May 14, 2013

[Books] Empire State

When I first signed up for the Angry Robot Army review program, one of the first preview novels that I had reviewed was Adam Christopher's superhero adventure, Seven Wonders. It was certainly an interesting novel plus the addition of a new superhero book was certainly a good thing. There just aren't enough superhero novels out there.

Some time back there was a special sale offer for this book, Empire State, which was Christopher's first novel. Given how much I had enjoyed his other novel plus the fact that he had already written a sequel for this novel, it seemed like a great deal to take advantage of.

I can certainly see how passionate Christopher was about this particular book - it's just something that you sense from the way the book is written. As a debut novel, you'd think that would be a natural assumption. But in this case,  I feel he really poured a lot into it. The richness of the setting, the cleverness of the characters and the distinct time-place setting (of sorts) - they all indicate a fair amount of interest and passion that drove the writing of this novel. And that helped me enjoy the book in turn - as I hope the same goes for anyone else who ventures into the world of the Empire State.

Synopsis: Empire State is the debut science fiction noir novel written by Adam Christopher as published through Angry Robot Books. And for the record, I actually bought this book, although I do have a review copy of the follow-up novel in my reading queue.

In Prohibition-era New York, Rex is a small-time bootlegger trying to keep a small part of the city to himself.  One thing leads to another and he gets to witness what turns out to be the last great fight between two science-enhanced superheroes - the Skyguard and the Science Pirate. Rex is surprised to find out that the Science Pirate turns out to be a woman when she finally unmasks herself. Thus he tries to follow her to see if bringing this vigilante to justice will help his status in the city somehow.

In the Empire State, we meet the detective Rad Bradley. Times are hard in the Empire State since it's Wartime, and thus most basic commodities are scare down to coffee and milk. He finally gets a new case from your classic mysterious woman - to find her missing partner, Sam Saturn. But as Rad begins his investigation, stranger and stranger things seem to happen including a rough encounter with two goons in gas masks to the stories being investigated by his friend, Kane. Throw in sightings of what appears to be the Skyguard and an eccentric explorer with a silent, almost robotic companion and there's a lot going on in the Empire State that is not as it seems.

Now I have to admit that at first I was confused by the use of the term "Empire State" versus New York. Naturally I treated the two terms as the same, referring to the same dark metropolis. After all, they both had very similar features and landmarks - there was just the quirk of the Empire State being in a state of Wartime with some undeclared enemy. But in time we as readers all fully appreciate the fact that the two cities are completely different. One is the New York that we all know and respect. The other is a country unto itself - the Empire State, which is essentially just the island of Manhattan. All around it is fog and beyond the mysterious fog is the Enemy.

So yes, initially I was a little confused with our protagonists Rex and Rad, but naturally the similar nature of their names was deliberate. There are many recurring themes  and parallelisms between the two worlds. And that's because of the very nature of the Empire State - that it is somehow a parallel version of New York. And thus a lot of the people seem to be the same across the two worlds but with rather different roles, personalities and motivations.

The book truly plays out as a detective novel and thus both our protagonist Rad and we as readers are trying to puzzle through the diverse events in the story to try and figure out what exactly is going on. Nothing is quite as it seems and very often it's hard to tell friends and enemies apart from one another. The Empire State has many secrets and naturally there are those who won't appreciate a detective digging them up.

A rich setting, interesting and fully realized characters and a big deep mystery at the heart of everything - this book as a lot going for it. Sure, at times the parallelisms can get rather confusing and the plot twists and reveals aren't always things you could have reasonable predicted, but it's still a fun romp as a whole. I really enjoyed how things turned out in the end and I'm glad that there's a chance to return to the Empire State in another book - or at least that's my assumption for now.

Empire State is a great novel that taps into our love for noir detective stories and two superheroes to boot. Thus I'm happy to rate the novel as 4 quirky limitations because of Wartime out of a possible 5.

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