My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Whew, Been a while since I’ve read a novel this complex. This is a “steam punk” novel in the sense that there is advanced technology in a society well before there is electricity. The setting is vaguely reminiscent of London and the UK. But not in the sense that you think it’s really London an the UK. It’s just that there are references to places, concepts and things that are common in the UK, which serve as shorthand to help you understand how the Jackelian world works.
Stephen Hunt does a remarkable job unfolding the world for us so you grow to learn it a little bit at a time. And a good thing, because the Jackelian world could easily be overwhelming, The political system is vaguely parliamentarian, but in this world there additional power structures that coexist with the monarchy and the parliament, each with their own habits, norms, and tools. There Within the government, there are ate least two major political factions vying for power. There are multiple social classes. There are at least two other races of sentient beings in the world, and I think more. One of the races of sentient beings are sentient, sovereign machines/robots, which is way cool. There is magic in I believe multipl flavors, and there are by my count at least three different kinds of beings that are more or less supernatural. Like I said, it’s an amazingly complex world that unfolds as you read the book.
But the purpose of the book is not to marvel at the world building. That’s just the _setting_ of the book. The book centers around two young kids from very different parts of the world. One is an orphan, eeking out an existence as a ward of one of the work houses. The other is a an orphaned boy who lives on his uncle’s estate and for some reason he’s under some sort of government requirement that prevents him from ever leaving his town. Each of them survives murder attempts and that’s the launching point for a run-for your life plot and all these different characters keep coming into the plot trying to influence them.
What makes this book entertaining for me is that you’re never quite sure who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. Everyone has their own agenda an is trying to influence the course of action these kids take. Even the characters that are closest to them are vague about their intentions. There is one character in particular who is helping the boy escape and survive. And it seems like ever other character in the book has an opinion about him. Some people like him, some people hate him and it makes you worry for the boy. I also really enjoy books where there is a lot of political intrigue. I love it when you see characters make baldfaced lies and you know they are lying through their teeth but you can’t warn the protagonist!
In the end, it’s a political pot-boiler. It’s full of revolution. Full of winners and losers. Full of walls crumbling down. Full of careers/lives being ruined. Full of people being liberated. And I enjoyed every bit of it.