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.


ThRiNiDiR said...

Your other top 5 would be?

Liviu said...

Well, right now I would rank the top 5 like this:

1. TKBtw
2. House of Suns - Reynolds
3. Line War - Asher
4. Matter IMB
5. LAOK - Abercrombie,

Thunderer is 07 for me else it would compete here.

Ninth Circle, Bujold-Passage, Red Wolf Conspiracy, Martian's General Daughter, even Slanted Jack, Debatable Spaces, Swiftly and Death's Head 2 would compete if I split by sf vs f

But: Dark Volume by G. Dahlquist is on my desk not yet read. Bloodheir arrived tonight. Neuropath will come soon. Cosmos Incorporated will come soon. Implied Spaces - and this one is Aristoi like blockbuster space opera - since I've read an 150 page excerpt will come soon. Incandescence will come soon.
Morgan's Steel Remains will come in August. BSRA by Weber - which is the odds on for my favorite book of the year will come soon. Anathem by N. Stephenson will come in September. GRRM, Gary Gibson and P. Hamilton may have new books this year. There is a debut Principle of Angels next month that may be a blockbuster. Sedia has a book that can be top in June. S. Swainston has a new book in the fall. M. Flynn has a space opera in the fall. Kearney has 10k soon. E. Brown has a book that may be a surprise in the fall - not Kethani the other one. Ketos may contend too. Frost second Shadowbridge book may contend too, as well as Ringo/Taylor Vorpal Blade 4.

So, very crowded...

ThRiNiDiR said...

it is! tnx for explaining ;)

Liviu said...

Last year was kind of disappointing for me in new novels - especially in sf. This year is much, much better.
And there is one more novel that potentially can compete for top 5 - The AI War by DK Moran. That has been awaited since 1998 when it was scheduled but then things happened, it got canceled and finally this year Mr. Moran - who put all his previous novels online for free here:

bought back the rights for his book from Bantam and intends to publish the book online sooner rather than later.
The 3 Unification novels - Emerald Eyes, Long Run and Last Dancer are cult favorites of many and before a recent reissue they were selling used for crazy prices. AI War and Lord November - which is also almost if not all written continue the story of the Castanaveras survivors - Trent the Uncatchable and Denise. The Long Run is a book that I've read 10 times at least partially, and Last Dancer 5 or 6 times. Emerald Eyes is good too but quite depressing, and I read it after the others in the reissue edition - could not afford 100$+ that was selling used before - so I knew how the story will end.