‘The Court of the Air’ – Stephen Hunt

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It all started so well. Hunt introduces an interesting, if not entirely unique premise, and characters with the potential to be highly interesting; unfortunately, he doesn’t really deliver.

Within pages a magical, intriguing world is unraveled, complete with a complex, realistic parliamentary system, and political history; however, Hunt seems desperate to get everything he has put so much hard work into dreaming-up into his plot, and that makes keeping track of the storyline fairly difficult. The plot is divided from the start between two main protagonists – a heroine with a strange assassin on her tail, and a fey-breed called Oliver framed for the murder of his last living relative. As I previously stated, it’s a good set up, but after the first few chapters a few more plot strands open up. A worried Prince arrives, and then the protagonist, and by the end you’ve had at least three experiences of plot-line one offs. Characters are introduced on almost every page, making names a nightmare to remember. I found myself flipping back pages trying to recover the identity of certain individuals; and some of them were only used once. This is made worse by the plot-line’s tendency to get distracted by something shiny every five pages.

Strands start to tangle about half-way through, when Hunt utilizes a cheap tension crafting tactic, switching to another character just as the tide gets high for another, and then reverting back at odd moments to finish what he could have done chapters before. And it doesn’t work. Then there are times when the pot-holes appear in the stream, and he picks up in the middle of the action, with you wondering how exactly you got there. Characters aren’t as dynamic as they could be. Molly gets a good head-strong heroin role, but Oliver was only just having his personality established when Hunt introduces a mood-altering device, and you never know entirely who he is, and what aspects of his being are caused by his mysterious object. Sub-characters merged so much by the end, I didn’t really understand who was who anyway, let alone distinguish their exact characteristics, so if there was any real characterization happening I missed it.

Having said all that, I don’t think its a bad book, just not a great one. The writing style is skilled, and the world Stephen wraps around his otherwise convoluted plot, is well structured, and clearly explained. It’s a steam-punk wonder. A race of metal-men and even a turtle like people colour the fictional, fantasy realm. Mixed in with cliché dialogue, is beautiful, quote-worthy prose, and I would, despite myself, read the next one.

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