The Court of the Air (Hardback)

Author: Stephen Hunt
Harper Voyager
RRP: 12.99
ISBN-13: 978 0 00 723217 8
ISBN-10: 0 0072 3217 9
Available 02 April 2007

Molly Templar and Jason Brooks have two things in common: They are both orphans and they are both on the run for their lives. Molly has to flee the scene of a brutal murder at the brothel. Hunted by the enigmatic Count Vauxtion, Molly initially takes refuge with Slowcogs, a mechanical Steamman. Oliver is rescued from a similar brutal slaying by Harry Stave a renegade agent for The Court of the Air...

The Court of the Air is a new novel by British author Stephen Hunt, who had previously produced short stories as well as the very well received novel For the Crown and the Dragon (1994).

The narrative's genre is predominantly cyberpunk, which is a fusion of technology with either a fantasy or historical setting within which such technology would normally be deemed anachronistic. The best-known proponent of this type of fiction is William Gibson, who showered high praise on Hunts short story Hollow Duellists.

It may seem odd but, if anything, the imagery in the book reminded me very much of the Final Fantasy series of games which has similar motifs of flying ships, underground cities and the juxtaposition of a technology ostensibly based on magic and one based on scientific ideology. The book also gives more than just a nod to the work of animation director Hayao Miyazaki, once again for the flying ship, but more importantly for the images of flying Islands.

Although the book differs from the usual Campbell hero motif, in that it has two protagonists, it still pretty much follows the pattern of young orphan who has a secret past and an important destiny, who is taken on a journey of discovery, with the eventual showdown with the forces of evil. If you pay attention to what you are reading you don't have to get too far into the book to work out what is happening.

This is not to say that this is not a book worth reading. For the most part this is a very well written and engaging story. It does have some weaknesses, predominantly around Hunt's desire to rename just about anything he can think of. For some it will enhance the idea of a completely different environment, with its own customs and history. Personally, I spent too much time being jerked out of the narrative and so found this exceptionally disruptive. At points, there are so many unnecessary new names for recognisable objects that the book almost became as impenetrable as Chaucer. Not even Tolkien, who succeeded in creating one of the most complete worlds, felt the need to rename so many concepts and objects.

The plot has some interesting twists and turns. Whilst the general structure is as old as the hills, this does not detract, from what is ultimately an enjoyable yarn. Plots are like jokes - if you study them enough you get to realise that there are only so many - and the orphan into hero is popular with just about every culture and time.

So if you have some time to while away some time exploring the world of Molly and Oliver, then generally I think you are going to find this a rewarding experience. Just don't get bogged down with the terminology.

Charles Packer

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