Empire State by Adam Christopher
It’s a parallel-universe, Prohibition-era world of mooks and shamuses that is the twisted magic mirror to our busting Big Apple. It’s a city where sinister characters lurk around every corner, while the great superheroes who once kept the streets safe have fallen into deadly rivalries and feuds. Not that its colourful residents know anything about the real New York… until detective Rad Bradley makes a discovery that will change the lives of all its inhabitants.
As soon as I saw the cover for Empire State I knew I had to have a copy, and I certainly didn’t hesitate to buy it! The blurb immediately made me think of television programmes like Boardwalk Empire and Fringe, with the prohibition era and parallel universes, and being a big fan of both I just knew Empire State would be right up my street! And I certainly wasn’t wrong…
New Yorkis in its prohibition era, ruled by gangsters and corrupt judges, and where you’ll find superheroes battling each other instead of catching the bad guys. However, New York’s parallel universe, Empire State, an island shrouded in fog, is preparing for a war with an invisible enemy. Everything is rationed and times are hard. Private Investigator, Rad Bradley, is drawn into solving the murder of a local woman. His investigation soon leads to some very startling discoveries about the world he lives in, and beyond. The question is, who can he trust?
This is a hard novel to write a review for, as I’m sure other readers have experienced, without spoiling it for those of you who haven’t read it. It is a very complex novel full of twists and turns that constantly keep you second guessing on which characters you can trust and which ones you can’t. Adam Christopher’s characters are really the strength of the novel, I believe. Rad’s character feels very Chandler-esque and just your average Joe. He wants to do what’s right, not just for himself but for everyone else who lives in Empire State. And boy, does he face some challenges along the way! With the suspicions surrounding his best pal Kane, and the enigmatic explorer Captain Carson and his robotic companion, Byron, Rad knows he can only really trust himself. But how can one man save an entire world?
Captain Carson and Byron were my favourite characters by far, just because for most of the novel I couldn’t quite get my head around just who’s side they were on. They provided many answers for Rad about the world in which they live, so his scenes were often the most intriguing. But overall, I thought they were very well-drawn characters. They may not be trustworthy, but they were definitely likeable! And that’s all down to Adam Christopher’s talent for writing.
After reading through other reviews, there has been a lot of comments on the purpose of the superheroes in the novel and whether they really needed to be in it. I have to agree here, and say I’m not sure they were all that necessary. At first, I expected them to play a much bigger role in the story but soon discovered that not to be the case. Adam Christopher has certainly used a lot of elements in this story, maybe a little too many at times; from robots, to superheroes, to time travel, to gangsters etc. At times I almost felt like I was reading a mix of storylines from well-known films and TV shows like Fringe, Batman, Boardwalk Empire, I Robot… I did at times question just how much of this was Christopher’s own invention. However, I think after now having read it and looking back on it, it’s obvious that these films and television programmes may have inspired him but this is definitely his novel, and his alone. The characters certainly didn’t come from anywhere but his mind and for me, it’s the characters that truly make Empire State what it is. Although, I should note that in the interview with Adam Christopher at the back of the novel, he does say he didn’t watch Fringe until after writing it! The truth is that long before such television programmes and films as these were made, all of their elements have been a part of science fiction novels for decades. Writers are constantly recycling elements and ideas, but it’s the way they’ve chosen to write and present those ideas that make it their own.
To sum up, Empire State is the most fun I’ve had reading a novel in a while! I love the guessing game it sucks you into, and if like me, you do love Fringe and Boardwalk Empire, there is no way you cannot like this! It’s everything you want out of a sci-fi novel and more, and I am desperately keeping my fingers crossed for a sequel, for this is one story that could definitely continue…
Empire State is out now, published by Angry Robot.