The Osiris Ritual, by George Mann
George Mann’s The Osiris Ritual is the second book in the Newbury and Hobbes series. We return once again to Victoria’s England, well Victoria’s England with a steampunk twist and a distinct possibility of zombie invasion. Mann’s 1901 England is filled with steam powered cars, robot servants, and a distinct sense of more being possible than even the most fantastic imagination could create. His detectives match wits against foes who arm themselves with devious plans and formidable technology, and the world around them sits uneasily in the smoke, fog, and debris that surround this vision of London.
This story begins with a party thrown by Lord Henry Winthrop to celebrate his return, mummy in hand, from an expedition to Egypt. Mann sets the scene well here with a description that perfectly captures both the possiblilty of scientific investigation and the spectacle that is the real point of the ”unwrapping”.
Glass cabinets had been erected at regular intervals all around the tiled floor, filled with the most wondrous gilded treasures from the tomb of the mummified king. People milled around these cabinets, cooing appreciatively, drinks in hand, courting one another with sidelong glances and averted gazes. Purefoy almost laughed out loud. It was like every cliche he could have imagined, and more sumptuous and extravagant than even those.
George Purefoy, whose breathless entry to the party serves to underline its importance, is a newspaper reporter with excellent instincts and an eye for the unusual. His chance meeting with Sir Maurice Newbury effectively draws the reader back into the series, and the novel soon leaves the bizarre unveiling of the mummy and spirals off to the offices of Newbury and Veronica Hobbes in the British Museum. Here, though Newbury is currently working on tracking a missing agent, Hobbes has her eye on another set of disappearances, missing girls who have seemingly vanished without a trace and with what may well be a bit of magic.
Both of these mysteries throw the detectives into danger, and Newbury and Veronica’s determination to find and punish those responsible draws them ever closer to the darker side of this version of Victorian London. Mann does an excellent job keeping the action moving and, while the character of Newbury owes much to Sherlock Holmes, he also feels like his own man and a character that will continue to grow as the series progresses. Veronica, his Watson, shows a strong knack for investigation herself, and Newbury’s active encouragement and appreciation of her strengths makes them a formidable pair.
The world-building is exemplary. Mann captures a world on the brink of technological revolution, where robots and steam are appearing and machines are integrating themselves into daily life (and, it must be said, the occasional human being). This mixture of hard scientific inquiry and gruesome spectacle permeates the book, and it is certainly a wild ride (I won’t spoil Newbury’s meeting with the Queen for you, but it is an image that is difficult to forget). These are not just any machines, neutral or ambivalent helpers for humanity, there is a certain aura of menace cloaking the world and the men who live in it. The Osiris Ritual may have begun with an ancient Egyptian mummy, but the true danger, danger that Hobbes and Newbury must risk their lives to defeat, exists in the heart of Victorian England.