes Ms. Hobbes pulling her cloak to her because she is thinking of the dead bodies from the airship, and a few lines later, he has Sir Maurice observe her pulling her cloak to her because he presumes she is thinking about the dead bodies from the airship. We know.
2) Word choice: "pucker up that resolve." Really? Not pluck? Pucker just sounds dirty. He also loves the phrase "reminiscent of..." when presenting a metaphor. And his metaphors often are not well-chosen either. He describes "an army" of men, which he clarifies a sentence later as "at least ten." Most of the time he sounds like a man with a limited vocabulary using a thesaurus.
3) Violent Emotional Reactions: I believe this is not a character trait, but a style snaffoo. When Sir Maurice is introduced to a character, we get a description of that character, and a sudden declaration from Sir Maurice that he admires or loaths the character, without making it clear what was to admire or loathe. He also has violent reactions to any opposition. When police or a clerk won't give him information -- they don't know who he is -- he gets very shocked and huffy, and waves his Crown credentials around, and then the peons go scurrying. It does not match with his fatherly academic demeanor, and makes the reader think he is a dick.
4) Don't Tell Me, Show Me: My favorite writers are able to give you character by describing how a character picks up a pen. Alas, this book is Tell City. For example, there is a passage where the author illustrates Sir Maurice in his study. Mann tells about about the character's relationship with the room using cliches, his "haven" and "the one place he could relax, and feel free to become himself" (though I saw no difference between himself inside or outside the study). I would rather have seen his relationship with the study through the way Sir. Maurice interacted with it (entered it, threw things, flopped, argued with his housekeeper about keeping out, etc). Telling runs rampant throughout the book.
5) "These do indeed 'seem' for they are actions that a man might play": Mann has a tricky POV. Sometimes he is in Sir Maurice's head, and other times he is in Veronica's head (not that it really makes any difference). However, sometimes he is in 3rd person omniscient, and still his characters "seem" or "look like" they are doing things. Why the hell can't they just do them? Whose eyes are we looking through that we are guessing? I do this all the time in my own writing, so I don't have to fully commit. COMMIT! It makes the writing stronger. Don't say "seem" unless there is some doubt about the action.
I think George Mann desperately needed a good editor.
Please take my review with a grain of salt, as I have not finished the book (and I feel it an extreme defect in a mystery novel if I don't care what happens). Please, if anyone has finished the book, and feel that I have misrepresented something, let me know!