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Customer Review

28 of 36 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Awful pastiche, June 15, 2010
This review is from: Ghosts of Manhattan (Paperback)
Awful pastiche, 15 Jun 2010
By J. Shurin "carnivore" (London) - See all my reviews

This review is from: Ghosts of Manhattan (Paperback)
Billed as the first "steampunk superhero", Ghosts of Manhattan inventively features a playboy millionaire with a hidden side - a dark vigilante.

When Gideon Cross isn't prowling the roof tops of a fictional New York analogue, he's doing his best to look frivolous at society parties. Fortunately, he's got allies: a slinky female friend with a mysterious criminal past, a cunning butler and a police inspector that will bend the rules to protect his family.

Inventive genius.

All sarcasm aside, I'm not sure what New York has done to attract such abuse from a genre writer, but it must have been truly, truly awful.

One of the more spectacular let-downs is that, for the first half of the book, the author never actually, flat-out says that "Gabriel Cross" is the Ghost. This may be the worst-kept secret in genre history. In fact, it is so blindingly-obvious that Cross is the Ghost, I began to develop optimistic delusions that the book might be doing something really, really clever. The feeling grew, until, on the tantalizingly edge of almost being perhaps slightly interesting - the big reveal comes out: the playboy millionaire actually is the gloomy vigilante! I look forward to the sequel, when we learn that Darth Vader is Luke's father, Rosebud is a sled and, against all odds, the sun actually comes up in the morning.

As a result, I can't tell if Ghosts of Manhattan was written in a weird, parallel universe where Batman never existed, or if the writer just forgot to mention the Ghost's identity six chapter earlier.

Incidentally (and unsurprisingly), the love interest is just plain awful - the picture of regressive genre behaviour. She shags the playboy millionaire without actually liking him (presumably because she can femininely-intuit his inner moodiness - always appealing to the ladeez), she's got no will of her own, she gets rescued at least three times, and she's central to the "plot" because she's essentially a McGuffin with boobs. And, no, I can't remember her name, which, frankly, says a lot.

The steampunk elements, such as they are, are seemingly added as afterthoughts - like someone went back through the book and added the word "coal-powered" at random. ("Quick, throw another shovelful on the Three-Turbined Plot-Churner, we've got books to sell!"). If you've got the gumption to stick with the book in its entirety, there's a strange, semi-Dunsanian (I'm not comparing any part of this book to Lovecraft) ending that involves tentacles. As steampunk and the supernatural are now inexorably linked, that should count for something. Still, like the bi-planes, the coal-cars and the near-immortal Queen Victoria, the tentacle-monsters really don't have anything to do with anything else in the book, which, frankly, is to be expected. Someone along the way went wild with the bumper book of sub-genre stickers and converted this from bat-trash into a steampunk sensation.

This is a bad book. A weirdly bad book. I don't understand how it got printed, and I don't understand why other reviewers don't seem to loathe it as violently as I do. I see this book as everything wrong with fantasy - it is regressive, plagiaristic, boring world-building without a hint of character or original thought. Specifically, I see this book as everything wrong with steampunk - a sad legacy of an original creative concept that's been shamelessly watered-down and generally stamped-upon.
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Tracked by 2 customers

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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 2, 2010 1:53:36 PM PDT
Alan Gratz says:
Totally agree with this review. Half way through the book, I was thinking, "Ah, perhaps he's going to subvert the Batman myth, make the playboy millionaire NOT be the dark vigilante. Perhaps he'll even be the villain!" It was so stunningly obvious that the Ghost and Cross were the same person, but the author never SAID that, which made me think it really was going to be clever...but no. The playboy really is the vigilante. No pastiche. No irony. Just a Batman story with the names changed.

And I too thought the steampunk elements were just add-ons. They have coal-driven cars, but their biplanes (presumably) use gasoline engines? So, um, why don't they just use gasoline engines in their cars too? And if they have heavier-than-air flight, why do they have so many dirigibles? Everything has a steampunk patina, but the world wasn't built out of it.

Got pretty excited too by the promise of a Lovecraftian angle here, but there wasn't nearly enough of it to keep me reading past page 150, which is about where I abandoned this book.

Posted on Oct 15, 2010 1:32:23 PM PDT
Thank you! So glad you wrote this review so I didn't have to. Take from another reader, folks: this is a *bad* book for all the reasons mentioned in this review. I don't know if I was more turned off by the Batman ripoff, completely tacked-on feel to the steampunk elements, or the fact that none of my hopes for a great conclusion were met.

You have been warned. Mwah-hah-hah-hah!

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 10, 2011 9:23:49 PM PST
honostly i really liked the book. Just because its different doesnt mean its bad it just had steampunk tacked onto it by the publisher to try and sell. true it wasnt truely steampunk but overall an amazingly geat book, this author does not let genre get in his way!

Posted on Mar 9, 2011 10:14:29 PM PST
It got printed because the author wrote a bunch of slightly better books. But between the anticlimax, the biplane chase that came out of nowhere (with no reason), the stupid, stupid reveal of Gabriel Cross as the Ghost, and the utter anticlimax (they gave the number two villain a much better death), this seems like it was written lazily and for a paycheck, and should be best left forgotten. I totally agree with the review, though I disliked it a little more than three stars because I was so disappointed.

On the plus side, "Boobs McGuffin" sounds like an excellent disparaging nickname for someone.

Posted on Oct 25, 2011 8:26:15 PM PDT
Kenneth Sohl says:
I think some people are over-reacting to the book not meeting their apparently mistaken pre-concieved notions. I never once got the impression that the Ghost's true identity was supposed to be some earth-shattering secret; trying to twist this into something supposedly "clever" would have ruined the pastiche, as this was so obviously written to be a homage to the old pulp-fiction stories. In my case, I would have been sorely disappointed if it HAD departed from the conventions of this genre, as being that sort of thing is the impression that this book's marketing gave which lead me to buy it.

The book is fun, fast and action-packed. It's only real down-side (besides a couple of instances of absolutely dreadful dialogue which MIGHT have been intentional) is that it never really rises above the genre it mimics, thus making for a rather forgetable, if lightly entertaining, reading experience. Recommended mainly for pulp and steam-punk fans, though Alan Gratz made a good observation about the technology described in the book.

Posted on Oct 17, 2012 8:47:33 AM PDT
Wulfstan says:
I see we both had about the same opinion of this book. Great review!
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