Stephen Hunt’s Jackelian novels are often called “Steampunk”--and I suppose they do have the essential elements with their fantastic pseudo-Victorian sort of setting--but they draw from a much wider range of genre fiction tropes. In fact, all the factions, locales, and (dare we say) character types seem to make tailor made for gaming inspiration.
The first novel, Court of Air (2007), introduces the basic setting elements (and they’re a lot of them!) in a story about two orphans in the Kingdom of Jackals (Britain’s stand-in) who come to play a role in a world-destroying threat--a Communist stand-in rebellion secretly subverted by Lovecraft-by-way-of-Mesoamerica insectoid Elder Gods looking to regain the ascendancy they enjoyed in the last Ice Age. The heroes include an agent from the steampunk equivalent of SHIELD complete with helicarrier (the eponymous Court of the Air), a boy of the feyblood (super-powered magical mutants hated and feared by the world) who gains the magical weaponry of a legacy hero similar to the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, and a plucky young girl with ancient nanites in her blood linking her to the robot savior at the Earth’s core!
That’s only a few of the ideas Hunt throws at us. There’s enough for 3 or 4 Rifts supplements. We’ve got Middle Eastern stand-in Cassarabians with magical biotech, Steampunk computers like in The Difference Engine, airships (I did say it was Steampunk), and the robotic Steam Men. The Steam Men are probably my favorite element of the world--these coal-burning artificial intelligences field heroic armies of knights, worship (and are sometimes ridden) by spirits called the Steamo Loa, and throw the cogs of Gear-gi-ju to divine the future.
In the midst of these rapid fire ideas, there’s a fast-paced adventure story. This is true of all Hunt’s novels in the series (the novel’s are standalone, but they have recurring characters). The second novel, The Kingdom Beyond the Waves, gives us a submarine journey up-river into a perilous jungle and a Bondian super-villain out to use ancient technology to take over the world. The Rise of the Iron Moon has a sort of War of the Worlds-esque alien invasion.
The world bears some resemblance to Tekumel in that civilization is fallen from great technological heights, and the artifacts of previous ages may appear like magic. It also contains a lot of stand-ins for real world historical elements--some of them with only the thinnest disguise. Quatershift, for example, is Revolutionary France with a mixing of various Communist states.
One characteristic of Hunt’s writing is a tendency to use portmanteau or sometimes punnning names. The world-saving robotic being is called Hexmachina. I’ve already mentioned the Cassarabians and the Steamo Loa. I could see this name practice irritating some readers.
I think these are minor quibbles. If you’re looking for good adventure fiction in a fantastic setting, particularly if you like sort of “kitchen sink” settings, I think you’ll find something in this series to enjoy.
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