Ghost Town, USA

A cabal of American fascists wants to turn the British Isles into a new state of America. Its nefarious plan involves dropping an army of giant, one-eyed squids on top of London. This preemptive attack would incite a full-blown conflict with the British Empire and ultimately crown the United States as the dominant power in the world. God help the Queen.

But things like this never go as planned. The British invasion is ultimately sunk by a motley assortment of vagabonds, including “a criminal, a police inspector, a foreign spy, and…a girl.”

Before we reach the novel’s endgame, the extraordinary league of vagabonds must untangle a knot of political allegiances, wartime flashbacks, lost love affairs, and a flock of “terrible flying creatures” called raptors. The good news is that all efforts lead to the downfall of the American warmongers.

Ghosts of War is the second book in George Mann’s newish pulp/steampunk/superhero series. Without a doubt, it has many shining moments (the chittering raptors are pretty cool, we admit), but overall it’s basically a retread of the first book. Many of the power points remain the same, and there’s even a stand-in or two for characters who were previously dispatched. It’s almost like the author simply tweaked his first manuscript, sent it back to his publisher, and cashed his check.

The Ghost, however, remains a compelling protagonist throughout. New York City residents know him as Gabriel Cross, the aristocratic playboy and dilettante who hosts amazing, drunken parties at his ritzy mansion. But mad scientists and interdimensional monsters know him as Manhattan’s guardian angel. “The Ghost was the city rendered flesh. He was its avatar, its judge, jury, and executioner.”

The vigilante’s crime-fighting methods are brutal but effective. And in this way he springs fully formed from the same mold as the Shadow and the Batman. But despite the similarities to other caped crusaders, the Ghost is his own singular creation. “Who are you,” asks a bystander at one point. “I’m no one,” responds our hero. “No one but a ghost.”

[Ghosts of War / By George Mann / First Printing: July 2011 / ISBN: 9781616143671]

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