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Sunday, August 2, 2009

"The Manhattan Prophet" by Jake Packard (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Jake Packard Website
Order “The Manhattan ProphetHERE

Here at FBC we receive quite a lot of review requests/inquiries and we go through them carefully to see if the respective book fits the taste of one of us. The one thing we truly appreciate are book extracts or links to such since ultimately that is the determinant factor at least for me in deciding if I want to try a book I have not heard of before. I tend to discount quickly books that are of little interest to me, but for books that may be of interest based on description, only an excerpt will tell me if the book talks to me or is just squiggles on paper. This way I found a lot of gems and I am very excited when I discover a new author whose work talks to me.

So when I found out about "The Manhattan Prophet" with its description of a future dystopian NYC and a Prophet born in prison and ready to spread his message of hope on his release in December 2047, I immediately checked the available sample and I was hooked from the first page. I requested a pdf review copy and it jumped to the top of my reading queue. Some 400 pages later I have to say that the book was so impressive that I scrambled to include it in my First Half of 2009 (Part II) post which has been finished earlier and I thought done, as a #2 mainstream fantastic though it could be a co-#1 depending how it holds in my memory as time passes.

The one caveat I would add is that the novel contains extremely graphic scenes comparable say with the ones in the superb Caine series by Matt Stover, so be aware of that. Personally I found the scenes in cause very appropriate for showing the true hopelessness and despair in the Central Park "Shantypark" of 2047, while later they kept reminding us how brutal and unforgiving the world described by Mr. Packard is.

OVERVIEW:In a 2047 New York city-state vassal to the North Atlantic Alliance (Sony, Microsoft, Euro-Reich, Federated US...) in a world in which nuclear disaster struck in 2026 and then 10 years later, with environmental damage doing the rest, 21 year old Salem Jones is to emerge for the first time from the prison in which he was born and condemned to die by incurable sickness of which he cured himself and others as well as spreading a message of hope and love.

Mayor for life Jack Storm and general Pellet as commander in chief of First Army based in NYC which forms the shock troops of the Alliance have quite different ideas about what to do with Salem Jones whose presumed messages from inside Ryker mysteriously spread like fire through the city.

Maria Primera is the new rising star of reporting who lives in an upscale East Side apartment, barely a mile from Shantypark and she is preparing for an "exclusive world interview" with Salem on his release. Of course in the 2047 world, the press "lives" at the whim of the Alliance though there is some competition allowed for form' sake, but any "illegal news posters or broadcasters" are tracked and killed by the Alliance shock troops under said anti-terrorist rules that form the bedrock of law these days.

Main hero Herbie Lipton is a cameraman with a tragic past and a strange personal history that will be recounted and give insight into the present story while his fabled grandfather Bullmoose strange life path forms the back story thread of the novel.

The Shantypark has also some notable characters, including the boy Jamal who is close to the fatal stages of the killer new version of HIV and psycho gang leader Gregor, but there are a lot of very, very memorable characters in this novel.

The novel stands at about 400 pages, starting with a prologue taking place in 2069 though its protagonists are not clear until the epilogue that continues and concludes it, and they beg a novel of their own. The narration takes place from multiple POV's and the present thread is set in December 21-25 2047, while Bullmoose backstory starts in the 1970's and concludes in the 2020's.

ANALYSIS: "The Manhattan Prophet" is informed by Bullmoose four rules:

"According to old Bullmoose there are only four rules in this world that you can always count on. Number one: nothing ever stays the same. Number two: everything is interconnected. Number three: you never know what’s going to happen next. And, number four: there is no limit to the glory and the grace of God."

The irony and wisdom contained in the above will become clear later on, but essentially these "rules" that Herbie recounts from his beloved grandfather's tales give deeper meaning to the book in addition to the overt spiritual message of Salem.

In particular the life of Herbie's father who rejected Bullmoose from the beginning and became a top physicist for among other reasons to show that the universe is predictable and spite his father's "mystical beliefs" only to ... - well that would be telling, so I leave you to read the book to find out the twists and turns here - is one of the "mini-threads" of the novel that made it so compelling and so much more than a cursory synopsis would show.

After the "mysterious prologue" that gives the book a sort of mythical overtone, we are treated to the brutal realities of Shantypark in 15 pages of unmitigated despair, hopelessnes and horror with very disturbing scenes. To contrast with that we are introudced to Maria and her Upper East side luxurious but regimented life (wake up 5 am...) that could be taken from today's celebrity lifestyles pages.

Then we have one more introductory section about mayor Storm and his beggining as a civil rights activist and top law school graduate that led to an illustrious political career which culminated to him being the only city leader surviving the 2026 nuclear attack and slowly led to his mayor for life "presidency" of the New York City State, with the civil rights youngster still in there somewhere despite the harsh relaities of 2047; and here we have the contrast to his sometime associate and friend Rodney Pellet who is his theoretical subordinate as "chief of police" but as the CO of the Alliance First Army is Storm' boss in all but name.

Slowly we get into the main threads of the book, the Salem Jones one of the present and Bullmoose and Herbie's tale of the past which intertwine superbly at the end, culminating in the grand finale that truly begs another novel.

Another great strength of the novel beside superb characters and excellent - however bleak - world-building are the locations, first and foremost NYC of course, but Boston, upstate NY and India too.

"The Manhattan Prophet" is also a page turner to boot that moves fast however disturbing and shocking some pages are and it has lots of twists and turns, mixing the expected from Salem (healing, message, followers) with a lot of unexpected stuff and with hints of even subtler goings on in the background.

Highly, highly recommended and one of the biggest positive surprises of 09 for me.


shaneo52 said...

Yeah, Thanks alot Liviu, you got me hung up on another one.....

The Reader said...

Great review Liviu, you have highlighted another interesting title, looking forward to adding reading it.

Liviu said...

Thank you for your kind words; this book hooked me from the first page and I just loved it - the caveat remaining that it has very strong explicit scenes a la Stover's Caine (more violent than Joe A. for example)


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