#CBR4 Maneuver #3 – The Kingdom Beyond the Waves
Profile: Speculative Fiction, Steampunk, Fantasy, Adventure
Summary: Adapted from the Back Cover, “Professor Amelia Harsh is obsessed with finding the lost civilization of Camlantis, a legendary city from prehistory that is said to have created the perfect pacifist society. Without official funding, Amelia is forced to accept an offer of patronage from Abraham Quest, the man she blames for her father’s bankruptcy and suicide. Quest has evidence that proves that the Camlantean ruins are buried under one of the sealike lakes that dot the murderous jungles of Liongeli.
Amelia will blackmail her old friend Commodore Black into ferrying her along a huge river on his ancient U-boat. With an [untrustworthy] crew of freed convicts, Quest’s force of fearsome female mercenaries on board, and a lunatic steamman acting as their guide, Amelia’s luck seems to be going from bad to worse. Her quest for the perfect society has a good chance of bringing her own world to the brink of destruction.”
After Action Report:
Stephen Hunt’s sophomore entry into his epic steampunk-fantasy series isn’t an enormous improvement on the first book. He still has trouble focusing in on the characters that really mater and the story doesn’t flow so much as lurch from one fantastical sequence to the next. But the core draw of the series, Hunt’s brilliant and expanding setting, is still there, shining brightly in the mess of plots and characters.
The Kingdom Beyond the Waves focuses primarily on Ameila Harsh, a minor character from Hunt’s first book, The Court of the Air, and her family’s obsession with discovering the lost city of Camlantis (yes… Cam-lantis. Laugh it up). After an Indiana Jones style sequence in the tomb of a prehistoric Black-oil chieftain, we’re brought to the meat of the plot, Harsh’s utter dismissal from the halls of Jackelian academia and her inability to launch another expedition. With the unlikely aid of her sworn nemesis, Abraham Quest, she prepares to try one last time. Amelia’s story runs parallel to Commodore Jared Black, navy man and U-boat captain extraordinaire. Black is another refugee from Hunt’s first novel, along with his roommates, Molly Templar and Aliquot Coppertracks. His inclusion as a primary protagonist is where things start to get complicated. The Commodore comes complete with his own bevy of secondary characters and a wholly unnecessary subplot involving the last remnants of The Jackals royal family in exile.
The second primary storyline follows Cornelius Fortune, otherwise known as Furnace-Breath Nick, trying to unravel a mystery of his own making in the Jackelian capital of Middlesteel. Fortune’s role in the novel is a vehicle for Hunt’s trademark ‘storm of a thousand Deus Ex Machinas’ in the final chapters, but that doesn’t stop him from getting a third heap of secondary characters who all have their own wacky back and side stories. For those of you counting that 3 main characters, 3 hordes of supporting characters and somewhere between 8 and 12 sets of vignettes for those supporting characters Despite Hunt making many of the same story-based mistakes he made in The Court of the Air, The Kingdom does feels less cumbersome. It helps that many of the ideas and plots are building on concepts introduced in the first novel but at the end of the day, there are just fewer names and places to keep track of this time around. Which says more about The Court of the Air than it does about The Kingdom Beyond the Waves.
Thank goodness the setting still as interesting as before. Hunt takes advantage of his Indiana Jones character and really delves into the meat of his world’s history. Typically, Steampunk novels run with the idea of an industrial revolution taking place earlier on the timeline than happened in recorded history. The rapid advances in technology associated with that time period have a different vocabulary in Steampunk, replacing combustion engines with steam boilers and electricity with clockwork. Not so in The Jackals. The Kingdom reveals that oil and electricity don’t work the same way any more, so technology had no choice but to evolve in new and interesting ways. Alongside these revelations are examinations of the existing mythos of the world, from the disturbing Womb-magic of Cassarabia to the bizarre hive mind of the Daggish Empire in deepest Liongeli. What’s impressive is that that Hunt hasn’t trotted out a whole new set of places and people for this second book, but expanded on concepts and ideas present in book one. For that reason I recommend reading these novels in sequence and quickly after one another.
Again, Hunt has a long way to go before these novels can be considered anything other than pleasure reading for steampunk fans. The writing is just as bad as before and while the story is less confusing overall, he’s still relying on the same tired plot devices to wrap everything up. But I sure as hell can’t put these books down.