BOOK REVIEW: The Albion Initiative, by George Mann

Rating: 5 out of 5.
  • Newbury & Hobbes (#6)
  • Published by Titan Books
  • Published on 26/06/2022
  • A steampunk thriller
  • 252 pages

Queen Victoria has moved against the Secret Service, believing them to be a threat to the Empire. Caught in the madness, Newbury and Hobbes must face one final battle against the dark forces at the heart of the establishment. At stake, the future of the British Empire . . .

Genre fiction has an unfortunate reputation for series that get out of control. On the fantasy side, there are the infamous tales of long-running series that people widely believe will never be finished. In science fiction, there are series that develop more spin-offs than is likely good for them (looking at you Honor Harrington). The Newbury & Hobbes series started in 2008, with the first three books published in quick succession by Snowbooks in the UK. Then there was a change in publisher to Titan, and the second half of the series has been rather more intermittent. Given the amount of tie-in and comics work George Mann is involved in, it’s easy to see why these books have been delayed by years from their original publication date. Now, fourteen years after the first volume, the Newbury & Hobbes series has come to a close with The Albion Initiative. After all those years I have one thought: This has been worth the wait.

George Mann was my introduction to steampunk, and for my money he’s still one of the best in the game. I have seen some criticism around that Mann uses all the tropes without subverting them, but I don’t think this is entirely fair. Subversion is not the point of these books, and they are all the stronger for it. These are fun adventures that revel in the trappings of pulp clichés and stock characters. There’s the drug-battling detective, the intrepid female sidekick, the reliable police inspector, the mad scientist, the power-hungry politician, the reclusive magician. All characters you’ve seen a hundred times before, yes, but the familiarity is part of the appeal. There’s no need to spend hundreds of pages detailing every facet of the world and its inhabitants. This allows Mann to focus on the adventure itself. An adventure he races through at a rattling pace.

The main thrust of the novel is Maurice Newbury and his colleagues having their long-threatened final reckoning with Queen Victoria. This has been building since the start of the series, and the pay-off largely works. Personally, I think there could have been more losses suffered along the way, but that’s because I’m a bloodthirsty little so-and-so. The series has always had a comforting charm to it, helped by a largely episodic narrative, and ultimately ending in a bloodbath would have been out of type.

The secondary plot is a street-level investigation. Though this part doesn’t feature any of the primary cast, it’s a throwback to the earliest days of the series, with magical murders and dead who won’t stay in the ground. Eventually, and inevitably, folding into the main narrative, this side-piece brings everything full circle, and also lays the groundwork for a potential spin-off somewhere along the line. Not anything obvious, but if Mann does take the story further, it’s this line I see being followed. For those who don’t know, the universe of Newbury and Hobbes does go further than these six books. There’s an anthology, and an independent series set a generation later and across the Atlantic, which starts with Ghosts of Manhattan. Mann has also spoken of plans for a prequel book or series. For now, however, the story has ended, and the book is closed.

The series that got me into steampunk may be at an end, but my love of the aesthetic is ongoing. This is one of those genres that blurs the lines of science fiction, but it’s something that you can expect to see more of At Boundary’s Edge in the future.

If you enjoyed this book, you might also like:
The First Casebook of Newbury & Hobbes, by George Mann
Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest
The Complete Lightfoot, by Sam Stone

Published by Alex Hormann

I'm a writer, reader, and farmer, with an interest in all things speculative.

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