Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Court Of The Air by Stephen Hunt

The Court Of The Air is sprawling. Ambitious. Epic.

It's also too damn long.

The Court Of The Air is actually two novels joined together. In most places, the seams are invisible and pleasing. In a few, the sutures are done by a nearsighted doctor of philosophy with a nervous tic and a welder. The resulting book is not unpleasant, but could have used a team of editors to cut it down to a manageable size.

The nation of Jackals exists thousands of years in the future. Following a world-wide cataclysm, man has struggled back to level of technology best described as a steampunk ideal: Jackals is filled with dirigibles and carriages. Leather and brass abound. Orphans and chimneysweeps and mad professors rub elbows in the sooty streets. Mr Hunt creates a world that is alive with Victorian contradictions, and it is in describing this world and how it almost ended that The Court Of The Air delivers its best moments. He has an absolute gift for imagining a parallel evolution.

The other novel details how a pair of orphans were used by The Forces Of Good(TM) to protect the world from an attack by The Forces Of Evil(C). You've already read this one fifty times, and it includes all the standard elements- breathless action, frantic chases, a beautiful girl, heroes who suffer injury and concussion and loss and betrayal and are still ready to do more. There is even a megalomaniac leader who helpfully details all his plans to the heroine.

Hits include the Steammen Free State and all its inhabitants. Very original and fascinating. Also, Mr Hunt brings the best parody of socialist and communist thought since Atlas Shrugged.

Misses include use of the phrase "the disreputable Harry Stave" repeatedly. Not in dialogue, in narration, at least ten times.

I have read a bit in my time, and I'm not one of those lightweights who think Dr Seuss is 'too wordy'. At 582 pages (in this edition), The Court Of The Air could have been half as long and been a shining 5-star tale. As it is, the soul-crushing length, meandering story, and lack of a strong editor makes it three-and-a-half.

(Side note: Gypsi disagrees.)

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