Top positive review
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More Excellence from Mann
on 27 June 2013
Following hot on the heels of the events in 'The Immorality Engine', George Mann brings us the fourth installment in his highly entertaining Newbury & Hobbes series of novels.
Thrusting us right back into a steampunk London of machines, monsters and madmen, we once again find ourselves in the company of Queen's Agents Sir Maurice Newbury, his assistant Miss Veronica Hobbes and Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard, Sir Charles Bainbridge as they investigate a series of brutal murders. The victims savagely mutilated, their chests ripped open, and subsequently deprived of their still-beating hearts. The perpetrator, a fabled assassin known only as 'The Executioner', seemingly able to act with utter impunity as they leave a trail of blood-soaked crime scenes across the city.
Beneath these events is a backdrop of political intrigue, the potential interference of insidious foreign agents, a demonic cult, the founding of the Secret Service and the ever-present Queen Victoria as she clutches at the tenuous threads of power, and her own life. Other ideas, established in previous novels are also given attention, much to the joy of established fans. Though, to elaborate on such things would certainly deprive the reader of discovering such things for themselves.
Thankfully, Mann's easy, flowing style is once again in full force, but there are also some changes in store as well. Changes that seem to indicate an ever-increasing confidence as a writer. He now appears far more comfortable with the world he has created, letting the story summon the steampunk London to mind, no longer having to stress the numerous facets that make it such. Additionally, there has been a shift in the pacing that has typically been apparent in the series thus far. However, this is not a detrimental change. Mann has always shown a flair for energetic scenes of action, and they do still indeed make an appearance this time around. But, they are now more concentrated to the latter parts of the story. More space has been given over to the characters, and their furthering strengths, gifted the responsibility of holding the story. Which they do, admirably so. We are given the chance to see more of what drives them, what makes them who they are, building further on the progress made in the pages of 'The Immorality Engine'.
In another break with the established format, there are also chapters given over exclusively to the villain of the story, to their past, their actions and motivations. It's another welcome change, showing how Mann can comfortably present us with different viewpoints without changing the narrative in a jarring manner. Each chapter flows effortlessly into one another. You never find yourself becoming aware of the outside world, knocked out from the scene the story has created. It's an immersive experience that grabs you tightly and doesn't want to let go.
I adore every moment I spend with these characters and 'The Executioner's Heart' is no exception. They have become stronger, more intriguing, more real, and, as a result, the novel benefits massively from this. I simply couldn't put this book down. It's the best in the series so far. Mann should be commended once again for having the bravery to try new ideas whilst skilfully keeping important elements that we know and love.
In conclusion, I only have one real complaint: The book's ending. It knocked me so damn hard, I felt exhausted for a whole weekend. Whilst some threads are resolved, the events in the closing scenes raise new and exciting prospects, and will leave you utterly desperate for the next book. I once again find myself consumed with anticipation for more adventures with Newbury & Hobbes.