THE COURT OF THE AIR: STEPHEN HUNT Friday 16 December, 2011

Welcome to The Kingdom of Jackals.

Steampunk. Like it or hate it it’s here to stay. It’s almost perfect for me, I tend to find books and films that are historically set hysterically boring. It means that we can go back in time and still have all the cool shit! Ace…unless you find yourself watching Will Smith, Ken Brannagh and Mr Phoebe Cates poncing around in the Wild Wild West.

Luckily for us Stephen Hunt has thrown his steam powered, mechanical hat into the steampunk ring. The Court of The Air is the first of his Jackelian novels. Jackelian because they concern The Kingdom of Jackals. A fictional country which is almost like a Dickensian society except that there’s actual living robots, magic and various other mental things going on.

In terms of imagination this book is in and amongst the front runners. The scope of the narrative is wide and far reaching and some of the environments it describes are breathtaking. There are no end of interesting characters and species to become familiarised with. I often find myself coming to the end of sci-fi/fantasy novel and feeling disappointed by how stunted the leaps of imagination had been. That is certainly not something I could hurl the way of The Court of The Air.

If anything it can feel a little overwhelming at times. So much of the wonderful strangeness is discussed or mentioned in an offhand way as if the reader would already be in possession of that knowledge that it becomes difficult to find a handle to cling onto. I’m presuming that is an intentional choice in order to allow the reader to be fully immersed in the otherness of the book world but I craved a smidge more information.

With all of that shiny new, sparkling imagination on display it’s a shame that the plot is a little too linear and I felt like I was dealing with some concepts I had encountered before. At one point I felt like I was watching Akira. It’s almost like Stephen Hunt has woven the most incredible fabric and then cut and stitched a towel. If he can make his plotlines more ingenious than the Jackelian world will not be going to waste.

The only other gripe that I have with the book is that the two ‘lead’ characters seem to be little more than windows through which the reader views the action. Perhaps I have overlooked a lot of the characterisation but I finished the book feeling that I did not really know that much about the two of them. ┬áThe supporting characters seem to be much more vivid in my memory. Another side effect of the lack of depth to the two lead characters is that I found myself switching off from time to time. I was never really pulling for them to succeed or worried that they might fail.

These comments might make it seem like I didn’t enjoy the book. Which is not the case at all. I’ll definitely be delving further into the Jackelian world only I’ll be hoping that Mr Hunt addresses the things I’ve mentioned.

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