Book Review: The Court of the Air

The Court of the Air

Stephen Hunt  
Mass Market Paperback, 608 pages
Doherty, Tom Associates, LLC
March 31, 2009


From Stephen Hunt’s website:

Two orphans are more than they seem. And one megalomaniac will stop at nothing to find them…

When Molly Templar witnesses a brutal murder at the brothel she has just been apprenticed to, her first instinct is to return to the poorhouse where she grew up. But there she finds her fellow orphans butchered, and it slowly dawns on her that she was in fact the real target of the attack.

For Molly carries a secret deep in her blood, a secret that marks her out for destruction by enemies of the state. Soon Molly will find herself battling a grave threat to civilization which draws on an ancient power thought to have been quelled millennia ago.

Oliver Brooks has led a sheltered life in the home of his merchant uncle. But when he is framed for his only relative’s murder he is forced to flee for his life. He is accompanied by Harry Stave, an agent of the Court of the Air – a shadowy organization independent of the government that acts as the final judiciary of the land, ensuring that order prevails.

Chased across the country, Oliver finds himself in the company of thieves, outlaws and spies, and gradually learns more about the secret that has blighted his life, but which may also offer him the power to avert the coming catastrophe.

Their enemies are ruthless and myriad, but Molly and Oliver are joined by indomitable friends in this endlessly inventive tale full of drama, intrigue and adventure.

This was my first exposure to the Steampunk subgenre of sci-fi/fantasy and I have to say I really enjoyed it.  The beginning quickly grabbed my attention and I soon found myself immersed in the steam technology-driven world of Jackals, where political and government factions vie for power and a secret, aerial court observe and intervene from the skies. 

Molly and Oliver are caught up in the struggle between the ruling monarchy (where kings’ arms are surgically removed to prevent them from ever raising a hand against the people) and the underground communityists (where people undergo horrific procedures like having one leg shortened if the person excels at running or a genius having a lobotomy, a process called “equalization”).  I wasn’t really a fan of either of these two government options so I wasn’t sure who to root for. 

The story is told from different characters’ points of view and I think my favorite parts were about Oliver, who spent most of his childhood beyond the fey mist and so is considered both contaminated and a threat to society.  He remembers nothing of his time spent behind the veil and his worst fear is being locked away in the asylum where other fey who are deemed too dangerous are doomed to rot.  I loved seeing him go from bored, sheltered orphan to dagger and pistol wielding, ruthless badass. 

The race of Steammen was really interesting and I’m not sure whether that’s a common race in this genre or not, but I thought they were a really unique part of the story. 

At times I did find myself thinking, What side are these guys on? Why is he doing this?  Who’s this guy again?  And I wished he would elaborate a bit more on certain points or give me more of a back story sometimes.  But the entire second half of the book had me completely hooked and I couldn’t wait to see who came out victorious in the end.  I loved the dystopian elements and the descriptions of the steam technology and blood machines as well as all the pop-culture references of Jackals via penny dreadfuls. 

This was a completely different style of sci-fi/fantasy than I’m used to but it was refreshing and unique.  I’ll be adding his next Jackalian book to my wish list!



  1. Dionne Said:

    Hm, very interesting! I had never heard of Steampunk before reading your post, but after googling the term and reading your review I must say I am intrigued by both the genre and the book!

    • Jamye Said:

      I hadn’t either, but I might check out some more books in that genre! Let me know if you want to borrow this one…

  2. […] reviews: Strange Horizons Reviews | Fiction Fanatic | Stella Matutina | Grub Street | Tia Nevitt | Deluded Visions | The Wizard of Duke […]

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