Cover by Will Staehle
THE AGE ATOMIC
Publisher: Angry Robot Books
First published: 26 March 2013
This edition published: 4 April 2013
On the cover:
The Empire State is dying
The Fissure connecting the pocket universe to New York has vanished, plunging the city into a deep freeze and the populace are demanding a return to Prohibition and rationing as energy supplies dwindle.
Meanwhile, in 1954 New York, the political dynamic has changed and Nimrod finds his department subsumed by a new group, Atoms For Peace, led by the mysterious Evelyn McHale. Their goal is simple: total conquest - or destruction - of the Empire State.
As the cover states, this is the sequel to Empire State (link to my review). I wouldn't suggest you try reading this without reading that first, there's simply too much here that demands you have knowledge of what happened in the previous book.
While Empire State was clearly influenced by Crime Noir, this novel seems to me to be influenced by old movie serials, at least in the later half. I had some problems with where to begin with this review, but this is a pretty good jumping off point. So, lets start with the later part of the novel.
There is a lot happening when this novel really gets moving. The action is plentiful, and in the tradition of the movie serial carries a lot of suspense with it. There are plenty of cliffhanger moments and revelations. Unfortunately, there's also many of the flaws of these movie serials. Realism takes a bit of a backseat to creating cliffhanger moments. In movie serials that was done by inserting a short scene before the end of the preceding weeks final scene, a couple of instances does the same here.
This isn't exactly a new narrative device in novels, but it becomes very noticeable when it's placed in a world where you more or less expect it to happen. It does take away some of the suspense, and makes the text itself seem unreliable at times.
I didn't really take to what I have described in this paragraph, it simply didn't work for me. (Although it may do so on another read through of the book.) But I can't say this is something that is really wrong with the novel. It honestly read like that was intended, and it was a feature not a bug. And it was very well done. Although as you may have gathered, I found it transparent. Once I did that it became predictable, and some plotpoints felt very telegraphed.
Let's back up a bit to the first part of the novel. It is a sequel, one that doesn't follow directly from where the preceding book left off. We are given a quick update on some of the events that have occurred since last time, but there doesn't seem to have been much happening. We do find out later though that there are actually things that are going on, and significant ones at that.
We meet again detective Rad Bradley from the first book, and he has an even more prominent role this time around. He's at the centre of most of what is happening, and is also the reader's gateway into events. This is something he somewhat suffers for. Bradley is more of a guide through events that a part of them. He is there when significant things happen, but he's more or less along for the ride.
Being along for the ride is also a pretty good description for what I felt as a reader with this story. The storytelling style made me feel distant from what was happening, there's really no time here to get a connection to either events or characters before you are moving on. While the disconnect from events in itself doesn't mean I can't get into the book, here I had no characters that brought me in either. I did feel some connection to Bradley, but that was because of the previous book. More of a memory of old friendship that a continuation of it.
The other characters didn't really feel like someone I should connect to, they were pretty distant. Even Jennifer Jones, who follows Bradley all through the narrative, never really felt like she was someone I could feel sympathy for. And the rest of the characters does for the most part not give the reader much to grab on to.
That being said, there were some glimpses here of great character moments. But I felt they were left undeveloped, they weren't really built upon and taken advantage off to create a connection to the reader. I felt that in many ways the characters were sacrificed to build the atmosphere of the novel. And the atmosphere is definitely the best thing about the novel.
I've come back to what I began with now, the movie serial influence. This creates a rather distinct atmosphere for the novel. It helps a lot with establishing the feel of being in the era it is set in. Christopher really excels at this, you really feel the 1950s vibe coming from the page. I wouldn't have reacted at all if this was presented as a newly discovered tie-in to an action-adventure serial of that time.
In this sense this is a really good development on Empire State. It feel like this is a natural successor to that, bringing us from Crime Noir to Matinee Movie Serial. But as I've alluded to above, I didn't really connect to that. It felt a bit too meta for me, like the framework was more important than the finished product.
I realise all this makes it seems like I didn't enjoy this novel at all, that is not the case. It was a fast read for me and despite my problems with it an enjoyable one. This review has been very hard to write, because I am not sure I really can get across my ambivalence with this novel.
On the one hand I really enjoyed the atmosphere, and there was some really good ideas in here. But on the other hand I felt disconnected from both events and characters. Christopher's writing is excellent, and at times his style is a real joy to read. But here I felt he put storytelling in the background.
My experience can perhaps be best summed up as; I liked it, but... I haven't in any way been put off either Christoper's writing or his Empire State setting. I know I'll pick up more of Christopher's books, and if there is a follow-up to this novel I will get that too.
This is a very well written novel, with an excellently created atmosphere. It does however have some issues, and your mileage may vary on how those will effect your enjoyment of it.
NOTE: I received an e-ARC of this book from the publisher/NetGalley. The review is however done from a finished copy I bought at the bookstore myself.
REVIEW: Empire State
LINKS: Adam Christopher Angry Robot Books