I'll confess. The first time I saw this book I read the title as The Immortality Engine, as in some infernal device that provides eternal life. Upon closer inspection, I had a "D'oh!" moment as I realized the title was The Immorality Engine. And yes indeed, there is one such device within the pages of this cracking good steam punk novel.
The Immorality Engine, by British science fiction author George Mann, is the third volume in his series featuring Victorian era secret agents Sir Maurice Newbury and Veronica Hobbes (the other novels are The Affinity Bridge and The Osiris Ritual). It helps to picture John Steed and Emma Peel from television's THE AVENGERS, in an early 1900s London in which steam driven technology (along with a dash of the occult), is commonplace. The two are agents of Queen Victoria (who figures prominently in this novel). But this is not the Queen Victoria of our world and history. This is a decrepit, near-dead monarch kept alive by bizarre steam punk life support mechanisms. She should be dead but she isn't. Instead, the Empress spins a deadly web of deceit, lies and betrayal all in the name of retaining her death-grip upon the throne of England.
The action opens with the funeral of Amelia, Veronica's invalid, psychic sister but we soon learn that, as in all good thrillers, not all is as it seems. Sir Maurice has become more dependent than ever before upon opium and it's up to Veronica and Sir Charles Bainbridge of Scotland Yard to rescue their friend from the clutches of addiction. There's a mystery afoot that will require all three agents to be at the top of their game.
The mystery involves two identical dead bodies of a notorious thief (who uses a small, deadly, mechanized spider to commit his crimes). Yes, clones are alive and well in London along with the sinister and secret Bastion Society, an organization of wealthy elites who want to both live forever and return the British Empire to a world wide power. To achieve these ends will require the use of the title mechanism along with a clutch of clones, a mechanized cavalry of steam driven horses (equipped with side mounted Gatling guns), gigantic suits of mobile armor and more.
There are death-traps, close escapes, chases, numerous battles, shocking surprises and more in these pages. I've now read all three of Mann's Newbury and Hobbes novels and I give all three of them my highest recommendation. I like the way Mann drops references to other cases and not-yet recorded adventures of Sir Maurice and Veronica throughout the narrative and the last chapter nicely sets things up for the next thrilling installment.
If you enjoy reading pulp action and adventure, you need to check out all three of these books. You won't be disappointed.