Book Review #12: Ghosts of Manhattan

Title: Ghosts of Manhattan
Author: George Mann
Publisher: PYR
Release Date: April 2010
Available Formats: Paperback and ebook

I have always loved the stories where an individual decides to become a superhero through force of will rather than because he or she was imbued with super human abilities. Heroes like The Shadow, Batman or Decodre Ring Theatre’s The Red Panda, always seemed a little bit more interesting, more visceral than their super powered comrades. When I read the synopsis for George Mann’s Ghosts of Manhattan I was intrigued. Throw in the steampunk element, and I was sold.

So on to the review.

Synopsis: 1926. New York. The Roaring Twenties. Jazz. Flappers. Prohibition. Coal-powered cars. A cold war with a British Empire that still covers half of the globe. Yet things have developed differently to established history. America is in the midst of a cold war with a British Empire that has only just buried Queen Victoria, her life artificially preserved to 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. 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, including moss-golems posing as mobsters and a plot to bring an ancient pagan god into the physical world in a cavern beneath the city. As The Ghost draws nearer to The Roman and the center of his 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. (Stolen from PYR’s website)

Setting: As the synopsis states, Ghosts of Manhattan takes place in 1920’s New York City. Truthfully, I can’t say that the NYC of the book felt like the NYC many of us know through television or movies. Perhaps this is because of the steampunk/alternate reality premise of the story, or perhaps it was simply because Ghosts of Manhattan didn’t really rely on the setting being unique. Truthfully, I believe that this story could have worked being set in any metropolitan area. Of more concern to me was the steampunk elements. This story really, in my opinion, had no need to take place in a world of steam. The elements that made it so were not numerous or important to the storyline. In fact, they felt like add-ons to me rather than necessary pieces of the larger picture. While this didn’t help the story along in my opinion, it wasn’t overly distracting either.

Plot: As stated in the synopsis, The Ghost has encountered a bizarre series of murders linked to a mysterious mob boss. The Roman makes his presence known early on and though he is not encountered until the end of the book, he is the antagonist driving the story along. I do believe there is at least one plot whole revolving around a certain characters blood containing at least one arcane ability that was never explained to my satisfaction.

Characters: The Ghost revolves around a character that thinks of himself first and foremost as The Ghost and only secondarily as the person that he goes by when he is not crusading. There isn’t a lot that can be said of this character without crossing the line into spoilers, which I am loathe to do. When both sides of the identity were revealed, it was no surprise. In fact, I would have been surprised if it had been any other.

Both of the other main supporting characters rang very true and while all characters were a bit two dimensional, I felt that this was done intentionally to provide the feel the author was after. Regardless, this is the result I felt he achieved.

Odin’s recommendation: While I really would have preferred this story to have taken place in our more mundane world, I really enjoyed Ghosts of Manhattan and I do believe that if you enjoy stories like stories like those I mentioned above, you will too. With Ghosts of Manhattan, Mr. Mann has created a world that deserves to be visited again, and I am very glad there is a sequel, which I will be starting soon.

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