I first came across George Mann with his fabulous Newbury & Hobbes novel The Affinity Bridge – I preyed upon the sequels as they emerged, so delightful were they to consume. Ghosts of War is follow up to Ghosts of Manhattan, this series is set on the other side of the Atlantic from the splendid British steampunk detectives. (I know, I’m sorry I’m reviewing a sequel again…) It has a correspondingly grittier feel, exuding a much harder boiled atmosphere and dialogue. This makes it a very satisfying companion to the Newbury & Hobbes series. We haven’t yet seen the dramatic events of one series bleed into the other, but it feels inevitable and I’m rather looking forwards to it.
Ghosts of Manhattan reintroduces us to the vigilante character The Ghost – by day a wealthy playboy with a traumatic history, by night a cloaked vigilante with rocket boots and none of Batman’s wussier toys. The Ghost kills when he must (though he does usually make sure the enemy shoots first) with his flechette gun – a vicious tool. He exists in an interesting period of Mann’s alternate history – this one is set in 1926 (only a month after the last one) and the world is subtly changed from ours: Queen Victoria has only just expired, her life extended by the steampunkish technology prevalent throughout both series. The events of WW1 are unclear, but Britain and America are deep in a Cold War and tensions of all sorts are rising.
Much of the book deals with Gabriel Cross (The Ghosts alter-ego) and his rather distresses mental state, in recovering both from his own actions in the war as a pilot and the disturbing events of the previous book. Mann fuses steampunk with demonic occult horror; big splashes of Lovecraftian beasts from an alternate dimension unleashed by wicked men intent on profiting from the fallout of unleashing them on Britain. I really enjoy the horror slant Mann has taken (zombies or ‘revenants’ featured in the first Newbury and Hobbes book), it shakes the steampunk cliches up and gives no shortage of shocks and death. Cross is, naturally, a little shaken by the monsters he’s encountered and he bumps into even more in this one. The first enemy he faces are enormous brass raptors which are snatching people off the streets; the second is his dissolving identity. It feels as if Cross is warring with The Ghost for dominance, never quite himself in either guise. He has few confidants other than a noble police detective (I also rather like Mann’s embracing of the superhero conventions) and maybe, just maybe a lady…
Ghosts of War is a great story with tonnes of breathless, bloody action (poor Gabriel takes a hell of a beating on almost every page). The background and struggle of the protagonist matters – I like the guy and want him to succeed. The steampunk / hardboiled / occult mashup are very satisying, I always enjoy it when someone brings machines to life using the soul of a blackbird. Crazy and awesome. The spectre of huge events hangs over both of Mann’s series – something is directing or encouraging the demonic activity and I can’t wait to see it revealed. Oh – and there are airships, which ought to make these books essential reading for everyone.
(he has some fun Newbury & Hobbes short stories for free!)
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