Friday, May 9, 2008
The Kingdom Beyond the Waves by Stephen Hunt - review
The Kingdom Beyond The Waves by S. Hunt, is the 2nd book in the Jackelian world and I can only say wow, this book fulfills the promise shown in the previous one. That book At the Court of the Air had a lot of sense of wonder, but was marred by two things: choppy writing and grating naming conventions. Still the inventiveness inside made it a top 10-15 book for me last year.
TKBtW is a much better and tighter book stylistically - and it helps that once you get used to the naming conventions in the first book, they do not grate anymore. The action happens several years after At the Court of the Air and while it's not quite a sequel, it also builds on the first book so it's really a good idea to check that one first.
It starts with an Indiana Jones moment starring Amelia "call me Professor" Harsh, an old tomb, some untrustworthy guides and some upset locals, and goes on a ride non-stop throughout its 550+ pages, throwing surprise after surprise in the mix and culminating with an unbelievable 60 page action sequence starting around page 484 where the final cards are laid on the table, till the 8 page epilogue at page 548.
There are 2 main strands of the book - Amelia is obsessed with the fabled disappeared city of Camlantis where Utopia supposedly existed until destroyed by barbarians. The enigmatic billionaire Abraham Quest who raised himself from a street urchin to his current eminent position by wits and luck and in the process "bought" the Jackelian nation at the exchange, only - as he put it - to have the bill of sale canceled by ungrateful shopkeepers, wants to better the state of man - he already has the best factories, orphanages, spends a lot of money on the poor, funds "progressive" politicians to power and as mentioned tried to run the country directly.
But the path of reform is slow and unpredictable, so Quest wants to find Camlantis too, presumably to show that it is possible to have utopia on Earth and how to get it done faster. He bankrolls Amelia Harsh in a very dangerous expedition to find the "key" to Camlantis.
Meanwhile in Middlesteel, one Cornelius Fortune, count Speeler is on a mission of revenge against the communist Quatershift. Becoming Furnace-breath Nick with a magic mask, and mysterious ways of getting around the Cursewall separating the 2 nations, he is the terror of the terrorists so to speak. On one such mission he frees the famous "mechomancer" whose specialty is steammen - robots - Jules Robur from a labor camp where the Revolution wants him to design weapons for them.
Soon Cornelius finds out that he was lured to free Jules Robur on false pretenses and being afraid Robur is actually a spy of the Shifties presaging another invasion or some other mischief, he decides to investigate. The path leads to Abraham Quest and the search for Camlantis.
I do not want to spoil the book with more since there are quite a few surprises along the way, but I want to note that while AtCoA was science-fantasy, this one is almost pure adventure sf with some magic that can be explained by natural law if the author is so inclined, and its sense of wonder reminds me why I started reading sf in the first place.
And when a secondary but important character is called Jules Robur and one of your main characters and Robur's employer is called Abraham Quest you should have a hint of what's up - though it does not really matter since the book will still surprise you a lot.
This one will be in the top 5 this year, though it's getting crowded there.