At times I have these premonitions, I simply know when something is going to be good. When I first read about Empire State by Adam Christopher on the Angry Robot Books blog, I thought it could be a fun read. Turns out, my premonition was a bit off the mark.
Empire State is not a fun read, it is a fascinating, captivating, action and mystery packed tour de force across the boundaries of reality. The story combines all the best elements of a noir detective story, silver age science-fiction, silver age superheroes, pulp, Dieselpunk and a pinch of Steampunk to create an instant classic.
I can honestly say, I would love to see a sequel to this novel, a prequel or something else set in the same universes, but before I get back to this, I tell you some more on why this book is so outstanding.
The story starts as a pulp crime tale, then has silver age superheroes introduced and from this point on, it is just a rollercoaster ride across dimensional boundaries.
The cast of characters is impressive, all real and nuanced in their own way. There are no real good guys and bad guys, everybody has, in best noir fashion, some secret, some crime or dark spot in their past, if they have a past at all. You will find out what I mean.
Tension and action never leave the pages, there is not a single paragraph that feels like a filler. Every single detail has meaning. Every weird thing introduced is relevant. Everything makes sense from the very beginning and the sense changes. The story, the people and the occurrences evolve.
What I mean by this is the following:
There were several occasions when I thought: „Oh yes, of course it must be…“ each time I was wrong. Each time a new facette was introduced and all the previous things made sense in a different way. This happened several times. The tale Mr. Christopher tells in Empire State makes sense in several ways and on several levels. He surprised me each time, sometimes it felt like the story punched me in the face. Some twists are really nasty.
A quick survival guide to Empire State:
- When ever you think you know what is going on, you are very likely wrong. Get used to it.
- When ever you think you know who is in charge, you are very likely wrong. Get used to it.
- There will be a twist when you least expect it.
To sum up:
Empire State has more epic moments, more action, and more tension than a tale should have without being full of clichés. Yet, the only cliché is the machismo of the male protagonists in some situations. This cliché is crucial to the story, however. You will see. Adam Christopher has created one noir, pulpy piece of epic science-fiction the likes of which I have not read before. The sheer genius of blending so many different awesome tropes into one tale and making it better than the sum of its parts.
And just a tiny spoiler: The end is bittersweet but more on the sweet side and there is hope for the guy to get the girl (back).
10 out of 10 Zeppelins (what else could it be) and the first to receive this badge of honour:
And coming back to what I hinted at earlier: Empire State is part of Angry Robot Books‘ World Builder, there will be follow-up works. I am looking foreward to this and from some of what Adam had to say at the end of the book, we can draw hope to see a comic adaption.
Empire State is available in print