The Osiris Ritual
by George Mann
Cover Artist: Viktor Koen
Review by Gayle Surrette
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765323217
Date: 03 August 2010 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
The Osiris Ritual is the second book of the Newbury & Hobbes Investigations series, the first was The Affinity Bridge, and takes place in a steampunk version of Victorian England. At heart, The Osiris Ritual is a mystery, but one surrounded with the trappings of a steampunk London, a craze for Egyptian mummies and artifacts, and an interest in occult ceremonies and beliefs. Once the story is set in motion, the action is almost non-stop as our two protagonists investigate in their separate cases realizing only when it's almost too late that the cases are related.
Handsome and rich Sir Maurice Newbury, actually works for a living in the British Museum, of course that's only his cover as he's really a spy accountable directly to Queen Victoria only. His assistant, Miss Veronica Hobbes, is the steampunk version of Emma Peel – just as intelligent and capable but with all the social confinements of Victorian England. Nevertheless, the two manage to work closely together to investigate strange occurrences and find scientific explanations, and perhaps a criminal to be brought to justice.
When the story opens, Hobbes is correlating the reports of missing women and has determined that all of the women attended a performance by a magician just before their disappearance. That magician is now in London and deserves a closer look. Newbury attends an unveiling of a mummy put on by Lord Henry Winthrop for the ton as he's just returned from a dig in Egypt. It's there that Newbury meets a young journalist that, based on short acquaintance, seems like he might be a likely candidate for her majesties' undercover workers. Shortly after the unveiling, Newbury is assigned by the Queen to meet an agent returning from Russia and escort him to her. Unfortunately, having been denied critical need to know information, Newbury misses the agent at the train station and must now search London for him.
All of these events inevitably converge for the climax of the novel. While all the various treads come together and have a moderate resolution, it is of the type that usually means we haven't seen the last of the villain, who may once again cause mayhem. Whether Mann brings this villain back or not, this is beginning to shape up as a interesting historical mystery series or steampunk action adventure romp.
The characters of Newbury and Hobbes are a bit difficult to know even though much of the book takes place with them as viewpoint characters. They're aloof and focused on their jobs, seldom straying to personal revelations even with each other. However, there is definitely a plot thread that may lead to some conflict between them as the series progresses as Hobbes is not what she seems any more than Newbury is simply an academic working for the British Museum.
There's also the social aspects of Victorian society that inhibits how the characters act. Mann, unlike many authors setting their books in the past, has kept his characters true to the time period. While Hobbes might investigate on her own, it is only within certain set limits that do not put her in danger. She chafes under these conditions, but only within the mores of the culture of the times. In retrospect, I believe that's why the characters seem so aloof and standoffish – it will take several mysteries before the reader can really feel they know either of them very well, but these first outings are exciting enough to keep us looking forward to the next installment.