January 2011 – Feature Article
This month’s Feature Article will be examining George Mann’s The Affinity Bridge. I think this is a book that turns out to be one of those examples where a lackluster plot allows other flaws to stand out, flaws that may otherwise be minor nuisances rather than glaring issues. These include flat main characters, stereotypical villains, forced dialog, inconsistencies in PoV, etc.
The main problem I had was that Mann tried to pen a horror/adventure/mystery novel, but I think he failed on all three counts, thus accounting for a bland and rather boring story.
The horror aspect, the foundation of which Mann tries to set up with his prologue, didn’t really work for me. At no time did I find the zombie infestation of London ‘horrifying’. I think this was mostly because Londoners seemed to have accepted this condition as an everyday fact of life. The zombies might have been an annoying infestation of rats for all the anxiety they caused, especially since everyone seemed to accept that only the poor were preyed upon, and that as long as you stayed indoors at night, everything was fine. Throughout, we seemed to have this love of country and Queen without any regard to the realities of a panicked citizenry demanding that the zombie issue be dealt with. We get a few references that a cure is being worked on, but no real immediacy. In addition, at no time did I ever feel that Newbury or Hobbes was ever in danger, even when Newbury was attacked late in the novel. Granted, they were main characters and could not have been expected to die, be any element of suspense was so far removed as it pertained to their personal safety that the horror element fell flat.
Compounding the lack of horror was the unbelievable adventure aspect of Newbury’s action scenes. Perhaps I missed the setup that would have allowed me to view Newbury as a James Bond/Indiana Jones type of character, but since my initial impression was of an older bookish gentleman, I just couldn’t suspend my disbelief regarding his exploits. This was especially true of the fight scene atop the moving train. This was so out of character for me that it turned comical rather than the fast-paced action scene it was meant to be. As an aside, I could almost accept his fight against the horde of zombies as an act of self-defense, but even here, the heroics were out of character. More in character might have been having Hobbes jumping from the taxi to assist him, and as much as Newbury was out of character fighting solo, having Hobbes cower in fear was almost as much out of character for her – more on Hobbes later.
Even with the failure of the horror and adventure elements of the book, I think the most glaring issue I had with Mann’s work was the utter lack of mystery, especially for a book that, at its heart, was a mystery novel. First, the connection between the killings and the airship disaster was so poorly done that the reverse happened and the reader knew there was a connection between them. The transition between the investigations was too abrupt. Perhaps if the scene between Newbury and Queen Victoria had occurred prior to this transition, the act of switching priorities would have been believable.
Second, at no time did I feel like I really cared about either investigation, so solving the mystery had no impact. I knew I was reading a mystery novel, but mainly because I was told by Mann that his characters were trying to solve one. Simply put, there was no meat in the mystery, so as a mystery novel, it failed.
Third, by the time Mann got around to the big reveal, the outcome was so obvious and inconsequential that it did not matter anymore. The villains were so few and so one dimensional that the connection between the zombies and the automatons was figured out almost immediately. It’s tough to have a mystery novel when the who-done-it and the how is glaringly obvious.
In addition to the aforementioned problems, some holes in the story become problematic for me. One was the connection between Newbury and the supernatural. I either missed the relevance since other issues distracted me or it was not there. In addition, I never was quite sure how Hobbes’ sister fit into the actual story, which was too bad since it was one area that did contain an element of mystery. It was also the one area that would have allowed Hobbes to become a much more rounded character, but every scene between her and the doctors at the asylum ended with her being so passive that it became frustrating rather than engaging. This, I think, was the biggest disappointment in the novel for me: Mann had the beginnings of a very interesting character in Hobbes, but he let it slip away from him. He managed to take a bright and brave character with a real element of mystery in her past and ruin it with inconsistencies and other flaws with the novel.
So considering that this was a steampunk novel, did Mann even succeed there? Sadly, not so much. His confusion regarding the flammability of hydrogen or helium in his airships, along with his crash scenes rendered much of the steampunk aspects awkward at best and silly at worst. I’m no expert, but unless they explode midair, dirigibles do not plummet from the sky, and losing control of one should not initiate a nosedive. While his concept of the automatons was interesting, we never really saw enough of them to make them very relevant from a steampunk perspective.
To conclude, I think Mann’s Affinity Bridge is one of those novels that you can safely skip. With every element being average in execution, each of them looks even worse than they probably are in isolation. Had there been some stronger elements in the book, many of the issues could have been overlooked, but since there were none, it is hard to recommend this.