Empire State – Adam Christopher

Release: February 2012

Published by Angry Robot Books, Empire State is Adam Christopher’s debut novel. I was really exicted about this one when I downloaded the e-ARC from Angry Robot (my first ARC from them) – my friend Shaun had already read the book and absolutely raved about it, and the blurb was exciting and and intriguing.

From the blurb at the Angry Robot website:

“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.

Adam Christopher’s stunning debut novel heralds the arrival of an amazing new talent.”

If I had remembered this blurb, my whole perception of the book may have been changed. Unfortunately it wasn’t until the book had already been sitting on my e-reader for a while that I had time to read it – and one area where e-books fail is providing a blurb for already downloaded content (on my reader at least, I don’t know how it is with other models).

Empire State is what I am going to refer to as ‘properly noir’, including a hard-boiled detective, a damsel in distress, prohibition, fedoras and…. airships? It’s this integration of the more alt-history or steampunk elements along with a sort of superhero/sci fi feel which excited me so much when I first heard about the novel. Unfortunately, while I can’t fault the novel in this regard, other elements conspired to make my overall opinion of the book less than great.

It took me quite a while to become fully engaged with this book, as Christopher jumps between characters, places and plotlines with little or no explanation – which my friend had no trouble with, but I found quite jarring. Many of these characters/plotlines did not appear to be intertwined at all, until about half way through the book, which is when things start coming together. If you have read up to this point, your patience is most definitely rewarded.

Another reason for my impatience may be the fact that of the only three female characters portrayed in the novel, two were ‘victims’ and the third, well… that should be a surprise. I haven’t read much detective-noir, but this is one element I think has been pulled across from that, so it works, even if it isn’t to my personal tastes.

This all being said, the Empire State that Christopher creates is a fully functional, engaging setting and you believe it could be there. In fact, I think he could easily have set the whole story in this parallel city without needing to refer back to ‘reality’ at all, and concentrated more on the crime/mystery aspect of the plot. The character’s well well-written and the detective is a good mix of insightful and in-the-dark, so the revelations come to him almost at the same time as they come to the reader (depending, I suppose, on the reader’s insightfulness – and whether or not they remember the blurb).

Ultimately, this was a decent first novel from a new author, and I will be curious to see what his next offerings are like.

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