Imagine a post-apocalyptic Dickensian world where the main character is a female Indiana Jones. This is the setting we find ourselves in when reading The Kingdom Beyond the Waves. Amelia Harsh is our protagonist; a swinging (as in ropes and vines) heroine who has been ostracized from all colleges but one, where she has been taken under the wing of an elderly professor who puts up with her larger-than-life adventures in the field and her frowned-upon theories of their ancient predecessors.
Orphan Amelia, together with a cantankerous elderly submariner, a steam-powered robot capable of rational thought, a mysterious blind man, a woman who is part crayfish, a bevy of oft-naked Amazonian bodyguards, and a gang of tough smugglers, journey up-river into a dangerous jungle to find a lost city and possibly the key to restoring society to a utopian peace.
It’s like author Stephen Hunt thought, “I wonder what we’d get if Verne, Spielberg, Asimov, and Dickens all got together to write a novel?” Would it be The Kingdom Beyond the Waves? The basic ingredients are all there, though more likely it would devolve into arguing as Jules and Steven gang up on Isaac about the number of explosions and volcanoes, while Charles sneaks in more florid detail.
So, is it any good or is it just a painful mish-mash of jagged ideas? Well, like most novels, there are good and bad aspects. The writing, on the whole, is quite good; scenes are well-described with no extraneous detail and the plot moves along at a steady clip. The characters are believable, which is a credit to the author considering how far-fetched many of them really are.
Once again, like the first book, The Court Of The Air, the main character is an orphan. It seems that Stephen Hunt has a thing about orphans — so far all three of his main characters have been orphans. One thing about the characters that weakened them for me is that they are all quite insular; none of them really make firm friendships throughout either of his two novels. So, we have characters who grow up without family or reliable friends and then go on to remain apart — Amelia has been ostracized by her learned fellows, Oliver was marked as an outcast and potential danger to society, and Molly was a washer-woman who gets sold into a brothel. Quite naturally, there is also an underlying anger and distrust that threads its way through these books.
Like the previous book, The Court Of The Air, all of that underlying mad-at-the-world anger boils out towards the end and the author spends the last few chapters thoroughly stomping his sandcastle. I’m not talking about needing a happy ending here; what I’m not keen on is the glorified fetish for bloody vengeance. The endings truly leave me feeling icky.
Something else I didn’t like was that Hunt needlessly developed minor characters who’d just vanish into the ether and never return. Yet there were major characters in the book that really, really could have had more time and exploration. For example, one key character upon whom the entire plot hinges was all dark and mysterious throughout the book, but then the book ends and his past is not properly resolved and we are left with mysteries.
So the review for this novel is very much like that of the first one, for the same reasons. The writing is good, with a few small peeves, and the world is very imaginative. But it’s a story told by someone who seems to have some deep-seated trust issues and I can’t help but feel put off by these vibes as I reach the end of the book.
Mark Pawlyszyn, one of our earliest guest reviewers, has always tended toward the creative side of life and had careers in music and painting before settling into his current position as the owner of Unique Images Photography. Mark has visited and lived in twelve countries and can ask for directions to the bathroom in several languages. He currently lives in Canada with his wife, Sherri.
Jackelian — (2007-2015) Stand-alone novels set in the same world. Publisher: When streetwise Molly Templar witnesses a brutal murder at the brothel she has recently been apprenticed to, her first instinct is to run back to the poorhouse where she grew up. But there she finds her fellow orphans butchered, and it slowly dawns on her that she was the real target of the attack. For Molly is a special little girl, and she carries a secret that marks her out for destruction by enemies of the state. Oliver Brooks has led a sheltered existence in the backwater home of his merchant uncle. But when he is framed for his only relative’s murder he is forced to flee for his life, accompanied by an agent of the mysterious Court of the Air. Chased across the country, Oliver finds himself in the company of thieves, outlaws and spies, and gradually learns more about the secret that has blighted his life. Soon Molly and Oliver will find themselves battling a grave threat to civilization, an ancient power thought to have been quelled millennia ago. Their enemies are ruthless and myriad, but the two orphans are also aided by indomitable friends in this endlessly inventive tale full of drama, intrigue, and adventure. The Court of the Air is a rollicking adventure set in a fantastical Dickensian clockwork universe that will appeal to fans of Susanna Clarke and Philip Pullman.