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Book Review: Ghosts of War by George Mann

I find Steampunk superheroes to be an interesting new trend in the genre I have come to love. Not many authors have embraced it, but George Mann took it on with his book Ghosts of Manhattan and now has continued the story of Gabriel Cross, aka the Ghost, in  Ghosts of War.

Mann’s second foray into the lives of Gabriel Cross and Felix Donovan is just as action packed and exciting as the first, with some new twists along the way. As Gabriel and Donovan uncover a new plot, this time to unleash a genocidal attack on the British Empire, we are treated to a continued look at Steampunk in Mann’s post-World War I world with biplanes and airships. Instead of sticking close to the overused Victorian home of many Steampunk writers, we are treated to a setting that offers new perspectives along with a new set of morals and ethics that people live by. Reading about the culture he created, in a world where Britain dominates world politics, is a welcome change to the status quo.

The technology used by the Ghost and other characters really add to the feel of the story, in many cases feeling more like mad science than regular science. Lepers with mechanical limbs, biplanes that launch using rockets from rooftops, and flechette guns with exploding tipped blades only touch the surface of the strange technology in use throughout the novel. This lends a unique feel to the story as you can never quite be sure what gadget will be pulled next.

My biggest problem with  Ghosts of War didn’t lie with the story itself, but rather with Mann’s choice in reviving the dimensional beast from the first book. While bringing creatures in from another dimension is a quite normal staple for most science fiction, their inclusion in this book almost feels like a desperate grab for something for the heroes to fight. Making a monster nearly indestructible and an indiscriminate killer lends an air of hopelessness to their cause that isn’t fun. Anyone who read the first book knows just how impossible it can be to destroy these monsters, and having one present through most of the book made me wonder how they were going to stop such a dangerous thing.

A few other holes exist in the story, such as how the monster in question doesn’t manage to escape until the end and does so in a manner that seemed to be available to it the entire time. Additionally, the mechanical raptors, while an interesting scientific nightmare, are never really explained in a way that made sense. I would have rather had no attempted explanation about their origin rather than the half-hearted attempt that was put forward.

Mann does provide some twists on his original novel. Filled with corrupt politicians and warmongering senators, we are also treated to the inclusion of a British spy. This in turn changes the entire air of the novel, making it feel more like a Steampunk spy novel and less like a superhero novel.

The novel is a fun time for anyone who loves a good action packed tale, and brings some new things to the table in the form of spies and a post World War I world, just be prepared to have to suffer through a nearly indestructible monster and strange mechanical beasts that seem too impossible even for science fiction. Overall, though,  Ghosts of War is a fantastic story well worth the time for anyone looking for something fresh and entertaining.

(This review is from Bull Spec Issue #6.  Other quality reviews along with great fiction and other cool stuff make it worth a look.)

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