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Alien reading

The Court of the Air

I can't belive it's taken me two whole weeks to read The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt, but it has. Admittedly it is a bit of chunkster at over 580 pages - and I have been busy this last couple of weeks (actually, all through April and the first week of May). But that doesn't fully explain it and I suspect it's more to do with the fact that I found this one quite a challenging read. Anyway, whatever, it's my book five for Carl's Once Upon a Time challenge and means I've finished the challenge really, but, of course, I've no intention of stopping *now*...

Molly Templar lives in Middlesteel, the capital of the kingdom of Jackels. She's a workhouse girl in a world that resmbles Victorian England but also differs in many respects. The workhouse want to be rid of Molly as she's old enough to fend for herself, but she can't seem to hold down a job.

Oliver Brooks is, ostensibly, better off. He lives in a large house with his uncle and goes to school. But Oliver's movements are restricted as he's a registered boy. He is part Fey having spent 4 years in the Feymist, survived, and somehow kept his sanity. Except that he can't remember any of it.

Things are not right in the kingdom. Revolution is in the air and it's impossible to judge who is on whose side. The King is a sick man, but has no power anyway, having had his arms symbolically chopped off to stop him 'raising his arms against his own kingdom'. A kind of communist government is in charge now, or trying to be. Watching over all is a mysterious, almost mythical, group known as The Court of the Air who observe and spy from airships in the sky.

Molly's life is suddenly turned upside down when a masacre takes place at her new place of work - a brothel. She survives and runs for the workhouse only to find that everyone there is also dead. Realising that the killer was after her, she goes on the run.

Oliver's existance takes a similar turn, only this time it's his uncle and members of the household who are killed. He's rescued by Harry Stave, a mysterious spy type who helps Oliver escape and goes on the run with him.

Clearly someone or some group is after both Molly and Oliver, but why? What is this strange affinity Molly seems to have with machines? Is Oliver's feyblood the reason someone wants him dead? Both youngsters have a very long journey ahead and many shocking discoveries to make before any sense can be made of the bizarre and dangerous situation.

I have to say that that short synopsis doesn't really cover this book. It's been a long time since I read anything quite as complicated, plotwise... and also complicated in its world building. It was 'challenging', there's no other word for it. And I'll be honest I was at page 200 before I really decided that 'yes' I would carry on to the end. Oddly, I discovered that both my daughters had had this one from the library: my eldest had given up after about 100 pages, my youngest had finished it but found it wanting. I understand. It was almost *too* complicated. I sometimes wondered if pieces of history or places had been added just for the sake of keeping the reader on their toes.

I'm also going to say that I didn't think the characters of Molly and Oliver were fleshed out enough. They weren't two-dimensional exactly, but neither were they rounded individuals that I felt I really knew by the end of the book. I had more empathy with a race of people called steammen, who were machines with souls, and a very real and sympathetic race. Much more interesting I felt than the two main characters.

All that said, this really is a stunning book and I wish I could put my finger on why, as it's a far from a perfect piece of work. I think I was overwhelmed by the concept. Yes, the world building is confusing at times... I often struggled to remember who was loyal to whom, why someone was doing what they were doing - even what the heck was going on in some instances! But goodness me what a world Stephen Hunt has invented. It's dark, dangerous and mysterious... there are underground cities, closed cities - the city of the steammen in the mountains was amazing. And all of it powered by a very strange and imaginative technolgy of machines. And let's face it, it could easily be my own fault that I was, at times, confused. My memory isn't what it was and I sometimes find that if I can't read a book as fast as I would like I don't always remember the small detail.

There are four books in the 'Jackelian' series at the moment with book five coming out in July. I'll be getting book two, The Kingdom Beyond the Waves, for my Kindle because I'm so intrigued by this world that I want to read more. I gather book two is not actually about Molly and Oliver anyway but about a minor character, Professor Amelia Harsh, going on an expedition to find the lost city of Camlantis. I have to read it so The Court of the Air clearly made quite an impression on me. In point of fact I rather like it when I love a book despite its imperfections. :-) Lastly, I don't know whether this book could be described as 'steampunk'... if it is then I think I want to read more so if anyone has any suggestions for other titles, do leave a comment.


I've got to say I'm intrigued - it sounds as though it should be brilliant, except that perhaps it might be being too clever for easy enjoyment? And I want to like the characters properly when I'm reading, so... But I am intrigued! I'm off to the library tonight, so I shall have a look for this one - thank you!
Yes, A bit too clever was my personal feeling and it was odd that my daughters felt like that too... but I'm *sure* not everyone does. And I am easily confused. LOL.

I also want to like the main characters in a book, or at least to get to know them well as I'm reading. I'm going to be a bit sexist here and suggest that many male authors write like this though. Not *all* of course, but quite a few put action before characterisation and this is what's happened here I feel. Molly and Oliver just felt like two random teenagers to me and that's a bit of a shame but it doesn't ruin the book. I would be fascinated to hear what you make of this one. Mine was a library book so I reckon you should be able to get in somewhere in your county.
You know, I've actually just read a book called Paradise Barn, which is about three children in Norfolk during WWII, and I was really taken by the way the author described them each individually, and the way they saw the world - one lad through art, a girl through empathy with others, and another girl through... hmmn, I'm still trying to work her out, in a way - through more immediate and logical thoughts, in a way. Anyway, I'd assumed from the writing that the author was probably a woman, but when I realised that I was consciously thinking about the way she'd tried to give that insight into their different views on the world, and how they understood each other, I actually checked the cover - and of course the author was a man... I'm trying to think back to other children's books I've read now, and wondering whether the character-building tends to be more female-author than male, or... or whether perhaps I don't often pick up books by male authors because I'm expecting them to be a different sort of book (action before characterisation, perhaps, as you say...) and so don't usually notice because I'm not expecting anything different, subconsciously... I must read more by Victor Watson (who I now see seems to be something of an academic on children's writing too!)
Is Paradise Barn a Persephone book? Reminds me of the plot of one of those which I don't have but rather fancy getting. May not be the same book though. It is unusual for a man to write like that. Maybe it's because some of them don't realise how 'thinky' women are? How much we analyse everything and overthink stuff. Or perhaps they do but just can't be bothered with that kind of writing? Possibly most male authors feel they're writing for other men who're simply not interested in portraying the more female 'thinky' stuff? It's very interesting. And some men do bother. I know you're not a fan of Alexander McCall Smith but gosh can he do the female 'thinking things to death' stuff. His Isabel Dalhousie character is a philospher so she does it in spades and sometimes it's funny because you're thinking, 'Oh God, she's just like me'. Other times you're thinking, 'For God's sake woman, just get on with it!' LOL. Or maybe it's just one of those writing talents that men can do but women do better? I've just finished Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella and was knocked out by it because she does the thinking stuff brilliantly. Will try to review it this afternoon but she's typical of the kind of writing that's dismissed by men (and some women, it must be said) as 'just chick lit' but in reality her books have hidden depths. This one was fab. :-)

God, I've banged on... apologies.

Edited at 2011-05-15 09:33 am (UTC)
Lol - you bang away, I like it!

No, Paradise Barn is by Catnip Publishing, and I've just found that there's a newly-published sequel which I'm going to rush to find too. I'd be interested in the Persephine book though, if you remember it...

Interesting pondering on the allegedly different ways men and women think (I'm not overly convinced, to be honest - and I've just ordered a book that looks at that scientifically, as well!) I'd maybe consider it as much men underthinking things as women overthinking them - but as you say, you do get some men who go much further into things, and of course you get women who stick to the shallows too... Which is probably me contradicting what I was pondering above, now! (You know I'm a great one for doing that... *g*)

Oddly enough, I was less impressed by Twenties Girl than I was by Kinsella's other books - but I shall pop over to your post about that and comment there... *g* I should probably try Alexander McCall Smith again too, cos I know everyone loves his books - maybe I was just in the wrong mood at the time...