Ray Gun Reviews
SF/F reviews — and ray guns!

Ghosts of Manhattan by George Mann

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Ghosts of Manhattan by George Mann
Pyr, 2010, 237pp.

OK, I’ll admit it: I’m a bit of a steampunk junkie. I really enjoy the whole idea of steampunk and eat up nearly everything I can find in the genre (sub-genre?). But let’s be honest: steampunk is also quickly becoming (if it hasn’t already become) a marketing niche that everyone wants to step into. Any publisher that has a book that is slightly Victorian in its demeanor or setting is marketing it as ‘steampunk.’ Thankfully, though, it seems that Pyr hasn’t entirely jumped on this bandwagon. Take, for example, The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack. That book could easily have been marketed as ‘steampunk’, but from what I’ve seen so far, Pyr has avoided that much.

So, when I saw Pyr claiming George Mann’s latest, Ghosts of Manhattan, as the first steampunk/superhero novel, I took notice. First, George Mann has already carved himself a reputation for steampunk with his Newbury and Hobbes novels. Second, the premise is one that is intriguing: what exactly would a steampunk superhero look like?

It turns out that the Ghost, Mann’s superhero, is not so much steampunk in himself, but the universe he inhabits is steampunkish, although Mann doesn’t so much explore that world as assume it as a given in the novel: Queen Victoria has only recently died in the 1920s; biplanes; airships; etc. Instead of dwelling on the steampunk/alternate history elements, though, Mann instead focuses almost entirely on the first adventure of the Ghost, who shows up at a bank robbery in Manhattan and using advanced technology (well, advanced for a steampunk 1926) thwarts the robbery. This puts him on the radar (if I may use such an anachronism) of ‘The Roman,’ the gangster who runs the mob in New York.

The novel reads much like an opening story arc for a comic book (and that’s a good thing!). We get equal doses of forward-movement on the Ghost/Roman story as well as interludes where we are given tantalizing bits of the Ghost’s origin story, but just enough to keep us coming back issue after issue, er, book after book to learn more. I don’t think I could praise this book more than to say that it feels like all the best of a comic book story distilled into a novel: lots of exciting action, mystery, and intrigue balanced evenly throughout. I’m hooked and will pick up any further adventures of the Ghost.

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