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Stephen Hunt – The Kingdom Beyond the WavesThe Kingdom Beyond the Waves is the 2nd instalment (4th one - Secrets of the Fire Sea - recently came out, the 5th - Jack Cloudie - is coming next year) in Stephen Hunt's Jackals/Jackelian series. The book picks up a few years after the end of its precursor, The Court of the Air. And whilst it should be able to stand on its own I would recommend you read the first book in the series before you tackle this one, it will give you a much better understanding of the environment the events in the story unfold it; and background on at least some of the characters. Oh, and it's a quite enjoyable tale, too.

The main thread (there are many others) in the book follows Amelia Harsh, Professor of Archaeology who has just lost her job at the last University willing to take her on. The reason? Her unwavering belief in (and active research into) Camlantis (the reference is transparent enough not to require explanation - ?), a historical if considered mythical country with a high (some people claim perfect) civilization, without hunger, crime, violence, inequality etc. Camlantis vanished when it was overrun by the Black Oil Horde, and nobody knows where the remains are (a floating island in the sky, as mythology claims?), or how they created their society; and official doctrine has it that they never existed anyway...

Amelia, at loose ends, is hired by Abraham Quest, merchant, industrialist, humanist/utopist, and richest man in Jackals; he tasks her to follow up his own research into Camlantis, and sail up the Shedarkshe to its source, lake Ataa Naa Nyongmo, below which, according to his resources, the ruins of Camlantis can be found. This is not without danger – the Shedarkshe runs through the jungle in Liongeli, with its Thunderlizards (exactly what you think), with the Daggish Hive mind only waiting to absorb unwary travellers, and the unnamed evil the Steammen hint at with great distaste.

I'm not going to talk more about the story – at Stephen is wont to there are loads of threads, and a multitude of protagonists and settings, twists and turns. The switch is still firmly on Epic, but despite the usual overload with figures and sub-stories the action is not a relentlessy manic as it was in the first book. This also allows for some character development this time round, which is a promising development indeed.

Stephen is not afraid to occasionally despatch some 2nd rank protagonist (it has to be said that he has more than enough of them, too), but doesn't follow through when things look truly down for some of the key players – there is too much luck and too many lucky co-incidences in the plotting for my taste. There is also too much petty conflict, reported verbatim, which really breaks the flow of the story without adding anything to it in my opinion. There is generally too much hinging on luck, or special, one-off circumstances and events. Sorry, giving examples would spoil your reading, but if you think of the parable of the lost Horseshoe nail and its consequences then, here, you would have something along the lines of 'but as the nail was the only nail in the world which was magnetic it was picked up by the smith's hammer just as the messenger was about to leave, and the Horseshoe was attached properly and disaster avoided”. I think that a writer of Stephen's caliber should really be possible to plot without relying on those devices to such an extent.

The world the story plays in is he same overloaded 'everything is here' universe we had in The Court of the Air. We have several types of magic, steam and spring driven machinery and vehicles (so far so Steampunk), Electrics and Electronics, holographic crystal storage of moving images, self aware Steam men (still my favourite set piece in the series), multiple races, human shape changers, prescient seers, Hive Minds, … I could go on, but I'm sure you get my point. Less might, nah, would, have been more.

Having said all that – Stephen can write, can capture you (past your bus stop and such tricks), and this is, despite all its flaws, an entertaining and engaging adventure story in a fascinating (if overloaded) universe. Recommended use of your time.


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Title: The Kingdom Beyond the Waves
Series: Jackals
Series Number: 2
Author: Stephen Hunt
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL: http://skating.thierstein.net
Publisher:  Harpert/Voyager
Publisher URL: http://www.voyager-books.co.k
Publication Date: 2008
Review Date: 101114
ISBN:9780007232215
Price: UKP 7.99
Pages: 556
Format: Paperback
Topic: YA Fiction
Topic: Steampunk

 

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