Friday, November 28, 2008

Review of The Court of the Air

The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt is the first book set in the Jackelian World. The next book that takes place in this world, The Kingdom Beyond the Waves, is currently available in some countries including the UK. The Rise of the Iron Moon, the third book, will be released in the UK in February 2009. All the books feature different sets of characters, and The Court of the Air has a definite beginning, middle and end that makes it work as a stand alone book.

Teenage orphan Molly Templar, who has always have a gift with machines, lived in a poorhouse until one day when she was sold to the madame of a nearby brothel. When her first client attempts to murder her, she escapes and returns to the only home she ever known to find that many of her childhood friends in the poorhouse have been murdered. Molly realizes someone is targeting her specifically for some reason and flees to the underground with the help of an old friend.

Oliver Brooks has lived with his uncle since both of his parents died when he was young. For a time after his father died, he lived in the mysterious feymist until he was found. Those who spend time in the feymist tend to gain magical powers so Oliver is regularly tested to ensure he does not have any. Although he always fails to prove he has any supernatural abilities, he is always regarded with deep suspicion. If he was to exhibit signs of having magic, his actions would be controlled by a collar or he may be sent to an asylum, like the man he knows as the Whisperer who visits his dreams regularly, claiming Oliver is the strongest of them all.

One day Oliver returns home to discover his uncle has been murdered -- and the authorities believe that Oliver is responsible. With the help of Harry Stave, a man of ill repute visiting his uncle, Oliver leaves his hometown and embarks on a great adventure.

The Court of the Air is a difficult novel for me to review because it is not at all a bad book, but it did not appeal to me personally. The beginning of the book had me intrigued with a world of humans and steammen (sentient machines) and a country in which the king was not honored but had his arms cut off and rotten vegetables thrown at him to discourage him from oppressing his people (it's good to be the king!). I was curious about Molly's innate knowledge of steammen and how Oliver's powers would manifest. Yet the more I read, the less interested I was in what happened.

My favorite books are those in which the characters come alive and seem very real to me, and this novel was more about plot and less heavy on characterization, which is definitely one reason why it did not work for me. Neither Molly nor Oliver ever seemed to grow as characters - both of them seemed shallow with surface traits such as being an orphan or having a specific power. Although both characters developed new abilities, they never seemed to undergo any personal struggles or developments as individual people. As the story progressed, more characters were introduced and less focus was given to the two main characters and many of the new characters seemed interchangeable to me. I never felt I had any reason to care about any of the people in the story so I was never particularly invested in the end result.

The pacing was somewhat uneven and the book was far longer than I thought it needed to be to tell the story. It would begin to get more interesting then it would introduce a new character or set of characters and I would lose interest again. These additional viewpoints were necessary for keeping readers informed on various perspectives on the conflict throughout the world but it seemed like too many characters were introduced too late in the story.

The writing was not at all poor and at times it could be rather clever. The different types of societies in the novel were also rather well done and I did like the steammen (I have a weakness for AIs as characters).

The Court of the Air is an inventive book that I'm sure would appeal to many other people. However, since I did not care deeply about what happened to anyone in the story, it did not hold my attention.


Other reviews:

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Review of Skyfall

Although it is the ninth book released in Catherine Asaro's Saga of the Skolian Empire series, Skyfall is the first book in the series chronologically. The books in this series have won numerous awards, including the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 2001 for The Quantum Rose. These novels are generally considered to be science fiction romance and contain a blend of space opera and hard science fiction. Skyfall was heavier on the romance side and lighter on the science fiction side than the other two books I have read in this series (Primary Inversion and The Radiant Seas). I would recommend newcomers to the series begin with the first published book, Primary Inversion. While it was very entertaining, I thought Skyfall was significantly weaker than both this novel and its sequel.

Roca, heir to the Skolian Empire, has just realized that her son Kurj plans to start a war. He sent her on a mission with only his people for protection and she has been delayed from returning home. She knows this is no coincidence since the council of the Skolian Empire will soon meet to vote on whether or not to go to war with their enemies, the cruel Eubian Traders. If Roca is not available for the council session, Kurj will cast her vote in her absence and there is a good chance the results will be in favor of the war. Desperate to prevent many of her people from dying, Roca escapes from her bodyguards and manages to get a flight to the planet Skyfall. In a couple of days, Roca will leave with a supply ship scheduled to stop at the planet and surprise Kurj by ruining his scheme.

Shortly after Roca's arrival on Skyfall, the bard Eldrinson rides to the port, abruptly hauls her up in front of him, and brings her back to his castle. Roca protests at first, but she is intrigued by Eldrinson's strong telepathic abilities which are similar to her own and ends up agreeing to visit him for one day. One day turns into two when a severe snowstorm hits and soon Roca is stuck on Skyfall until the next supply ship stops on the backwater planet - which could be months away.

Skyfall is a very straightforward, easy to read novel. The science in this one is slim and limited to infodumps on Roca's internal computer that performs various useful functions such as regulating her temperature and helping her to learn languages quickly instead of focusing on theories as in The Radiant Seas.

The characterization in this novel is also somewhat thin compared to the others with the exception of Kurj, who is the type of complex and conflicted character I always enjoy reading about. His chapters were my favorites in the entire book. Roca is a much more passive and perfect heroine than her daughter Sauscony and therefore not as interesting. Our heroine looks like a 20 year old in spite of her 50+ years of age (which is not unusual for Skolians but adds to the character's aura of perfection), is drop dead gorgeous, kind, loved by just about everyone, and peaceful. She is very much the stereotypical female character, and even though there is an explanation for her willingness to be kidnapped by Eldrinson, it makes her seem like a helpless woman unlike the strong, determined Sauscony. Roca was likable but she did not seem unique or very well fleshed out.

The writing in this one also seemed more awkward than other books, partially because there were a few infodumps but also because much of the dialogue was stilted. This was to demonstrate the fact that Eldrinson and Roca did not actually speak the same language and did not always communicate clearly through spoken language in spite of their empathic/telepathic bond. Although it was not without merit, this did get annoying at times.

It may sound like I did not enjoy this book, but I actually could hardly put it down and the pages flew by. It was definitely fun to read, but it certainly was not as good as the other books in this series that I have read. I did find it interesting to read about the details of some of the events mentioned in the other novels even if I had a basic idea of how the story would end.

Skyfall is not the best book in the Saga of the Skolian Empire, but it is a worthwhile read for learning more about events a generation before the Radiance War.


Reviews of other books in this series:

Primary Inversion
The Radiant Seas

Friday, November 7, 2008


It's been rather quiet around here since I'm reading a long book right now (The Court of the Air) and haven't had much time for reading. I'm about 2/3 of the way through it now. Last night I read one of the Malazan novellas so I'd have something to review but I'm not sure if I'll have time to do so over the weekend since I'm going to be doing some freelance work then. I'm hoping to get in some more time for reading soon, especially since I'm only 4 books away from completing the 50 book challenge. After The Court of the Air, it's on to All the Windwracked Stars and The Jackal of Nar, most likely followed by either Schismatrix Plus or some space opera (depending on how close to December it is by the time I'm done).