The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt (2007)

October 27, 2009 at 5:22 pm (Reviews, steampunk)

I am of two minds about this book.  On the one hand, it is set in a gloriously imagined and marvelously written steampunkish world (bearing some incidental resemblances to a very dark Victorian London, but don’t let that fool you), and presents a whole complete story in one volume.  On the other hand, it skids into its conclusions so rapidly, and with such inexorability, that I was a little put off.  I even wonder if perhaps the story would have been better served by being told in two volumes.  Shocking, I know.

Short version:  The orphan Molly is pursued by a deadly assassin and until quite late in the book, has no idea why.  The orphan Oliver is pursued by the authorities – or perhaps pseudo-authorities – after being falsely accused of murdering his uncle (plus a friendly police officer) and also has no idea why.  I read this book back in June and didn’t take detailed notes, and I can’t actually remember why Oliver was being persecuted like this.  (I do remember that Molly’s persecution had to do with her heredity – that was straightforward.)  Their mostly-separate efforts to not die lead to the rediscovery of ancient magic-technology and puts a stop to a serious revolution/war that breaks out in the latter portions of the books.

Seriously, the plots were actually so convoluted (including a large cast of secondary characters, some with their own bits of point-of-view), and parts of them so obscure, that I kept reading partly because the special effects were so awesome, and partly in the hope that everything eventually would be explained.  I don’t actually feel that everything was, though.

But there were also magically-coerced soldiers; a weird anti-monarchical history; vast underground caverns; a magical-technical city floating in the air; a balloon-riding archaeologist; sentient “steammen” with their own kingdom and civilization; self-aware weapons; gigantic Babbage engines; and quite a bit more.

The effect of the novel on me was ultimately like watching a spectacular feature film that’s enjoyable enough that the holes in the plot seem (somewhat) irrelevant.  I certainly would give his next book set in this world, The Kingdom Beyond the Waves (July 2009), a chance to turn out better – if it turns up in the library, or when it comes out in paperback.

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1 Comment

  1. Paul said,

    Thanks, Kris.

    I had been curious about this book. I will keep your review in mind if I eventually read it.

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