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Stella Matutina
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Empire State by Adam Christopher 
8th-May-2012 09:20 am
Empire State cover artTitle: EMPIRE STATE
Author: Adam Christopher
Series: a sequel is forthcoming
Publisher: Angry Robot Books
Publication Date: January 2012
Pages: 448
Status: electronic (ARC)

LibraryThing Info

Empire State for purchase on The Book Depository

Review copy provided by the publisher via the Angry Robot Army.

Surely y’all have heard of EMPIRE STATE. It garnered widespread acclaim seemingly from the moment Angry Robot announced its impending publication. Interest in this alternate history with superheroes and private eyes ran high, and I certainly wasn’t immune to the book’s siren song. I knew I had to seek it out.

A wee bit of summary: Rad Bradley is a private detective in the Empire State, a fog-shrouded island city mired in Wartime. He’s down on his luck and desperate for cash when a hot dame brings him a job: find her missing lover at any cost. Easy and lucrative. But what seems like a straightforward case soon grows thorns as Rad becomes involved with the Empire State’s leaders, a pair of warring superheroes, and a mysterious place called New York City.

I enjoyed EMPIRE STATE for its allusiveness, above all else. Christopher knows his stuff. He blends crime fiction tropes and science fiction standards with great aplomb, tweaking each to suit his story’s needs and to remind us that this ain’t your standard crime novel. The hot dame who wanders into the hardboiled PI’s office is a lesbian, not a potential love interest. Rad himself is an older, overweight, bald dude1, not some uber-sexy hunk whose rugged exterior mirrors the damage in his soul. The superheroes are the crux of the problem, not its solution.

Christopher also works in some allusions to comic book history (THE SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT being a particular favourite; I’ve always wanted to get my hands on that book), to Doctor Who, and to the pulp fiction that flourished throughout the ‘20s and ‘30s. And on top of that, he juggles some fascinating ideas about such tropes as alternate worlds, doppelgangers, gender issues in crime fiction, and the dividing line between the good guys and the bad guys.

It’s pretty damned interesting.

I very much enjoyed the book as a dialogue with crime fiction and the superheroic tradition, but I fear I had a little trouble connecting to the plot. I have no doubt that this was due primarily, if not entirely, to personal circumstances. Shortly after I began EMPIRE STATE, I entered one of those frustrating periods where I could not read more than a few pages at a time. I read no more than fifty pages per day--a glacial pace, for me--and proceeded to limp through the book in fits and spurts. It took me over a week to finish.

I rarely get as much as I should out of shorter books with which I spend protracted periods of time. I lost momentum, and my reaction to the denouement suffered for it. Christopher pulls everything together quite nicely, with fair conclusions for all involved, but it struck me as the sort of thing that’s best read at a rapid-fire pace. No limping allowed.

Alas, I broke that rule.

Please don’t take this to mean I disliked EMPIRE STATE. I liked it very much, both as an allusive text and as a cracking story. I’d recommend reading it at a fairly brisk pace, though, if you possibly can, so you’ll maintain the momentum that I failed to sustain.

3.5 stars – really liked it

Other Reviews:

Remember how this one's got a lot of hype behind it? Hype translates to lots and lots of reviews, which you can find via the Book Blogs Search Engine.

Back In the Day:

  1. In the interview in the back of the book, Christopher states that he had Chi McBride in mind when he wrote Rad Bradley. I love Chi McBride, but I’m kind of glad I didn’t know this until afterwards, since I’d have had a hard time not equating Rad with Emerson Cod from PUSHING DAISIES. Emerson Cod rocks my socks (he’s one of my favourite Obligatory Grumpy Characters), but he’s got totally different mannerisms from the Rad I pictured as I read.
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