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The Court of the Air (Jackelian World) Hardcover – June 10, 2008
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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From Publishers Weekly
Two teenage orphans in an anemic fantasy analogue of Victorian London are baffled to find themselves on the run in this overeager effort from British author and blogger Hunt (For the Crown and the Dragon). Molly, pursued by determined assassins with mysterious masters, hides underground, while Oliver, framed for his uncle's death, takes to the air to escape the fey-hunting Special Guard. They also draw the attention of the Court of the Air, a shadowy black-ops organization, and communityist revolutionaries seeking to resurrect ancient subterranean gods. An entire steampunk menagerie is pressed into lackluster service, but the pace leaves no time to focus on any single element. Only the steammen and their refreshingly tender machine culture are affecting and original. The historical and geographical parallels are overly frequent and mostly trite. Hunt has packed the story full of intriguing gimmicks, but the end result is more overload than wonder. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
“The Court of the Air is a genuinely engaging read, which has believable characters in a fantastic setting.”--The Bookseller
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It's as if the author read the collected works of China Mieville and Phillip Pullman then decided to emulate them. Without the talent to do so, however. The book is a mass of narrative threads, both major and minor, but rather than the threads building into a comprehensive weave they cause the work to crash. The pacing of the book is extremely awkward and the character development is jarring. I tried to gut it out, but was savagely betrayed at page 452 and literally threw the book down. I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone.
Longer review (with possibly a spoiler or two):
The first danger sign in here was not being able to tell if this book was set in an alternate past for our Earth or not. I'm not precisely sure when the first non-human character arrives but I put it about page 55 or so. While I was reading I thought this might be part of a slow reveal, but I suspect it was just ineptitude. In any event, the non-human creatures could have been lifted wholesale out of a Mieville book because the author seems to believe we're all familiar with them anyway.
The book does progress. It rotates around two orphans, one who is touched with magical ability one touched with mechanical ability. Oliver (the magic one) has long been suspected of being magically altered while Molly (the mechanical one) had no clue, but for some reason we're presented with her attestation that she's always had a knack for improving mechanical systems although we've known her for nearly 100 pages before this comes up.
Oliver and Molly are supported by a cast of 2nd string characters that each have a hidden secret. When the secret is invariably revealed, no one seems very surprised. Oliver is about the only character to have normal reactions but the author quashes that around page 325 by giving him a highwayman's magical jockstrap (well, not really, but not too far off) that changes him from zero to hero and destroys any endearing qualities Oliver ever had.
Everything in this book is a double-cross. No one seems to be perceptive enough to realize that the villain is dealing with Forces of Ultimate Evil and thus will betray and/or kill anyone that wises up even in the least.
But the capper, the book throwing, bad writing cause came on page 452 when Oliver and his companions of the moment are betrayed by a character so one-dimensional that she is neither introduced or even viewed by the characters until she pops up to lead them to freedom only to lead them into the hands of another group of characters here-to-fore unseen in the novel.
I'll wager there's a resolve to all this later on, but I won't learn about it directly. There too little time and too many well-written books to read for me to suffer The Court of the Air any more.
Most of the story takes place in a nation called Jackals, which bears a very close resemblance to England. There are two orphaned young protagonists that the story alternates between. The first being young outcast Oliver Brooks, who lives with his uncle because his parents died in an accident in which his own survival resulted in his social stigma. When his uncle and their housekeeper are murdered, Oliver is framed for the crimes. His only ally is a government agent named Harry Staves, who might be as untrustworthy as the murderers pursuing him. The second is Molly Templar, whose disposition is as fiery as her red hair. She is a poorhouse ward who loses every job that she is assigned to until she is apprenticed into prostitution. Of all the dumb luck, her first customer is paid a monumental fortune to kill her. She is able to barely escape, but her luck is not shared by the children of the poorhouse to whom she regards as her family. Both of these orphans seem to be insignicant and powerless against the vast conspiracy that seeks to destroy them, but they soon learn about the incredible world saving power that they contain that levels the playing field so to speak.
There are a lot of interesting things going on in this book. One of which is how much of the history of Jackals is dealt with. They have a parliamentary government in which royalty are mere figureheads and scapegoats if public approval is low, thanks to a revolt that echoes Oliver Cromwell. In fact, once a Jackelian prince goes through the coronation process to become king, he has to have his arms amputated so he can no longer "raise his arms against the people". There is also a political philosophy called Carlism that is much like Communism due to its disdain toward religion and the wealthy. Here some devotees take its tenets to rather macabre extremes such as taking a bright child and turning him into a drooling vegetable so he will be "equalized" and no better than anyone else. Basically, people are liberated from being themselves. Furthermore the book is fantastic in addressing how corruption cannot be solved by creating new government functions or ideologies, for they can be corrupted just as easily as any apparatus that were created to correct. I could go on all day.
Consider me impressed. From what I have read on various science fiction websites, this is the first of seven books that deal with this steam powered future. I am not one to usually follow a series since most of them can be told with one book when twelve to fifteen are written. Here, I think I'll make an exception.
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