The Short Version: The Kingdom of Jackals – indeed, the entire Earth – is facing an invasion unlike anything the planet has seen before. No terrestrial power seems to be able to withstand the might of the Army of Shadows, a terrible force from another planet. Old friends like Molly Templar, Oliver Brooks, and Commodore Black join forces with new heroes like Purity Drake in a desperate final attempt to save their world – an attempt that will send some of them across the void to take the battle to the planet Kaliban and the iron moon now orbiting the earth…
The Review: This would be the finest of the Jackelian books thus far, if it weren’t for one little step too far. Indeed, by this point in the series, one has become accustomed to the world and the mythology. Hunt doesn’t waste a whole lot of time with exposition, either – he drops a number of references to the events of The Court of the Air and a fair few regarding The Kingdom Beneath the Waves, but he doesn’t bother to fully explain. He assumes that you’ve either read those stories already or that you will tout suite. This is nice – because now the world is getting some much-needed shading. The universe is fleshing out… and it’s in that fleshing out that the major flaw in this book reveals itself.
So it’s pretty clear that this series is set on Earth in the verrrrrrrrrrry distant future. This is not a spoiler – Hunt has noted this himself in some articles and interviews. However, I didn’t realize how distant. I thought it was maybe half a million years? But I’m thinking that it’s actually half-a-mil plus five mil. That scope of time is just hellishly difficult for a human mind to comprehend (seriously – stop reading for a minute and try to actually rationally comprehend the idea of FIVE MILLION YEARS) and so I rather wonder why Hunt even bothered. The half-a-million year thing, sure, okay, I buy it. Enough time for some ice ages and wars and what not to completely alter the makeup of the planet and its inhabitants: groovy. But millions upon millions? Just… why?
Indeed, the H.G. Wells/’Barsoom’ theme here goes a bit too far when Hunt, in the last forty or so pages, drops a major revelatory bombshell that – I’ll be very honest – confused the hell out of me. I understand the science of it (as anyone who saw the most recent Star Trek film ought to be able to do) but I felt like there was something wrong about it. Not in a “oh, that’s super creepy” way but in a “no, I think you’ve confused yourself” way. The whole thing with the Kals’ masters warping time and space and having been previously… where they were… (SPOILERS mostly avoided but… tread carefully…) – it all just sets the first two books and the history that we’re aware of from those books into a somewhat different light. There’s just a far larger scope to the whole thing – not to mention a newly formed host of unanswered questions – that just feels unnecessary, considering what was already there.
Anyway, enough nitpicking: the rest of the book is a blast. Our heroes are truly fighting a pitched, losing battle and it was a delight to see the alien invasion storyline dropped into a completely alternate universe. Because, let’s be real, there are probably aliens in other fantasy universes – even ones that are straight-up sword-and-sorcery. We just never see them, presumably because that cross-over would just be way too much for most geeks to handle. Hunt does a groovy thing in this book, though, by making the two genres compatible. The very Wellsian/Verne-ian cannon they build to get to Kaliban? The last remaining starship? All very cool. I was irked a little bit by the fact that none of the characters even took a moment to just acknowledge that they were setting foot on another planet… I mean, I know they’re busy trying to save the world and all but give me something.
The eventual resolution, another strange melding of sci-fi and fantasy, works well and keeps the Jackelian universe firmly rooted in magic/fantasy and away from getting too sci-fi. Still, it’s fascinating to see that there are other worlds than these, you know?
Rating: 4 out of 5. I don’t have much else to say about the book than these relative nitpicks, I suppose. It’s a ripping adventure and features some of Hunt’s strongest writing thus far. I’m glad to continue seeing Commodore Black and company returning in each book – even though none of them are actually pitched as featuring the former seaman. I look forward to more adventures in this world – and to the eventual map/”world of” book that puts a history-book spin on the whole thing. Because if there’s one thing that is frustrating – in a delightful way, but frustrating nonetheless – is that there’s so much we DON’T know about the world Hunt has created. And I, for one, want to know more.