Joe Golem and the Drowning City
by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden
Steampunk + Christopher Golden + Mike Mignola = brilliant!
Fifty years ago, earthquakes shook Lower Manhattan, submerging the city and forever changing the landscape and livelihood of all who lived there. As the years passed, the gap between the classes widened: the wealthy live and thrive in Uptown, where they grow wealthier, as the poor people in submerged Downtown try desperately to survive in what is now known as the Drowning City.
It is in Downtown that aging magician Felix Orlov resides. His energetic and devoted assistant, 14-year-old Molly McHugh, lives the floor above him. Dark dreams, a seance, and an attack lead to Orlov's abduction and cause Molly to run away - and enlist the help of Simon Church, an investigator, and Joe Golem, the bodyguard to end all bodyguards.
If Hellboy were mixed with Eliot Spencer on Leverage and dressed in clothes from some classic Warren Beatty films, he might just be Joe Golem. Due to his size, stature, and strength, Joe's appearance often intimidates others, which can be useful in a physical confrontation but is not so helpful when he's trying to reach out and help the average citizen. Consider how he is described when Molly first sees him:
She looked up into cold gray eyes, sad but wise, set into a scarred, grizzled face. The newcomer had the solid, imposing build of an old-time boxer, or some back-alley legbreaker. [...] But he had a quiet, inner nobility Molly sensed instantly. Though he had no jacket or tie, his trousers were clean and pressed and his suspenders harkened back to an earlier era. In the first moment, she thought he might be fifty, but then decided he couldn't be much more than thirty. But it had been a rough thirty years, from the look of him. - Page 42, illustration on 43
- and a few pages later:
"But in spite of his size, he only looked kind and slightly amused." - Page 55
This seemingly unstoppable man has an astonishing history which is revealed as the story progressed.
Molly, described as "all freckles and red hair and youthful vigor," is a force to be reckoned with. Molly's got moxie, and she can certainly hold her own. She trusts her gut, which has helped her to survive. This quote relays that nicely, and is something that many of my favorite characters have in common.
A tiny voice in the back of Molly's mind screamed at her not to trust him. Her self-preservation had depended on her learning over the years not to trust anyone. Felix had been the one exception. - Page 55
I don't want to tell you too much about the fantastic workings of Simon Church, because that was a wonderful surprise for me the first time I read the book. I was really fascinated by what made him tick. I could draw a parallel between his story and A Christmas Carol, as he is visited one by one by important people from his past.
If you are a fan of Fringe, this book needs to be on your radar. (Hello, Manhattan and alternate history!)
Christopher Golden and Mike Mignola make me want to live in the Drowning City, to meet the wonderful characters they've created and help them defeat the monstrous villains. They've also offered up a short story, Joe Golem and the Copper Girl, but I still want more. Mignola's black-and-white illustrations are, as always, memorable. One only hopes that the movie, which is currently in development, captures the spirit and intensity of this book. The submerged city, falling buildings, and fight scenes need to be Inception-level awesome on screen. This captivating story deserves all of that, and more.
Bonus: Before or after you've read Joe Golem and the Drowning City, make sure you check out the short story Joe Golem and the Copper Girl, which is available as an eBook for just 99 cents. Sweet deal!
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