Thursday, October 25, 2012

Book Review: The Court of the Air

The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt - This is a very difficult book to talk about. It has its good points, and there were times I was really enjoying it. But there are also a bunch of things that were simultaneously making me NOT enjoy it.

This is a steampunk fantasy, and fantasy is a very important word for this book. The author does something that I HATE in fantasy novels: he refuses to use the normal word for something. Everything is some made up fantasy word. And none of this is ever explained, you are just meant to pick up the meaning from context. But when every other word is gibberish, it's a tiring read. And there were words that I honestly never had any idea what they meant. 

The main flaw of this book is that it WAY WAY over complicated. There are constant introductions of new characters, new races, new political factions, new plots, new words, new technology, new magic, new supernatural spirits, etc, etc. It's just piled on and on and there's no time to understand any of it or breathe or live with the characters. The characters are poorly serviced, since they are little more than plot points with names that run from location to location and watch things. Then when it's time for them to do something, they use some power have just inherited from (take your choice) a magical object, a mystical spirit, a previously unknown power, their mysterious and heretofore unknown heritage, or some other unexplained supernatural force. 

The steampunk cred of this book relies both on the fact that the fantasy world bears some vague but mostly unexplored similarities to 19th century England and that there is a lot of steam-powered technology around. But actually, the tech is pretty much all tied in with the race of "steammen" who are not created by men but by each other and are independent people. But the more the steammen are explored (and they are the most interesting characters, in my opinion) the less their clockwork bodies and spirits have anything to do with tech. It's really all mystical. So that's why I say this book is a fantasy novel with steampunk trappings. 

There's a lot more I could say about this book. For one thing, it deals a lot with government and politics and revolutions. And that part of the book is really disturbing and depressing and unpleasant. It's pretty successful, since that's what it's obviously going for. But it's not a fun, light adventure like many/most steampunk novels. 

What's really frustrating about this book is that somewhere, under all the confusing, over-complicated plots there is a really good book. But it feels like the author just got over-excited and tried to throw an epic fantasy series into less than 600 pages. It's possible to have a plot about political revolution without having 7-9 (depending on what you count) different sides being involved. The story would have been much better served by being simplified and slowed down so that the reader had time to connect to the characters and really grasp the world. I don't have a problem with complex fictional worlds, but my god, you've got to pace yourself.

I don't understand how there is a second book in this series. There doesn't seem to be any need for more, since pretty much the entire battle for the future of the entire world was shoved into this book. I honestly at this point don't feel like reading more. I'm exhausted by this damn book.

And finally, lest you think this is simply me being crabby, check out the book's reviews on Goodreads.  Almost every review says exactly the same thing as mine.  


  1. Thank you! I can cross this one off my reading list.

  2. On the other hand, I loved everything about this book that you hated. Posting it here so people who also like this sort of thing won't be scared off from reading a fabulous book. :)

    My review:

    This is possibly, hands-down, THE most dense world-building I have read. It's so chock-full of strange new people, creations, politics, and slang that your brain goes half dizzy trying to take it all in and make sense of it.

    But that's a good thing. I like fantasy that doesn't feel the need to dumb everything down and make sure the reader understands every little thing, and comprehends the meaning behind every bit of slang. I don't understand everything about the real world, but I still find it fascinating; why should a fictional world be any different? I loved being thrown into this steampunk/magical place all willy-nilly and running to keep up with the author's imagination. And it's a very cool place, this world. Haunted outlaw weaponry, an undercity with a forest of mushrooms, evil Aztec-like gods, living machines with souls, armless despised kings, airships, and the Whisperer. The only reason it's not a 5 star book is because the political sections went on for too long at times - although, heck, I could add the star back just for the glee of how challenges on the parliament floor are resolved.