April 8, 2013

All Empires Must Fall: a review of Adam Christopher's "Empire State"

Empire State
by Adam Christopher
346 pages

I went into this novel cold, no idea what the actual story was about, just that it had a fair amount of buzz upon its release last year, and that it was a blend of quite a few genres I enjoy. Superheroes, private eyes, mad scientists, hard-boiled noir, robots, alternate dimensions, and secret societies. With all those ingredients and more, how could this book possibly disappoint a genre mutt like me?

The story begins with a car chase as a low-rung gangster tries to outrun the cops in Prohibition-era New York City, then swerves--quite literally--into an epic battle between two superheroes. The tone of the novel is established very early and basically lets the reader know that all bets are off in terms of how wild and outside the norm the story is likely to get. From the epic battle that sees the two icons, the Skyguard and the Space Pirate, slam into the ground with only one walking away, and an alternate dimension created at the crash site. It's in this parralel world where the majority of the novel takes place, a version of Manhattan Island shrouded behind a fog beyond which the citizens have no knowledge of what exists beyond. For those living in the Empire State, the island is their world and all they know. For a down-on-his-luck private eye named Rad Bradley, the search for a missing woman turns into a revelation about the true nature of the Empire State and a battle for its very survival.

God, I wanted to love this book, but by the time I hit the halfway mark it became a real slog. For one thing, I didn't clue in until about midway through the book that some chapters were set in New York City rather than the Empire State. Maybe I wasn't paying attention, but I contend the narrative was a bit murky. Also, while Rad Bradley is one of many intriguing characters in this highly imaginative novel, there were prolonged moments of sweet-eff-all happening beyond mulling over things that went on in the previous, more exciting chapters.

While Empire State attempts to zero in on a small story in this huge idea of a novel, to keep things from getting away from themselves, as the action expands and the stakes become greater, the Rube Goldberg style plot becomes saturated in its own stylings. Too much of a good thing, like cake that's mostly frosting.

The mystery of it all was fun, but with the constant swerves in the second half of the book became tiresome to me, but if the first half of the novel grips you more tightly than it did me, such plot twists will cause considerably less annoyance.

It's by no means a terrible book, but my excitement over reading the sequel, The Atomic Age, is considerably lessened.

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