I remember seeing this book in Waterstone’s last spring and constantly being intrigued by the cover art. I read the back once or twice but never got around to picking it up – other things on my list, etc etc. When it came time for Christmas list-ing, I told my London-inhabiting sister that this was near the top. She’s got good taste, she does.
The series takes place on some “other” world – maybe ours, maybe not, I’d read something somewhere about it possibly being a WAYYYYY future version of Earth, after many millenia of changes. The series takes its name from the kingdom we inhabit for most of this story: the Kingdom of Jackals. Its mostly steampunk, with an entire race of “steam men” and airships and the like, but there’s some fantasy in here too with “worldsingers” and “fey” magics. The rules took a little getting used to – this is one of those books where a glossary wouldn’t have gone to waste. A map, too – though the author has said that he won’t map until he’s done with the series because maps hem in the imagination. True – very Terry Pratchettian of him. So anyway, there’s Jackals (pretty British, with Dickensian orphans and Parliament and a literally armless monarch – well, that last part is obviously not REAL) and Quatershift and Cassarabia (….Arabian) and some Fire Sea and the remnants of an underground civilization complete with ziggurats, huge mushrooms, and human sacrifice. There are old gods but no new ones, a veiled version of Communism (“communityism”), and lots of ripping fights.
Everything you could ask for, right? I mean, all of this sounds like its the beginnings of a great fantasy sequence I’ll be engaged in for years to come!
Well, that’s the problem. It’s so very clearly a beginning. This book, while it has its moments, feels wildly uneven and rough. At nearly 600 pages, it felt very much like two novels combined and that caused the entire thing to suffer. A cast of too many characters, each very interesting and important and engaging but almost all given a short shrift, also bogged things down. Then, the characters evolved in a very abrupt manner – suddenly Oliver was kicking ass and taking names where he’d been some nearly-useless child for the first half of the book. You can’t tell me that the awakening of his fey powers suddenly made him seem ten years older. It just doesn’t fly. Same with Molly Templar – she just seemed to mature by years in a moment. But there was nothing about it, it just SNAP happened.
The story ricochets around at a breakneck pace, too. It can be tough to get your bearings on how much time has passed, who we’re talking about/to, and why it matters. This is entertaining at times but very frustrating at others. The ending of the novel, for example, just sort of shambled apart until it became clear “oh, well, that’s over I guess.” The best resolution and the clearest one came from Jamie Wildrake vs. Commodore Black. That made sense, it was evident, etc. The entire ending with the Wildcaotyl just kinda… it was over before I knew it. Even on re-reading it, it was still misshapen and haphazard. The little flashforwards at the end, too – those seemed wholly unnecessary and they were more confusing than concluding.
Despite those objections… I cannot wait to read the next novel in the series. I hope that Hunt matures and becomes a better novelist and that the definitely fascinating world of the Jackelian series is realized to its full potential.