(2008) Stephen Hunt, Voyager, £17.99, hrdbk, 556pp, ISBN 978-0-007-23220-8
This is Hunt's second novel set in the same science-fantasy universe introduced in The Court of the Air (2007, Voyager, £7.99, pbk, 582pp, ISBN 0-00-723218-5). The events of this book are set some three years after the events of the first, and they are not directly related, but it's a complex world Hunt has created, so while you don't have to have read the first book, it will help if you have. It/they will appeal to fans of Jules Verne, H Rider Haggard, James Blaylock, Tim Powers, Mark Gatiss and Jonathan Barnes (to name but a few). The country of Jackals is the isolationist (relatively speaking) superpower of a planet where they have a monopoly on 'celgas', which is lighter than air, and so they have the only aerial navy. The monarchy are little more than ceremonial in their parliamentary system, but the country's real power is the so-called Court of the Air whose 'wolftakers' eliminate threats to the common good before they get going. Nearby is the Steam-man Free State (robots), Quartershift (an ongoing communist revolution), and Liongeli (which contains the hive-mind called the Greenmesh). In adddition to humans, robots and hiveminds, there are also two human off-shoot species, the Craynabians (humanoid crabs) and the lashlites (humanoid birds), various extra-dimensional aliens, leftovers of previous civilisations and, as if that weren't enough, there are the results of the feymist (effectively humans with superpowers, as in comic books) and the Worldsingers (sorcerors by any other name). These last are particularly important because the planet is prone to 'floatquakes', during which the power of that world's ley lines gets backed-up until, at the focal point, the forces break free and send huge chunks of land into the sky to become permanent floating islands. If all this seems a bit much, I can assure you that Hunt brings it all together quite effortlessly and with more than a touch of style, not to mention humour.
So... Professor Amelia Harsh (who had a cameo in the first book) is obsessed with finding the lost civilisation of Camlantis, as is the fabulously wealthy Abraham Quest. He proposes to finance an expedition for Amelia which will send her to a lake-filled crater in Liongeli, beneath which lies the only remains of the Camlantean capital city. There they hope to find a clue as to where in the sky the floating island remains of Camlantis is. Harsh is accompanied by, among others, Commodore Black (who featured quite a bit in the first book), for whom Quest refurbishes his old submarine, a squad of female soldiers from the Catosian Free States, a crew of slavers and, eventually, an insane Steam-man Knight. Meanwhile Cornelius Fortune, in the guise of Furnace-Breath Nick, makes raids on Quatershift with the aid of his lashlite companion, Septimoth, and his own ability to alter his face, rescuing the weak from the communist pogroms and punishing the agents of their central committee. Needless to say, there are agents of the Court of the Air about also. All will collide when Camlantis is found. Amelia Harsh hopes that she can bring something of the peaceful and advanced Camlantean civilisation to Jackals; so does Quest, but he knows more about Camlantis than she, including the fact that the cure may be worse than the disease...
Both books are great fun to read and I, for one, am looking forward to more from Hunt. Highly recommended.
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