Friday, 15 February 2008

The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt

Published 2007

Other nations had dark gods and wild-eyed prophets that demanded obedience, child mutilation, slavery, and poverty for the people while wealth flowed to an all-powerful priest class. Jackals had its deity-free Circlist philosphy, quiet meditations and a wide network of oratories. A Circlist parson might drop round and request a quick brew of caffeel, but never call for the beating heart of the family's firstborn to be ripped out of its chest.
This is a book to linger over. Two young orphans, Oliver and Molly, are being hunted by ruthless assassins, apparently for who they are, although neither of them knows why. Help on their separate journeys comes from those on the fringes of society, outlaws, thieves, and exiles and steammen, mechanised and manufactured creatures which come in many forms, yet which have a soul. The young heroes are intelligent and thoughtful – Molly has been raised in a poorhouse by a Circlist who believed in education, Oliver has been forced by isolation to be bookish. These are qualities which are often ignored by novelists of late, apparently in the belief that young people are characterised by being difficult and sulky, kicking against duty and responsibility. These orphans accept the roles which seem to have been thrust upon them, their only reluctance born of their uncertainty that they might be unequal to their tasks.