Stephen Hunt's "The Court of The Air" has been out for some time now, but until recently I've been put off reading it by negative comments and often mixed reviews. Well, I finally took the plunge and, while I can see how it might not be for everyone, what's certain is that it's definitely for me.
I read this 600-page beast in 3 days flat (Admittedly I don't have much of a life). It's a dizzying joy of a novel, a colourful mish-mash of ideas and influences of such startling vividness that at times it was like a splash of cold water in the face.
Needless to say, I loved this novel.
The background concerns the two rival countries of Jackals and Quatershift, which are ruled by twisted parodies of real political systems - One a cruel kind of constitutional monarchy, the kind that nobody would want to be monarch of, the other an extreme form of Communism which takes the concept of "equality for all" to insane and gruesome lengths. Add to this a touch of the French Revolution and the English civil war, a free state of intelligent steam-powered robots (often the most sympathetic characters), some secret police, a mutating/superpower bestowing fog known as "feymist" (Which may also be the entrance to another reality), Long-dead, subterranean Aztec-style civilizations with ancient insect gods (Who want to come back), bizarre land disturbances known as "floatquakes" which send sections of land bouncing upwards into space(!), Dickensian squalor, a touch of social commentary, and quite a lot else - in fact, so much idea and invention it's impossible to mention it all in one review - all funnelled through a comparatively straightforward plot about two fugitive orphans with a destiny, a grand political conspiracy, and a Crown Prince who doesn't want to have his arms chopped off come Coronation day.
In short, it's bonkers. And utterly, utterly brilliant.
Admittedly the book can be a bit of a challenge, at least initially. No, not much is explained, and the author does require you to do some of the work yourself, but that's fine and a perfectly acceptable way to write. Perhaps readers who expect to be spoonfed, expect novels to be like a form of text television where no thought is required on the part of the audience, will be disappointed, but I didn't mind at all. I had no trouble understanding any of the concepts, the plot or what the overarching themes were. I was never confused and never bored, not for a moment. And I make no claims to genius.
Having said that, a little more physical description could have come in handy on occasion, as I sometimes had trouble visualising objects, people and settings from Hunt's terse one-line sketches.
Also, something I only noticed after reading it is that it's an oddly asexual novel. Not only is there no romance, (Which I was a little disappointed about as I was expecting fireworks when Molly and Oliver finally met) but as far as I can remember very few, if any, of the characters in the book had a wife or a husband or a significant other of any kind. Not a criticism as such, but something I found a little odd in retrospect.
But overall I'm happy to say, after Having finally gotten around to reading this, I'll be buying the other three (so far) in this series and devouring them all in one enormous book-based gulp. I've just discovered my new favourite author.
Don't let the nay-sayers put you off - if you like fantasy fiction and don't mind a read that challenges you, crack this open as soon as you can get your hands on it!