Book Review: Ghosts of Manhattan by George Mann

Steampunk Superhero? In a manner of speaking, yes.

Ghosts of Manhattan by George Mann

- Reviewed by M

I admit it. I am one of “those people” who do actually judge books by their covers. And titles. I get sucked in by beautiful cover art more times than not, and a good title always seals the deal. So when I saw the copy of Ghosts of Manhattan by George Mann sitting on the shelf of my neighborhood bookstore, I was drawn in.

I read the back cover for details to see if it would interest me. “The world’s first Steampunk Superhero,” it said. I was confused as the book takes place in the late 1920s – which I have been told repeatedly by purists is NOT Steampunk and more Dieselpunk. Well, this novel blows all that out of the water with a premise that Queen Victoria only recently passed away and the Americans and Brits are on the verge of a Cold War with each other. New York City has fallen victim to intense corruption and a seedy underbelly of speakeasies and organized crime bosses rule supreme (not unlike the actual 1920s). Enter “The Ghost”, whom I would classify as Batman-meets-Rocketeer, a vigilante out for justice of his own making, working outside the law and often in direct opposition to it. He is hell-bent on cleaning up the city. The key to all the recent strange, brutal, and unsettling murders is the mysterious crime lord known only as The Roman, on account of his leaving real Roman coins behind at all the crime scenes.Who is he, where is he, and what is his ultimate goal are all questions The Ghost must answer. And soon!

A police detective struggling to maintain his integrity, our mysterious dark hero, a lovely songstress with a hidden past, and a broken soldier turned rich playboy all find themselves intertwined and interdependent in their fight to hold onto what little they have left in a world gone to the dogs.

The setting of the book is distinctly Decopunk, to my mind. Mann does a brilliant job of bridging the Steampunk and Dieselpunk genres and pulling them together in a smooth way that blurs the lines between the two, quite to my satisfaction. His attempts at hiding The Ghost’s true identity are noble, yet faulty and you see it coming long before it is confirmed in text. The characters are believable in the world he creates.

The Ghost is just the way I like my superheros – flawed and vengeful. I am not a fan of the supernaturally endowed and naively pure superheros that see the world in black and white, and The Ghost lives in the grey shadows that we all know exist in our hearts.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book as it kept me guessing and trying to speculate as to The Roman’s ultimate plan. I like books that keep me engaged and entertained. Admittedly, I was disappointed when the climax of the book seemed to come out of nowhere with barely any touchstone to the rest of the book. I like magic and mythology as much as the next person, but I felt the last few chapters of the book asked a bit too much from the reader by way of poetic license. The Roman had been shaped up to be a true villain of good old-fashioned Dick Tracy proportions, but then went off the deep end in a fantastical farce before I could truly respect his criminal genius.

I will most likely read the sequel, Ghosts of War, because my weakness for anything Batman-esque was thoroughly exploited in the first novel and I don’t mind being used in that fashion. Plus, the description includes a “plague of brass raptors”! Come on, who can resist that?!? Besides, George Mann’s story-telling brilliance is a hypnotic enticement I am loath to give up based on a bad ending to an otherwise entertaining escapist caper. I give it a solid 8 out of 10.

Let us know what you thought of the book or make suggestions for other Steampunk/Decopunk/Dieselpunk fictions out there.

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