Fantasy novels can be quite formulaic. There is the hero / heroine endowed with special powers by bloodlines or accident and he / she discovers how to use said powers and saves the world from eternal evil. A standard cast of helpers from various tribes, gurus of various sorts who tutor the hero, unspeakable evil and strange sights in travels during the quest are all part of it. The comfort of formula and the mostly gauranteed happy end are an integral part of what makes thes novels enjoyable.
Recently I invested in Stephen Hunt’s ‘A Court of Air’ which seemed to have all the ingredients for a good potboiler. The blurb promised the reader a fantastical tale of high adventure, low life rogues and orphans on the run and in the first few pages it does deliver.
Our hero, Oliver Brooks, is on the run after being framed for the murder of his uncle. He is accompanied in his escape by a rogue agent of the mysterious ‘Court of Air’ and is constantly haunted by the messages from a twisted fey creature – ‘The Whisperer’ . Oliver discovers his own fey heritage and is designated ‘shield’ in the coming battle with evil. Our heroine, Molly Templar, is an orphan left mysteriously at the footsteps of a state orphanage and just when she is beginning her apprenticeship at a brothel she finds all her companions and colleagues to be butchered in an attack aimed at her. She goes on the lam with a ‘steam-man’ and discovers she has a great affinity for things mechanical and her fate is to be the ‘sword’ in said battle with evil.
So far, so good. Problem is our hero and heroine meet for about 5 pages in the whole book! So it is like reading 2 stories for the most part. There is no character development, no explanation for why things happen or powers are developed for the most part. There are too many undeveloped side plots and characters such as the king whose arms are cut off and whose main role is to hang around so people can throw rotten fruit at him, the Shadow Bear from the fey universe which appears in the middle and serves no purpose in the book. The evil pictured in this book is a mix of communism and cannibalistic, insect worshipping killers who (quite naturally) align with each other to try and turn the world into a silent place populated by ‘mechamen’ created by tearing the beating hearts out of people. Ugh.
All in all, tried and tested recipes are all well and good but to make a truly superior dish a dash of the original is required. And that is definitely missing in this book.