Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Book Review: The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt

The Court of the Air***Spoilers Ahead!***

The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

What I believed I was going to be reading, and what I actually read are two completely different things.

That is the best way that I can think of to describe "The Court of the Air," by Stephen Hunt.

The story is about...oh goodness. What is it about? You'd think, based on the title and the book's blurb, that it's about or intrinsically related to this mysterious Court of the Air. I certainly thought that. And I kept holding on to that belief, page after page, as characters were abandoned, plot lines dead-ended, and the Court of the Air itself disappeared from mention.

What is this story really about?

The attempted rise of old gods in a Victorian-type society.

THAT's what the book is really about. But you'll get plenty of confusing plots and unnecessary characters along with a lack of insight or explanation as you come to this conclusion.

The story starts out with the character of Molly Templar, who for all intents and purposes looks to be the books protagonist. Shortly thereafter, we're introduced to Oliver Brooks. And the more we get into Oliver, the more that Molly seems to become an afterthought in the story. It almost felt as if the author decided that he didn't like her character enough to really infuse her into the narrative, but he still needed her to get to his ending.

Because of this, the book felt disjointed. What was a more science-fiction type story became fantasy, what I thought the plot to be was summarily kicked to the side. A villain is introduced, but we're given some very shoddy reasons as to why this formerly good man turns his back on society and turns to such pure evil in the form of these old world gods for solace.

What was clear in reading this book, is that many of the elements which were included were actually just the author laying the groundwork for future stories which would take place in this steampunk-esque universe. Unfortunately, that means that you might possibly be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of details that you have to remember about the political goings on of the world.

As I read the book, I kept wanting the author to return to Molly's storyline, to expound upon why she was being pursued, and what made her so important. However, there wasn't as much of that as I would have liked since, as I mentioned earlier, the author seemed more interested in the backstory of Oliver Brooks. And while I certainly found his story to be interesting, it did not hold the same level of appeal to me that Molly's story did.

Without going into too much detail or including any additional spoilers, there was A LOT going on. In my opinion, too much. A lot of the extraneous stories could have been done away with. For example, the story of Prince Alpheus. It doesn't really go anywhere (unless it's supposed to go somewhere in subsequent novels). I feel like the entire storyline featuring him, Captain Flare and The Special Guard would have been better served as the focal point of another book. In this one, it just feels like an afterthought.

Also, for no reason that I can comprehend, the book gets quite gory. In the span of 500 odd pages, we go from the story about a court in the air presiding unseen over a Victorian-like civilization, to what appears to be two intertwined murder mysteries, to a story about human sacrifices to insect gods with names featuring more consonants than vowels- all very Mesoamerican.

The Court of the Air moves through so many stories so quickly, that you begin to feel as if they're disposable and there's no need to really focus on any of them. To me, it felt disjointed and unfocused. I would have preferred if the author would have taken one plot line and based the novel upon that, instead of writing a book that felt as if he took all the ideas jotted down in his Moleskine and tried to wedge them all into one story whether they fit or not.

This book felt like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole, and felt just about as frustrating as you read it.

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