#CBR4 Maneuver #4 – The Rise of the Iron Moon
Profile: Speculative Fiction, Steampunk, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Alien Invasion
Summary: From the Back Cover, “Born into captivity as a product of the Royal Breeding House, friendless orphan Purity Drake suddenly finds herself on the run with a forgone vagrant after accidentally killing one of her guards.
Her strange rescuer claims he is escaping from terrible forces who mean to enslave the Kingdom of Jackals as they conquered his own nation. Purity doubts his story, until reports begin to filter through from Jackals’ neighbors of the terrible Army of Shadows, marching across the continent and sweeping all before them.
Purity may have little love for her government, but she chooses to fight to save her homeland and people. The thing is, she hasn’t a clue how to do so.
As Jackals girds itself for war against an army of near-unkillable beasts serving an ancient evil, it soon becomes clear that there is more to Purity than meets the eye. The kingdom’s only hope may be a strange little royalist girl and the last, desperate plan of an escaped slave.”
After Action Report:
The more Stephen Hunt novels I read, the harder they become to write about. There’s a formula to his works. Take between one and three protagonists, add supporting characters liberally, bake in parallel story arcs and serve over a hot bed of Deus Ex Machina. Mmmm. The method shares a lot with the Penny Dreadfulls that longtime protagonist Molly Templar writes when she’s not busy saving the world from sure destruction. I had a lot of hope for Hunt’s work evolving over the course of his series, particularly because he’s started playing with different storyline models. Books one and two of the Jackelian series fell firmly into the typical epic quest/adventure model, but Rise of the Iron Moon experiments with a story of invasion and resistance.
We rejoin Molly Templar, heroine of The Court of the Air and now an accomplished novelist of ‘celestial fiction’, as she assists her friend and housemate Aliquot Coppertracks with his latest experiment: a steampunk version of a radio telescope. Coppertracks is attempting to establish contact with nearby planet Kaliban, a rough parallel of Mars complete with mysterious canals and an unexplained face-mountain. At the same time, Purity Drake, half-royal prisoner of the Jackelian regime escapes from her captors in the company of a strange man who doesn’t move his mouth when he speaks. While Molly and Purity take center stage for this novel, many characters from the previous books crop up to muddle the main story arc and confuse new readers.
Hunt manages to lash Molly and Purity’s story together into a unified trunk. Rather than a number of separate plots that come together in the end moments, Purity and Molly take their cohorts on two journeys that start and end in the same place but spend most of the body of the book thousands of miles and billions of years apart. The structure is less frustrating than Hunt’s earlier novels, but the rest of the faults of his writing style are still present.
Unfortunately, the world that I’d taken such a shine to is more or less left out of this novel. Purity’s story does explore some of the more recent history of the Kingdom of Jackals but the majority of the book is wasted on some second rate sci-fi concepts introduced to enable interstellar flight, extraterrestrial life and a hefty amount of technobabble. The new material isn’t useful for the development of the world of The Jackals, and if Hunt is intending to use more of the same elements in future books, I’m pretty sure I’ll stop reading the series. Additionally, the antagonists of the book are portrayed in a bizarre way that makes them appear much less intelligent than their technological level would indicate. Their cardinal sin is pride, but their actions in the closing chapters of the book can’t be viewed as anything but stupid. We’re talking Bond villain dumb.
On a somewhat unrelated side note, I may have been using the term Deus Ex Machina incorrectly in previous reviews of The Jackelian novels. While it is true that Hunt is fond of spectacular last minute reversals of fate from unlikely quarters, a true Deus Ex must come from a completely uninvolved party or emerge in a completely unanticipated form. Hunt goes out of his way to create and introduce a staggering number of side characters and deliberately leaves them undeveloped to allow for their inclusion in the final moments of a novel, narrowly avoiding the classification of Deus Ex Machina. Of the wild plot twists in The Court of the Air’s climactic final battle, only one, the sustenance of the lion-cloud illusions that the Dreamwalker set up, actually qualifies as a Deus Ex Machina. Interestingly, these are finally explained in Rise of the Iron Moon. So maybe the book had a point after all.