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The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt

By Lizzie Borden | Books | September 15, 2009 |

By Lizzie Borden | Books | September 15, 2009 |

If you’re at all familiar with the steampunk genre, then you already know how awesome it is. And if you’re not, well, let me attempt to explain it in a few sentences. Take the Victorian era, add in the very beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, and jack everything up a few notches. Steampunk most often involves airships and ray guns and other way ahead of that era technology, sort of regressed back to fit in. It’s a really wide-open sort of thing, so practically anything can be done with it. There’s often some sort of magic or alchemy mixed in as well.

It is, in short, absolutely fucking amazing. I, for one, have fallen head over heels in love with the genre, and I’m so glad that it’s gaining in popularity within the fantasy genre, because that means I have more fabulous stories to read.

The Court of The Air is one of those books that made me want to chuck all of my ideas back into the ether, telling them not to return until they’ve grown up and gotten real jobs. It was utterly amazing. Left me completely floored when I finished it.

So, the story starts with two kids: Oliver Brooks, an orphan who lives with his uncle way out in the country, and Molly Templar, another orphan who lives in the capital city of Middlesteel. There are people out to get the both of them, there are people trying to end the world, there are people trying to bring out about a new world order, there are steammen, there are aerostats and there’s aetheric travel. There are high adventures and close calls. Both kids nearly die at least once apiece. Both of them are integral to saving their country and the world.

Like usual, I’m not going to tell you a whole lot about the plot, because I’m a firm believer that you should really come to this sort of book with entirely new eyes. (Kind of amusing: spoilers about movies and television don’t bug me, but plot spoilers for books I just won’t indulge in. Can’t do it.) It’s a dense read, thick with detail and plot bursting out the sides. It’s not the easiest book to read, but it is one of the most satisfying stories that I’ve come across in a long time. It’s not one of those books that you can pick up and put down—once you start, you’re in for quite some time. And it shouldn’t be read lightly, either. I’m pretty sure that I missed a few things here and there, and I wasn’t skimming or anything even close to it. I love books like this, that expect me to get myself up to speed without any hand-holding from the author. And I love books this dense, because I know I’ll read them more than once, and get new little tidbits out of it each time.

Just when I thought I was starting to figure out who’s who and who’s double-crossing what in this story, something else would happen and I’d be completely floored and clueless again. I don’t often try to figure out plot before I read it, but this book made that entirely impossible. Every time the kids and their companions were in another tight spot, I thought for sure they were done for—and they’re the main characters. The sort of characters who can’t be done for, because they’re so necessary.

And yet, the book still left me on tenterhooks. That doesn’t happen too often for me. I love it.

The ending of the book was utterly perfect as well. Of course I’m not going to tell you what happens, but it was thoroughly satisfying and felt so right. It fits in with the story, and it manages to be realistic as well. I was really impressed with that. I didn’t feel cheated, even though it wasn’t laid out in precise epilogues what each character goes on to do.

It could possibly be argued that this book is more fantasy than steampunk, as it doesn’t actually take place on any earth we know. But it has that distinctive steampunk feel to it, so I’m not going to be the one to argue too hard against the classification. And there’s clearly so much background that Stephen Hunt has floating around in his head that the reader isn’t entirely privy to. I can’t wait to see what else he does with this world he’s created, because even after just this one book, it feels fully formed and magnificently detailed. I can’t wait to get the sequel.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of Lizzie Borden’s reviews, check out her blog, LIzzie Borden Took Her Axe.