It was the last great science hero fight, but the energy blast ripped a hole in reality, and birthed the Empire State – a young, twisted parallel prohibition-era New York. When the rift starts to close, both worlds are threatened, and both must fight for the right to exist.
Sometimes a book comes along that doesn't quite fit into the categories we have already established for fiction novels. We tend to refer to these as novels that bend and cross genres, novels that are pushing the envelope, novels that are attempted to redefine our known and accepted universe. Empire State by Adam Christopher is one such novel - a book that blends comic book science heroes, noir style mysteries, the 1930's-1950's, airships, robots, prohibition, and parallel worlds. This is an eclectic mix of styles, complete with an eclectic mix of characters, and Christopher does an admirable job of bringing so much of it together. But, after a rip roaring start Empire State gradually loses its way and I'm left with that sinking feeling of what might have been.
The Empire State is a copy of New York, a city in a bubble created by a violent energy blast during a fight between the city's last two science heroes. The story revolves around Rad Bradley, a private detective in the Empire State whose latest case gets him tangled in a complex web of robotic killers, inter-dimensional doppelgangers, and science heroes looking to settle a few scores. When things start to look dire, it is up to Rad and a bunch of friends from both dimensions to make a stand and save both worlds from destruction. The opening scenes of this book are some of the most exciting and promising opening scenes I have read in a book. You get car chases, you heroes in suits flying above the city shooting energy beams at each other, and you get some dark, gritty, back alley murders in the rain. The story also gets pretty complex, with a number of different plot threads and sub plots weaving their way in and out of the main story line from very early. I like this added complexity, I have read a lot of complex stories lately so it was good to have a story that really made me think. The problem for me was that the main storyline really started to lose it's identity about half way through, and from there the complex threads and sub plots started to become a tangled mess that would end up going unresolved at the end of the story. It was about the same time that I realised the actions of Rad were largely inconsequential, that he had stopped driving the story and was just a passenger who happened to have the most viewpoints. I think this story stopped working when the protagonist stopped being a protagonist, and while things did pick up towards the end, it was a case of too little too late.
While the story may have suffered from a lack of consistency, the characters more than make up for it by being a cast of wonderfully unique and mysterious people whose motivations are hinted at but well hidden. Rad is a fantastic character who I built a lot of empathy for, he is a guy who is good at his job, a guy who looks to the future, a guy who enjoys having a few too many drinks, and a guy who is willing to test his mettle and put himself in uncomfortable situations without any thought of personal gain. It provides a perfect contrast to Rex, the gangster from New York whose every action is motivated by personal gain, and who often chooses the easy option whenever it presents itself. Combine these guys with the brash and enthusiastic Kane, the borderline eccentric Carson, the devious / schizophrenic Pastor of Lost Souls, the noble Skyguard and the Science Pirate with an inferiority complex, and you get a wonderful cast that inhabit this eclectic world and tell this complex story.
The writing here is of a very high standard, much higher than a number of other debut authors whose works I have read over the past few years. The pacing of his story is just right, his explanation of complex scientific gobbledygook is so easy to understand without there being any condescension in the writing, and his general prose makes this story very easy to read. He manages evoke emotions consistent with what is going on in the plot, and for the first half of the book I had no trouble immersing myself in his world.
Empire State is a book starts off by promising the world but ends up delivering the shell of a parallel bubble. Christopher does so many things right in this book, but the issues with plotting during the second half of the book stick out like a sore thumb. Despite the issues, Empire State shows off a world full of potential, and clearly demonstrates that Christopher is a talented author who is sure to become a real force in the future. It was a lot of fun to read, you should give it try, and I will definitely be checking out his next release.
Review by Ryan Lawler
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