I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the successful Newbury and Hobbes series set in a version of Victorian London – see my reviews of The Immorality Engine here and The Osiris Ritual here. All very anarchic and entertaining stuff with plenty of action and the alternate, cool touches that defines steampunk. Would I enjoy this new genre mash-up series?
1926. New York City. It’s the Roaring Twenties but not as history remembers it. Coal-powered cars line the streets, while zeppelins and biplanes patrol the skies. The US is locked in a bitter cold war with a British Empire that still covers half the globe and the Lost Generation is drinking away the nightmares of the trenches. In Manhattan, a run-down police force is losing the fight against a tide of powerful mobsters and against one in particular: The Roman. His henchmen – not all of them human – with the streets and the body count is rising. It’s time in need of a hero. It’s a time in need of THE GHOST.
As you can immediately see from the blurb, steampunk has shifted from its more usual Victorian timescape, which was really successful in my opinion. There are some significant problems with the Victorian era – not least that many of the ingrained attitudes towards anyone not white, male and upper middle-class jar with modern tastes. Not that I’m holding up the 1920’s as any ideal of broad-mindedness – but attitudes and behaviour had been modulated by the Great War. Did Mann take account of that huge event? Absolutely. I have read books set in the 1920’s that completely ignore the Great War, while Mann effectively depicts the damage wrought upon his protagonist, who is still haunted by the carnage experienced in the trenches.
There is a gothic-noir feel to this book that puts me in mind of the Batman films. Not that I have a particular problem with that – Mann knows how to tell an entertaining tale. His characters are reasonably convincing and I’m guessing that there are untold layers about the Ghost we will uncover in subsequent books.
The baddies are satisfyingly nasty – in fact my chief grizzle is that I would have liked to learn more about The Roman who appeared to have really fascinating backstory. I will be looking out for the next in the series – I generally enjoy Mann’s work and I’d like to see where he takes the Ghost in future instalments.