The first steampunk trilogy from George Mann has now concluded with The Immorality Engine. (I say “first” because, if you read the interview with George at the end of this post, you’ll discover he’s got another set of stories for Newbury and Hobbes in the works.) I’ve written a review of the first two novels in the series, The Affinity Bridge and The Osiris Ritual, where we have found Sir Maurice Newbury and his assistant, Veronica Hobbes, investigating numerous mysteries and conspiracies on behalf of Queen Victoria. There are hints and foreshadowing galore in the first two books, and I’m happy to say that The Immorality Engine wraps up quite a few of the sub-plots in a fitting conclusion. Hands down, this third book is my favorite of the three — it’s darker, with much more sinister forces at work and tension that really doesn’t let up at all. Newbury and Hobbes are quite the pair as you’ll discover if you’re new to the series.
When Immorality starts, we once again find Newbury in the grips of a fierce opiate addiction. Veronica’s psychic sister is in the care of Doctor Fabian, and Bainbridge is trying his hardest to get these two back to working well together so they can help him solve a crazy crime involving a dead thief who appears to have returned from the dead and resumed his criminal activities. The investigation is just what Newbury needs — not to put the addiction behind him but to hide it under the rug, so to speak.
The duo find themselves under attack by a diabolical device that does point to the un-dead thief, but it also leads them to a secret society that has definite opinions on where the Crown and the Country are heading and is seeking to make some drastic changes. I’m being as vague as I can be, trying to avoid any spoilers for those of you who haven’t yet finished the book. But I’m going to now switch gears and discuss the story a bit more that does involves some possible spoilers, so please jump to the end of this post to read George Mann’s interview if you wish to avoid any more details about the book.
So, let’s talk specifics. First, of all the three books in this first trilogy, this one pushes the steampunk theme to the max. You’ve got one wild clockwork device that serves as both tool (for a thief to gain entry) and as a weapon. The descriptions of how this weapon operates made me glad that it’s imaginary and not a real device. After Newbury and Hobbes are attacked (the question you’ll want to ask is Who is being attacked?), the weapon only serves to ignite a fire under Newbury and force some uncomfortable moments of silence between the pair. The earlier books have shown just how fond Newbury and Hobbes are of one another, but Immorality brings it all to a finer point. Secrets that Veronica has been keeping from Newbury are finally discussed (Newbury is no idiot) and the reader really might believe that these revelations are going to sever the relationship. But it’s this relationship between the two that drives both to keep putting themselves in danger and digging deeper for answers that neither is going to like.
There’s one particular moment mid-book when the two are investigating a key location and are split up. Newbury’s job is to distract while Veronica’s off to look around. What she finds is deeply disturbing (both to her and the reader) and sets off a chain reaction of events that doesn’t slow down until the final chapters. There’s not one bad guy here — there are multiples, and you’re really going to be surprised when you discover just how messed up things are in merry ol’ London.
For readers familiar with the first two books and fans of the minor character (to now) of Bainbridge, you’re also going to find that old Bainbridge has a lot more to offer in this story than in previous ones. He’s one of my favorite characters, so I was pleased to see him pulled down deep into the primary story and given much more responsibilities. He’s a loyal character to Newbury, and Mann has set up a series of events that is going to shake things up between the men. This always makes for good reading, so I’m looking forward to seeing where this friendship goes (or if it ends).
Until my interview with George Mann, I never gave much thought to the fact that the main character of the trilogy really has become Veronica. A tough woman in a society where women are not given the credit they deserve, Hobbes is strong when she needs to be, especially when it comes to the two most important people in her life, Newbury and her sister, Amelia. This female character is really pushed to her limits on two sides — dealing with a gentleman’s club (a secret society in disguise) and dealing with the shadowy Doctor Fabian who is trying to help her sister with her seizures related to visions of the future.
Doctor Fabian is not only treating Veronica’s sister, but he’s also physician to Queen Victoria. The Queen is sick… very sick. And it’s Doctor Fabian’s machine that is keeping her alive. This is a man who has a lot of pressures and a lot of demands from his queen, and it’s no surprise that the steam version of the mad scientist has found a home in the major medical character in the story. (While the previous two books only give glimpses of the steampunk world these characters inhabit, Immorality goes a bit deeper and introduces not just medical machines but also war machines — I loved every bit of the descriptions and never once felt like steampunk-tech was being thrown into the story for grins as other steampunk stories tend to do.)
As I mentioned earlier, Immorality is dark. It’s a much more ominous story, especially with Mann lining up various key characters and events like dominos before tipping them over. You can see where things are going… but not how they’ll resolve. Given Mann’s twisty-turny plotting where one minute you think a character is safe and the next he or she is fighting for their life, I’m really not certain that everything is going to turn out well for Newbury and Hobbes. I know the key characters will survive (okay, I hope they survive) but I can see that things don’t necessarily have to turn out all sunshine and butterflies.
There’s a deep conspiracy with some very evil and manipulative characters in the shadows (one of them, literally). George Mann has done a great job of creating a world that I’d love to visit, characters that I really do worry about, villains with motives I understand but don’t have to like, and a conspiracy (or two) that has my attention. I can’t wait to see where the next three books take Newbury and Hobbes.
And Bainbridge. Please, George, take good care of Bainbridge. Thanks.