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Gods of Manhattan
Scott Mebus
Dutton, 342 pages

Gods of Manhattan
Scott Mebus
Scott Mebus works as a producer for MTV and VH1, as well as a freelance music producer and editor. He has written numerous TV ads and full-length videos, working on projects as disparate as The Tom Green Show and The Real World. He currently resides in Manhattan.

Scott Mebus Website
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A review by Nathan Brazil

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"The buildings were the same. The people didn't look any different. Were the really strange creatures only in alleys or underground? Or was Manhattan so weird to begin with that the nightmare creatures just blended in?"
Gods of Manhattan was not at all what I'd expected from Scott Mebus. As a former MTV producer and author of two BlokeLit novels, I was anticipating this venture into Harry Potter territory would be loaded with modern cultural references, and techno clever-dickery. Instead, what I found was a quaintly old-fashioned work, brimming with quirky invention and subtle charm. Rather than plunge readers into the world of now, with its mobile phones, dead rapper chic and apocalyptic nihilism, Mebus connects with the rich and vast tapestry of Manhattan island; all the way from its sacred forest beginnings to the steel and glass canyons of today. Like David Blaine in his street magic days, Mebus shows us startling things that are apparently right before our eyes, if only we could see. As with many winning formulas, it's so obvious, once someone has shown the way.

The first trick Mebus pulls is to roll out a bog-standard fantasy premise, where a young boy discovers that he has unique abilities, which he is called upon to use in pursuit of various arcane artefacts. The purpose of this quest being to right an ancient wrong, accompanied by oddball companions, and emerge victorious, battered yet unbroken. It's the same old song, but from very early on few readers will care about that. The reason being Mebus writes with such creative vision and flamboyant confidence, the premise is secondary. It's the ingredients that make page turning so addictive. The main protagonist is 13 year-old Rory Hennessy, who is what the Gods of Manhattan refer to as a Light. This is a mortal who can see, not only them and their shadow streets, but the literal truth of whatever he looks at. In Mannahatta, the co-existent spirit realm, this is a valuable and dangerous talent to possess. Rory lives with his work-all-day mum, and engaging younger sister, Bridget, all of whom are happy and normal. Until Rory begins to see Mannahatta as it truly is, after watching a performance by a children's magician named Hex. Prior to this, Rory had always been able to see through any stage trick. But Hex does something he knows is impossible. Pretty soon, Rory and Bridget are sucked into the adjacent world of child-eating Strangers, battle cockroaches, bank robbery, Munsee Indians, and a shadowy assassin wielding the only weapon capable of killing a god. Their allies are the Rattle Watch, a small group of disgruntled teenagers, the children of the gods who are immortal and unaging, but also unable to ascend to godhood themselves. The Rattle Watch see the old gods as being stagnant, while Mannahatta unravels around them, and they want to do something. Against them is the evil, black-eyed god, Willem Kieft, the adviser to Mannahatta's mayor, Alexander Hamilton. Tossed into the mix are children forged from paper, a soul stealing pistol, an ambush by dead rabbits, palatial houses, invisible and intangible to those who cannot see them, plus a few dozen more unique hazards and marvels.

It is refreshing to find an American fantasy author making use of American culture and history. Although using such a tight geographical focus does mean that almost all of the named Gods of Manhattan are not immediately familiar to non-American readers. Neither are they as well utilised as they might have been. With a couple of notable exceptions, such as the God of Under the Streets, the neo-deities Mebus presents us with are simply there, doing nothing in particular, as they have for centuries. Next time, I would like to see this supporting cast given stronger rolls, and their personal histories shown in a little more clarity. On the plus side, Mebus resists any temptation to address the events of 9-11, perhaps instinctively realising that such a vibrant city and its people should not be defined by one tragic day. At the time of writing this review, there is a Gods of Manhattan website, which looks like it will be lovely, once the webmaster makes it more than a pretty home page. In the mean time, for a fascinating look at the source of Mebus inspiration, check out http://www.forgotten-ny.com where the historical charm of everyday New York is lovingly recorded in photographic form. Let your mind slide a little and it's easy to glimpse what has been forgotten, or is simply no longer viewed the way it once was. Scott Mebus did just that, and the result is a striking, animated, eloquent first novel, destined to take its place among the best of its contemporaries.

Copyright © 2008 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at www.inkdigital.org.


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