Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Review | Empire State - Adam Christopher

Noir, alternative universe fantasy? I'm up for it.

...And that's probably the best description of Empire State there can be: except it's far more than just that. It's the story of an alternate New York, the Empire State - and of the 'real' New York, and what happened after its 'superheroes' turned against one another. But in the most part? It's the noir-inspired tale of Rad Bradley, private detective - and at the heart of the conflict. Because the rift between New York and the Empire State threatens to close, the Empire State is negotiating with its eternal Enemy, and nodody in the city seems trustworthy.

This is a heady mix of superheroes (who aren't so unambiguous), noir detectives (who really aren't cut out for metaphysics), and science fiction - which really works. You can't predict this novel, with its convoluted sides and treacheries: now put those two together with the alternate universe travel of this novel, and you'll see what I mean.

We've dealt with plot - what about character? Rad Bradley isn't so special: I've talked about the noir influence, and this is the dark side of that - he's pretty much the pulp detective. It's fun to read (the character type is so out of its usual context that it's original!), but don't expect any traits you won't have seen many times before. He's a familiar guide to a strange world, however, and the supporting cast are far more varied. Captain Carson - an explorer in a world where it seems impossible to have done so. After all, there's nothing outside the Empire State and their Enemy. The Skyguard and Science Pirate - superheroes who abandoned their duties to turn on one another. Kane - Rad's ambiguously loyal friend.

I've mentioned that Empire State is hard to predict - indeed, impossible! and that is a good thing. However, my one complaint would be between the different theories, lies, and loyalties, it quickly gets impossible to work out who's betraying whom at the present - and why. Even at the end, it took me a good five minutes to suss out who's actually succeeded... Still, if you've honed your plot-instincts on Martin's intrigue in A Song of Ice and Fire, this won't put you off.

In summary, Empire State is a fast, likeable novel which aims not only to surprise, but frequently to confound - with intrigue, superheroic subversion, and a few robots playing into the mix! There's also an airship. I mean, who doesn't love airships?

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