Friday, June 19, 2009

Book Review #2


Book: The Court of the Air
Author: Stephen Hunt
Rating: 2 of 5 Stars

Minor Spoiler:

I'll admit; I was browsing through the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section of the ICPL and I picked up this book mostly because the cover looked beautiful. That was a mistake I'd like to say I won't make again, but I probably will.

Jay Lake, author of the Mainspring says: "If Charles Dickens and Jack Vance had ever collaborated, they might have written this book... The Court of Air is a collision between English letters and the hard-edged vision of grunge fantasy." Thanks Jay, you've just ensured I will never pick up one of your books. By Dickensian he means that the character all speak in heavily stilted Victorian brogue. It's more comical than interesting, and feels more contrived than natural.

For the first half I slogged through the plot holes and under-developed characters. To be fair there were some interesting ideas and relationships, but while there were plenty of words they some how failed to create the immersion I crave from a well-developed fantasy world. Background, character history, and information about the world were often communicated not through a compelling narrative a la the Golden Compass (a *great* example of a story driven by a spunky young heroine), but instead by asides and expositional dialogue that at times was hilariously bad.

The absolute low point came around page 302 with this quote:

"Don't you not understand? Molly softbody is a descendant of Vindex, which is why her system juices bubble with the very stuff of mechomancy."

Ugh. That was akin to the moment in the Star Wars prequel where we learn that the force is all caused by some goofiness at the mitochondrial level... 302 - 309 seeks to artificially unite all the hints and teases that were laid out ever so ponderously in the first 300 pages.

Fortunately mid-way through page 309 the pitch of the whole novel changes, and this is where Hunt is most proficient. In essence the central conflict of the story finally begins. From there till the end of the book the suspense crackles (as much as it could with my minimal investment in the characters) and the action is genuinely well-written, 4 out of 5 star quality. I just wish he could have gotten to it about 200 pages earlier.

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