The Empire State: a dystopian parallel-universe version of New York City, a dark, twisted reflection of the island of Manhattan, stranded alone behind impenetrable walls of fog. It is a tiny, gray, dreary world where Prohibition, Wartime rationing, and intrusive police blimps reign supreme.
The Empire State had a superhero once, the Skyguard. Fueled by strange science unknown, he was a beloved protector of New York City. But this is the Empire State, and he’s been in prison for literally as long as anyone can remember and has recently been executed.
Or has he? Private detective Rad Bradley finds himself attacked by two goons in gas masks and then saved by the Skyguard, the day after his supposed execution. Other threads come into play. He is contracted for a routine missing person case, his reporter friend, Kane Fortuna, discovers that for the first time ever, a ship has come back from the war, and his phone keeps ringing and ringing, but always seems to stop right when he picks it up. Little does he know that these events will soon merge together into a plot that could threaten the existence of the Empire State itself.
I will add that Mr. Christopher and his publishers have made an interesting choice for this novel: opening it up to fan works created under a Creative Commons license. Few authors actively oppose fan works being made based on their works, but to explicitly license it is a new and interesting move, and I will be interested to see if it spreads in the industry.
Honestly, I’m torn on this book. The prose itself is quite good–that is, it is well written, the characters compelling, and the threat clear. Not only that, but Mr. Christopher does an excellent job as merging the seemingly disparate elements of science fiction, superhero fantasy, and classic noir-style detective stories.
Christopher also captures the feel of the mirrored New York surprisingly well (with one confusion exception regarding the design of the Empire State building). I would never have suspected that he was a New Zealand-born author living in the United Kingdom, and his work appears to be well-researched.
But all that being said, I just couldn’t make the story work. The plot was weak throughout, with a slow start that spent what seemed to be about half the book on exposition, and a third act that made less and less sense as time went on. While the ultimate outcome was clear, I never had a good understanding of what each of the characters was trying to do and what their motivations were. Being a detective story at heart, all of them were cloaked in layers of deception and ignorance, but the reveals at the end just were not clear to me.
Despite this, the premise is unique and compelling enough, and the writing itself is good enough, that I am still holding out hope for the sequel, The Age Atomic. Keep an eye out for my next review.
My rating: 3.5 out of 5.