The Court of the Air
Fans of Susanna Clarke may be interested in a well thought out steampunk adventure which weaves together orphans, magical systems, politics, robot spirituality and post-human equality.
The Court of the Air is a steampunk novel where the story takes place in a world which includes various forms of magic. Unlike our modern-day dependence on oil, steam power is the source of fuel for the economy.
Hunt’s fictitious nation, the Kingdom of Jackals, is based on England of the Victorian Era. It makes sense that steam is the fuel of choice for this country, since the steam engine had a tremendous impact on how the population lived and worked. If you follow the idea that the main story is taking place in a country modeled after England, the neighboring country in the story, Quatérshift, must be one which is similar to France during the time of the Fourth French Revolution.
Magic plays an important role in the world that Hunt created for his work. It is a place inhabited by wizards, humans with special powers, demigods, as well as robots. The latter are presented as entities which can think and feel.
The basic plot of the story concerns two young characters, Molly Templar and Oliver Brooks. The action opens with Molly witnessing a murder at the brothel where she is an apprentice. Frightened, she runs back to the relative security of the poorhouse where she grew up, only to find her fellow orphans dead. Molly comes to the realization that she was the true target of the attacks, due to a secret she carries which makes her a target for those who would seek to do her harm.
In contrast to Molly, Oliver Brooks has led a very sheltered existence. Brought up in relative comfort in the home of a merchant uncle, Oliver’s life changed overnight when he was framed for the murder of his only relative. He is forced to flee for his life in the company of an agent from the Court of the Air. As he is chased all over the country, Oliver finds himself surrounded by a cast of characters which includes spies, outlaws, and thieves. Over time, he learns about the secret that has made such a massive impact on his life.
The two characters come together to battle an ancient power which was though to have been put to rest centuries ago. The duo face many enemies along the way, but they also find help from a number of unforgettable characters along the way in this multi-layered and well-crafted story.
Subplots in the Novel
The book is not just about the two main characters embarking on a quest to find out who is trying to do them harm. Instead, the fabric of the story is woven in a much more complicated manner which includes several subplots which tackle subjects as diverse as robot spirituality, politics, equality for the humans with special powers, and more.
The subplots are used to introduce a number of supporting (and interesting) characters to the plot. Each one brings a distinct flavour to the story, since the reader wants to discover what that person’s story is, what secrets they carry, and whether they will survive to the end of the piece.
Molly and Oliver are the main characters of The Court of the Air and the action revolves around them but the subplots and the characters which spin out of them add seasoning to the story. Hunt’s use of multiple subplots allows him to wrap up the main story in a way which leaves the reader satisfied. The threads which are left open allow him to revisit the world he created in such detail to tell further stories.
The Court of the Air is a highly imaginative book which includes a number of interesting concepts and juggles a complex number of story lines. It has been compared to the work of Susanna Clarke, and may appeal to fans of that style. It is certainly an ambitious piece of storytelling, but it never seems to get away from the author, who keeps all of the elements well under control. Hunt has the ability to capture the reader’s attention from the beginning of the story and hold it until the very end, which makes for an entertaining literary ride.