Premise: A battle between New York’s greatest superhero and worst supervillain ends in a cataclysmic event: a tear in space that opens a rift into an alternate universe. The Empire State is similar to New York in most aspects, but there is only the island, it is the prohibition era, and it is always wartime. War ships go into the fog surrounding the Empire State to fight the Enemy, but never return.
In the Empire State, private investigator Rad Bradbury has been hired to find a missing girl, but his investigation leads him into a plot that is threatening the very existence of his world. He meets some interesting and dangerous people along the way, but he really has to rely on his wits to solve the mystery and to help him survive. With lurking airships, robots, and men in gas masks, very little makes sense. It is up to Rad to piece together the bigger mystery that he has been thrown into.
Themes: Empire State is a crime noir mystery, where Rad Bradbury is on the job searching for Sam Saturn. But his discoveries are more than just about the girl. Clues lead to questions and questions lead to people, all of which open new doors into places Rad has never before known. We are left guessing until the very end.
In his investigation, Rad quickly learns that everyone and everything is not as it appears. He can’t really trust anyone, and therefore solving the crime and saving the world becomes that much more difficult. Those he thinks he can trust might turn out to be his enemy, or vice versa. In Empire State the lines between trust, friendship, and morality are blurred.
Pros: My favorite thing about Empire State is that it is full of compelling characters. With every character having questionable morality, I found myself rooting for Rad Bradbury through the very end. In spite of his flaws, he is still honorable and just. Though there could have been more world-building and exploration in each element, I enjoyed the various genre elements mashed together: steampunk, superheroes, crime noir, and alternate universes.
Cons: There are certain things that are very difficult to do in fiction, and Empire State is infused with several that I have already mentioned. The alternate universe element is intriguing, but I felt it could have used more time set aside for explanation right from the beginning without giving anything away, especially since it is revealed on the back cover of the book. Because of these things I was confused through a good portion of the beginning, which made it seem to go slower. And the time and technology differentiation between the two worlds has almost no explanation other than “these are two separate worlds so things works differently.”
Recommendations: I read Empire State because I liked the cover and the premise, knowing that it has superheroes, crime noir drama, with steampunk elements. I was a little disappointed in cramming so many different genres into one book only because I felt like each of them could have been given a little more treatment or some of them could have been cut out to make something really great. The good thing is that the characters really started to grow on me, along with the little pocket universe. I think that Adam Christopher has created something special in Empire State. I only hope that the second book expands on the world using the strong points in this one: solid characters and a gritty setting.