I told myself after finishing The Court of the Air that this series could only get better. It had all the right elements, it just needed to get out those first-book jitters. Hunt needed to find his footing and a story that would allow him to explore a bit more of this wild and incredibly futuristic (if my inference is correct, over 200,000 years…) Earth.
Happily, Hunt found that story with this book and nearly all of the issues I had with The Court of the Air were alleviated. Nearly all. Nearly.
There’s something to be said for coming into the Jackelian world already… aware of what it has to offer. Sure, I barely remember Commodore Black’s part of the first book… and I vaguely remember Amelia Harsh popping up… and now they’re thrust front and center, but without much mention of the previous adventure. It was the world that I was already a little familiar with. There’s Jackels, there’s Quatérshift with its sand and Arabic influences, there’s the Steamsmen Free State which is exactly what it sounds like, etc etc. Steamships, magic, top hats… steampunk with a twist, let’s say. That twist, of course, being that the Earth of this series is our Earth but way way way way way in the future.
But enough of that. The plot plays out in two disparate but converging threads, as with the last book. The first thread is Amelia Harsh & Black and their expedition to find the lost city of Camlantis. A civilization so perfect that they existed for thousands of years without ever knowing war. This plot is Indiana Jones to the T – starts with an unrelated escapade, returns to university life, leaves on another escapade, lots of near death experiences, turns out Amelia is the perfect person for the job, manages to escape the ruins of the ancient society realizing that sometimes not finding the truth is better than finding it. Hooray!
Meanwhile, the second plot is very Scarlet Pimpernel-y. A masked madman has been killing shiftie nobels (they’re a bad, vaguely Communist-y bunch in Quatérshift) and gets caught up in a similar search for Camlantis, albeit through a completely different angle. The stories eventually converge quite satisfactorily (especially considering that it was obvious they were going to converge… sometimes that lack of surprise is harmful, but it wasn’t here) and all of the markers of a good Indy-type adventure story get checked off.
That’s one of my only two detractions from the novel, actually – there were moments that felt like they were happening simply to check off another by-the-book event. Not saying they weren’t enjoyable – I had a blast reading this book – but some of them could’ve been skipped or played with to break out of the mold and the book still would’ve been a blast. The second detraction is the reason this book nearly fixed its predecessor’s problems. It is still, at nearly 550 pages, a bit dense and confusing at times. Hunt seems to occasionally lose the thread – his prose gets clunky, the plot spins wheels, the reader loses interest and glosses a bit… This book needed just a little more tightening around the edges and it never got it.
That said, it still far exceeds The Court of the Air (the Court, by the way, making only the briefest of appearances – and no, I don’t count that character as a Court appearance). Amelia Harsh is a typical adventurer, torn between discovery and ‘what is right’ – but she has unique quirks, like the fact that she had mages physically alter her arms so that they’re “gorilla-sized”, as the book calls them. Cornelius is perhaps the most intriguing character – his work with his lashlite friend Septimoth constituted my favorite parts, I think… maybe even because of the Pimpernel similarities. Blacky seems… well, a bit too whingey for my tastes this time around. I felt like he was constantly described as complaining about things and I couldn’t buy that he was this former privateer badass. I mean, he was still a badass but…
I look forward to the end of this series, if only for the eventual map (Hunt has said he won’t map it until he’s finished). There’s so much that appears in my head but I can’t confirm if it’s real or not. That said, I don’t mind – I find it incredibly fun to visit this place and look forward to future adventures… which, if this trend is to be believed, can only be even better.
Rating: 4 out of 5. A solid, exciting yarn. It far improves upon book one but leaves open improvement for book three. I hear they’re bringing space, H. G. Wells-style, into the picture. How exciting! Oh, ps: Harper Voyager has decided to reboot the cover art starting with the paperback of book four and the hardcover of book five. The art is now derivative, amateur-Photoshop drivel instead of the beautiful Victorian-esque pen&ink that set these books apart to my eye nearly two years ago in London. Sigh – beautiful things don’t last in this world, do they?