Review: The Kingdom Beyond the Waves

Posted: August 9, 2010 by in Books We Like (4/5 single_star) Meta: Stephen Hunt, Steampunk

Professor Amelia Harsh has lost her tenure at the last university in Jackals that would hire her (after being fired by the other seven…). Why? Because instead of studying and writing papers like a normal university professor, she’s out hunting relics of Camlantis, which everyone knows is a myth.

Enter Abraham Quest, the richest man in Jackals, who has been doing his own archaeology on the sly, and found proof that Camlantis exists. Unfortunately, the clues point the way into the heart of darkness itself, the source of the Shedarkshe river in the wilds of a jungle from which no explorer has returned. Camlantis was a utopia, with untold engineering feats, a society of pacifists, and Amelia and Abraham are convinced that it holds the key to making their own war-torn society a better place. But it means risking lives in order to see that goal realized.

Hunt spends the first half of THE KINGDOM BEYOND THE WAVES (Amazon) setting up the story, and because there’s a lot going on, several characters to introduce, and a world to build, the time it takes to do this isn’t unreasonable. However, it does make the first half slow-going. His prose can be dense, which also slows down the pacing and flow, but does make for a richer world. I love Hunt’s metaphors. He is truly clever with his descriptions, adding depth to the world at the same time.

Finally at about the halfway mark everything goes wrong for our protagonists. And not just wrong, I mean horribly, how in the heck are they going to get out of this without dying, wrong. It’s a series of life-threatening events that lasts the entire second half of the book. Hunt spins threads between all the characters deftly, so that when everything begins to collide, the weaving stories makes sense despite the chaos. Awesomeness on many levels.

While the characters are interesting, there's no question that for THE KINGDOM BEYOND THE WAVE, it's the setting here that's on display.

Set in an Earth that could have been, Hunt mixes machinery, magic, and a dizzying assortment of races with alacrity. There’s the race of mechanical steammen, who, while they have no country to call their own, still have autonomy wherever they live. There’s the amphibian craynarbians, which unfortunately don’t get as much face-time as the others. Also, the flying lizard lashites, who turn out to play an important role. In a story like this the races could have been gimmicky, but the cultures of humans and non-humans alike were all integrated into the plot in satisfying ways.

Hunt’s steampunk world is ambitious, and while he does an excellent job of introducing it without overwhelming the reader, about 5% of the time I didn’t remember or understand a name, race, or piece of equipment. On the whole for such a steep learning curve, only forgetting a small percentage is a petty complaint, and says a lot about the author’s world-building, which is complex and fascinating. KINGDOM is Hunt’s second book about this particular world, and while it isn’t a sequel, I wonder how much more I would have retained if I had read the first. Trust me, I will go back to read THE COURT OF THE AIR (Amazon). Even then, KINGDOM is readable as a standalone.

Magic plays a secondary role to the mechanical, which made me sad because Hunt hints at interesting possibilities he simply doesn’t have time to explain or explore. Also, while the pacing is consistent, the flow of action can be jarring, and sometimes I had to re-read a few paragraphs to grasp everything that happens when the action switches. The biggest problem I saw, which could be minor considering the other strengths of the novel, is that with such a large cast it is difficult for the main characters to have any real depth. While the characters have their interesting quirks and motivations, there’s no question that for KINGDOM, it’s the setting here that’s on display–and what a vision it is.

  • Recommended Age: 14+
  • Language: Only made-up words
  • Violence: Plenty of it, but not excessive or over-the-top
  • Sex: None

Stephen Hunt founded, a fan-run science fiction and fantasy website. You can also find information about the author and his books there.

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