By Scott Mebus
Rory has a bad habit of seeing what’s really going on. He hates magicians; he can always see the trick of each trick — Until Hex comes to his younger sister’s birthday party and does something that should be impossible. Rory can’t find the trick of it.
From that moment on, Rory sees things he’d never noticed about Manhattan. A rat-riding cockroach warrior waves at him. The subways are peopled by albino alligators and marvelous bards. Buildings demolished long ago still stand. Rory can now see the truth: alongside Manhattan is the spirit city of Manahatta. If anything in our world is remembered enough, it is reborn in spirit.
This city is ruled by a Greek-style pantheon of gods, such as Boss Tweed, god of rabble politics, or Babe Ruth, god of entertainment. But now, the gods are scared. Someone has discovered a way to kill them.
Rory and his sister team with the Rattle Watch, the children of the gods eternally condemned to remain teens. Will they find the hidden assassin in time? And what of the darker machinations that long ago trapped Manahatta’s original residents? What do Hex and the papier-mâché boy named Toy have to do with all of it?
And does Rory even care?
The characters, plot, and setting of this world shine. I was worried that the plot would become “white settlers bad, Native Americans good,” but I found that Mebus created a much more nuanced setting. Yes, there is a “noble savage” character who factors heavily in the plot, but there are others who are antagonists. Yes, some settlers are villains, but others are heroes.
I appreciated that Rory was portrayed as a thirteen-year-old. He mopes a little, but not too much to make the reader loath him. He doesn’t accept what authority tells him, but still wants adults to act fairly. Similarly, his sister is a real nine-year-old girl. They do not act over or under their ages. Both characters are near-instantly likable as well realistic.
Other characters pop, too. I want to know more about the M’Garoth Clan, the battle roaches that serve the Mayor. I want to see more about the Subway bards. Even the villains, while appropriately malevolent, create interest.
I did have hard time determining the novel’s target audience. The writing style and plot seem roughly parallel to the first Harry Potter novel: good grade-school reading. Yet, the historical references are rarely explained. Someone who doesn’t have a good chunk of history will miss much of the richness of the tapestry this story creates. The villain’s identity is rather clever, but without the history of, say, a high school education (or perhaps even higher), the unmasking would fall rather flat.
The only matter that disappointed me in the book was the clear effort to make this a series. At least in my edition, there’s nothing about forthcoming books, though I see through Amazon there are two more in the series. In the last chapter, the author points out a few dangling threads. This bothered me; at the end of a book, I want to reach resolution. Yes, those threads were left dangling, and I appreciate that. There was no need to point it out. Simply pick up those threads in the next book.
Overall, the book was pleasurable. I’d recommend it for adults looking for a quick, fun read, or for younger teens who enjoy some modern-day fantasy.