Ghosts of War
by George Mann
Cover Artist: Benjamin Carré
Review by Mel Jacob
Pyr Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781616143671
Date: 26 July 2011 List Price $16.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Ghosts of War, another purported steampunk pastiche by British author George Mann, is a sequel to Ghosts of Manhattan. Gabriel Cross, a.k.a. the Ghost, is a vigilante bent on eradicating crime from Manhattan. Set in 1927, the novel features two men, almost identical twins, one American and the other a British spy. Both are veterans of the First World War sickened by killing and the carnage of war. While Gabriel is bent on stopping the mysterious mechanical raptors who abduct citizen at night for some unknown purpose, Peter Rutherford, the spy, wants to stop a plan by a cabal of powerful men to start war with Britain and take over the world.
Like the Sandman, Flash Gordon, Rocket Man, and Batman, the Ghost has access to technology, but unlike them with a strange admixture of the occult. Creatures from another dimension provide a weapon of mass destruction. Mann's world strains the laws of physics to the breaking point. His raptors, made of brass, mechanical parts, wings of human skin, live birds, and strange arcane runes, strike from the sky without warning and fly off with their victims in this alternative history. Soon, Rutherford's quest overlaps with the Ghost's pursuit of the raptors. As a writer of Dr. Who scripts, Mann's leaps of imagine are not surprising.
Among aspects of the Ghost's world are self-igniting cigarettes, coal powered cars, rocket assisted biplanes, holo units for distance communication, Tesla coils for electrical power sufficient to create a dimensional doorway to another reality, squid-like extra-dimensional creatures ravenous for human blood whose only weakness is a specific type of blood, a leper who is able to perform surgery on his own body and replace affected body parts unaided, and mysterious occult technology used to enhance and control quasi-mechanical creatures and assist the dimensional gateway. Mann's world is comic book in nature and has few limits.
The novel has a period flavor especially in relation to the behavior of the Ghost, a crusading police officer, and the British spy. The heroes are good and regret killing people, but do so for the greater good. Inconsistencies among characters also raise questions. The technical genius, Abraham Took, the leper, allows the villain of the piece to control and manipulate him as do other politicians. Drunken parties á la the Twenties occupy the young and rich. The Ghost's girlfriend Ginny is a brave sharpshooter who drowns her hopelessness (unexplained) in the bottle. The Ghost sustains serious injuries, but always manages to gain the upper hand. Like comic book heroes, nothing stops him. He always rises ready to fight the next day despite his injuries. He has an inexhaustible supply of blood.
Like Mann's other novels, his steampunk series Newbury and Hobbes (see The Affinity Bridge review) set in Britain, Ghosts of War roars to a final confrontation. The ending also provides a bit of poetic justice, but is not for the squeamish. It is likely he has more such novels in store.