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Confessions of a Bibliophile

An aspiring writer and bookstore employee with an incredibly bad book-buying habit... I'll read just about anything (so long as it will appeal to my interests in some way), but my main loves are YA and sci-fi/fantasy. I also like quirky history and science books and will book nerd. A lot. Currently in the process of weeding out my personal library. Find me on Twitter @princess_starr or check out my YA book, Snowfall, on Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/240027

The Court of the Air

The Court of the Air  - Stephen Hunt Oh, this book. Much like Jonathan Strange, Court of the Air is one that I love to bits but I haven’t read it time after time. It’s one of the first steampunk books that I got into, and it’s definitely a good one. The world-building’s fantastic. I like that there’s no implication that this is supposed to be our Earth x-number of years or even that it’s an alternate universe, but rather, it’s own Earth with specific races and cultures. There are equivalents with the different countries that you can draw on the references, but even still, Hunt makes this world his own. What’s also important to note is the sheer political detail that gets covered in this, which I think definitely adds to the world-building. While a large amount of the book is action and mystery, there’s a healthy amount of political intrigue that adds to the story. Again, there’s many real world parallels, but for the story’s sake, it does illustrate the larger ideologies at play here (and in future volumes). I also like the fact that none of the politics are painted as “This is the absolute one thing we (and by extension, you, the reader) should follow in governance.” Even the main political infrastructure of Jackals has its darker side. It’s sort of interesting to find a book that deals with the warts and all of political ideology. Also, the population of this Earth fascinates me. It’s not just humans and sorcerers and fae, although they all play a major role in the series. We’ve got a race of crustacean people living in steampunk quasi-London. There’s doglike people who pop up (although they have a bigger role in the second book). My personal favorite, and the one I sell the series on, are the Steammen: sentinent steampunk robots who practice voudoun. There were no words for me to describe that awesome aside from “squee!”And while this all comes off as rather gimmicky, Hunt manages to pull off a finely crafted story that supports and fits this world he’s created. There’s so much complexity in this that I’m not surprised that there’s more to the series than just the one book. And I love the history that we get in here, and that there’s so much more to explore to it. That all said, there is a LOT going on in this. It’s already bad enough following two narratives that could both support a single book, add in the sheer amount of world-building and backstory and it does feel like you need a list of names to figure out what’s going on. And a lot of the characters don’t appear for more than a few pages to boot. That said though, I think it’s one of the positive aspects of the book, and adds to the world. As for our two main characters, I rather like Molly and Oliver. They start off as kind of boring protagonists—both stuck in boring lives, have super-special abilities, get dragged into adventure, atypical orphans saving the world plot. What I like about them is that they’re very much their own characters. Oliver’s known that he’s got the potential for his special abilities, they’ve just never come to light, and he’s much more focused on trying to stop his powers from manifesting. I also love that there’s this fantastic set-up of him becoming a swashbuckling hero in-universe. (More hood o’the marsh in the next books!) Molly is fantastic—I love that because she reads so many penny dreadfuls, when she learns that someone’s trying to kill, Molly immediately launches into a scenario from one of her books. (And the villain pretty much goes “lol no.”) And while her own special abilities aren’t really alluded to in the beginning, I like that she slowly learns about them and uses them to her advantage. I really want to see more of her as the series goes on. And both Molly and Oliver don’t sit around and let things just happen to them. Oliver definitely isn’t afraid to ask questions that need to be asked, and Molly does her best with trying to piece her past together. They’re presented as these stock characters, but they definitely become more than just stereotypes. Not to mention, while their individual plotlines feel like two random events, everything dovetails neatly together.I also love the supporting cast. Not so much Oliver’s quasi-guardian, Harry Stave, if only because his motives feel a little too unclear. Molly’s friends and allies, though, are fantastic. I love the steammen who come to help her out; her friends at the workhouse; Professor Amelia Harsh, who unfortunately disappears after two pages (but is the main character in the sequel!)—again, I loved that we get these fleshed-out characters, even if they don’t play a huge part in the narrative. And Prince Alpheus—you can’t help but feel sorry for the poor kid, especially when it’s mentioned early on that members of the royal family are mutilated and subject to public humiliation for past sins. (And this is for the country we’re supposed to like.) My heartstings, all of them. I like that while the main villains are fairly black and white in their motives, the way they’re presented until the reveal is definitely muddled and present different options.This is a fantastic read, and definitely for someone looking for good steampunk novels. I don’t know if I’d necessarily recommend it for those starting out in the genre, but it does bring many new ideas to the subject, along with some fantastic world-building and just incredibly enjoyable storytelling. Despite the overreaching story arcs and build-up, at the heart of Hunt’s world is a grand adventure tale, which has been continuing throughout the series thus far. It’s an excellent read, and comes highly recommended.