01/05/2010. Contributed by Ewan Angus
pub: Snowbooks Ltd. 348 page paperback. Price: £4.74 (UK) if you know where to look. ISBN: 978-1-90672-704-8.
check out website: www.snowbooks.com
'The Osiris Ritual' is book two for Maurice Newbury and Veronica Hobbes and when I learned this was the case, I'll admit I got a little bit excited. As I learned of this, the day I finished the first book, I'll admit I've been excited for roughly about a year.
So before we ask the stereotypical, yet immensely important question of, 'Was it worth the wait?' I'll say a few things about the books. The first one in the series, 'The Affinity Bridge' introduced us to Maurice Newbury, historian and investigator for the crown, and Veronica Hobbs, his work partner. Together, they investigated a plague causing zombification in its victims, crazy robots, mad scientists and had a showdown on a blimp above London.
Now as you may have guessed by the previous listing of plot points this is a steampunk mystery thriller. So here's a checklist of the things it includes, kind of out of necessity:- Evil crazy robots - check Mad scientists with absolutely no morals - check Crazy questionable technology powered by coal or steam - check Top hats and acute attention to fashionable detail - check Great writing and a plot that makes you care - check Mix them all together and what have you got? Well besides having this novel? You also have a bloody good read.
I will say that the wait did not hinder this novel. It didn't even seem to bother about the fact that, in my own humble opinion, it had a lot to live up to. It did so, unquestionably, but it did so in a way that feels natural, the kinks of the first are smoothed out, the characters are given more room to breathe and the plot, which is no less adventurous, surpasses its predecessor.
The over-arching idea for this novel is that following a dodgy Egyptian excavation, a corpse is brought back to London, it then emerges that it may be cursed. Oh no, I hear you say, this is sounding a little familiar. Ancient relics causing havoc in ye old London town? Yeah, well who cares if it sounds familiar, this is fun. It takes the stereotypes it relies on and twists them. A main player in steampunk and Victorian literature? Queen Victoria. How's she represented here? Well she's over a century old and is kept alive by crazy machines that work her lungs and heart. Regal stuff, huh?
It soon begins to emerge that the curse may or may not be a cover for something else. Hence the book's title. In terms of action this book is written superbly. At one stage Newbury is in a steam-powered car chasing an undead human/machine hybrid through the streets of London. You don't see Holmes doing that now, do you?
As the case is investigated by Newbury, Hobbs finds herself on the case of disappearing young woman which may have something to do with an illusionist. Bloody, twisted and disturbing, this arc plays through almost by the numbers until the twist in the end. A twist that whilst a little too Victorian, it does introduce a Moriarty-like character who seems like a story for another day. Newbury and Hobbes relationship is expanded upon in this one with Veronica's sister, Amelia's, clairvoyant abilities coming into play and with Hobbes seemingly harbouring a strange and unexpected secret. A secret that will hurt Newbury.
Equal parts light and dark, the book plays well with the light-hearted dialogue reminiscent of old literary serials whilst the darker aspects are harrowing and nasty. Nasty enough to cause a jolt and to make you think twice about whose safe but not enough to terrify you out of reading it for fear of harm to the characters.
Maurice Newbury, who will inevitably and unfairly be compared to Holmes, is a fantastic lead who meshes a keen intellect together with an addictive personality. His insecurities are human enough and the pressure he puts himself under makes him all the more believable. The writing style is clear and concise, not too over-detailed, not too scarce. It's a book that prides itself on its style and its light adventurous tone, sure it has dark undercurrents but a good novel never lacks that. It's a fantastical homage to a bygone era that changed the world, in both reality and fiction.
To cap it all off, it kind of mixes together like a cross between Arthur Conan Doyle and Tim Powers on laudanum, minus the potentially horrific side effects. Occult detective work, freaky bad guys who are damn unsporting and a burgeoning love story make this a steampunk mystery you should add to your reading list. It's fun, can be read pretty quickly and is a great way to get into the steampunk genre. For those of you who are already pretty immersed it's definitely worth looking into.
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