Ghosts of Manhattan is something….different, but in the most positive of ways. In this short first novel in a new series, George Mann blends a variety of styles and genres to create a realistically dark and atmospheric alternative history about an enigmatic vigilante. One thing is for sure: when you start this novel you will be taken on one fun, fast-paced, grin-causing ride. Ghosts of Manhattan is my first venture into the work of Mr. Mann and I am far from disappointed.
1926. New York. The Roaring Twenties. Jazz. Flappers. Prohibition. Yet things have developed differently to established history. America is in the midst of a cold war with a British Empire that has just buried Queen Victoria, her life artificially preserved until the age of 107. Coal-powered cars roar along roads thick with pedestrians, biplanes take off from standing with primitive rocket boosters, and monsters lurk behind closed doors and around every corner. This is a time in need of heroes. It is a time for the Ghost.This is by no means a novel without faults, but it does have a significant amount of factors going for it. The writing is simple, if not blunt, and delivers the story in a way that is complementary to the feel and setting of the book. Ghosts of Manhattan is an action-type book and does not hide it though it also incorporates elements of other story types. The main plot line revolves around a succession of murders and so a mystery as our vigilante of a man character goes out and investigates the crimes. The way Mann tells the story slowly evolves as the reader learns more and more. Where in the beginning the chapters are neatly separated and tell different parts of story through different characters, in the end the chapters flow into one another and are much more immersive.
A series of targeted murders are occurring all over the city, the victims found with ancient Roman coins placed on their eyelids after death. The trail appears to lead to a group of Italian American gangsters and their boss, who the mobsters have dubbed “the Roman.” However, as the Ghost soon discovers, there is more to the Roman than at first appears, and more bizarre happenings that he soon links to the man. As the Ghosts draws nearer to the Roman and the center of the dangerous web, he must battle with foes both physical and supernatural and call on help from the most unexpected of quarters if he is to stop the Roman and halt the imminent destruction of the city.
As for the characters, they follow the same general trend as the story, which means they are typical old-school kind of characters. The Ghost, the main character, is your usual comic book sort of superhero that goes out at night and roams the street in search of criminals just because they’ve got nothing better to do and can’t help themselves. That might sound a little negative, but in truth it’s not. I enjoy that kind of character and it fits in well with the story that Mann is telling. Ghost of Manhattan as a surprisingly small cast of characters. This gives the book a much smaller scope and makes for a much more personal feel, or at least, as personal as a steampunk superhero story can be.
What is above is mostly what was good about the novel. Here come the few (there are fewer than expected) qualms I had with it. First there was that nagging feeling I always got when I was reading bits that involved the Ghost and Inspector Donovan; I just couldn’t help thinking of another rich-bachelor-goes-out-in-a-suit-at-night-superhero and his relationship with a should-I-work-with-him-or-arrest-him-also-policeman. The only problem I had with this otherwise delicious novel was how little mention there is of the great twist of the 1920’s Mann has created. Sure they mention there are the holotubes they use as phones, and the Ghost has his nice array of specially made gadgets (of which one helps him to fly from rooftop to rooftop, remind you of anyone?) and there is also a the rocket-proposed biplanes but in terms of the Cold War with the British Empire there is pretty much all you are going to find out in the blurb. As to the monsters, yes they are present but I found them ever so underdeveloped as plot elements, not to mention the ending which felt a little too much like it was pulled out of a hat.
To sum all of this up: Ghosts of Manhattan is not a bad book, it’s actually rather good in my opinion, but it is most definitely not without it its mishaps and clichés. Overall though, the scale most certainly tips towards the positive. Anyways, it’s a relatively short book, so if you don’t enjoy it as much as I did, there is relatively little time wasted. I would tend to think that most fans of superheroes, steampunk and noir-like pieces would find a favorable experience in reading this. As Ghosts of Manhattan marks the beginning of a new series, I’ll be sure to pick up next one. Also, if you have the choice between the US and UK editions when purchasing this, then I recommend getting the US one published by Pyr since the artwork and edition in general are simply marvelous. Lastly, if you read this and enjoy it then you might want to check out Mann’s Newberry & Hobbes series which is has two books released and is still ongoing.
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Reading Age: 15 and up
Violence: Yes, lots, and some pretty gruesome descriptions of murders and murder victims
Sex/Language: Some language and some references to sex
George Mann's website: http://georgemann.wordpress.com/
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