BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Newbury and Hobbes investigate a series of grisly murders in which the victims have their hearts removed.
PROS: Excellent storytelling; intriguing mystery; well-drawn antagonist; progresses longer story arcs; characters undergo changes; un-put-downable final chapters; serves as a fine standalone novel.
CONS: For the first parts of the novel, there’s never a feeling that the heroes are ever really in any danger – but that changes dramatically in the last several chapters.
BOTTOM LINE: One of the best in the series.
I’ve been reading George Mann’s excellent Newbury and Hobbes steampunk series since it began, and I’m enjoying it quite a bit. It got off to a strong start with The Affinity Bridge and maintained its compelling story lines with the follow-up novels The Osiris Ritual and The Immorality Engine. The series as a whole is a marvelous mix of steampunk, mystery, adventure and the supernatural, and it’s a perfectly balanced blend; no one flavor ever outweighs any of the others, yet each enhances the overall enjoyment of the greater whole.
The Executioner’s Heart is the fourth Newbury and Hobbes novel. It manages to successfully continue the strong momentum of the series, yet it also serves as a fine standalone novel for those looking for a fun read. The central mystery concerns a series of grisly murders in which the victims gruesomely have their hearts removed. Who better to call upon than Sir Maurice Newbury who, along with his capable assistant Veronica Hobbes, has proven a valuable asset to Scotland Yard?
While that mystery slowly unwinds, other things are happening that give the story more weight. For one, the secret service emerges as a faction that may or may not be in alignment with the long-lived Queen of England, who is still being kept alive through technological means. Also, the Queen’s son, the Prince of Wales, enlists Newbury to investigate a possible foreign threat that threatens the security of England. As if he weren’t busy enough, Newbury is also dabbling in the occult, a risk he undertakes to free Victoria’s sister from her unique, paranormal predicament.
What could have been a hodgepodge of story threads randomly thrown together instead feels like a solid adventure. Mann successfully juggles these story lines that not only serve the story at hand, but also extend the longer story arcs, which is a wonderful hallmark of this series because it keeps the story from getting stale. Moreover, The Executioner’s Heart gives the reader a few perks in the form of multiple antagonists, atmospheric supernatural elements, gripping adventure sequences, likable characters, and an excellent villain. Speaking of whom, as the reader comes to realize the situation surrounding the horrific murders, and also the predicament of the otherwise tragic murderer, one might predict that the modus operandi of the criminal comes with some heavy-handed symbolism attached. Instead, Mann smartly upends that notion into something that has far-reaching consequences, both in-story and for the series itself.
All of these elements drive readers towards one of the most exciting series of sequences the Newbury and Hobbes series has yet offered. Furthermore, The cozy-adventure feel of the story is put in question, causing the reader to wonder if indeed there are some serious changes in store for the series. Without answering that question, I will say that the next stage of this fantastic series is eagerly awaited.