The Rise of The Iron Moon by Stephen Hunt
How can one plucky orphan girl save the world from ultimate destruction?
Born into captivity as a product of the Royal Breeding House, lonely orphan Purity Drake suddenly finds herself on the run with a foreign vagrant after accidentally killing one of her guards.
Her mysterious rescuer claims to have escaped from terrible forces who mean to enslave the Kingdom of Jackals as they conquered his own nation. Purity doubts the story, until reports begin to filter through from Jackals’ neighbours of a murderous Army of Shadows, marching across the continent and sweeping all before them.
But there’s more to Purity Drake than meets the eye. And as Jackals girds itself for war against a near-indestructible army, it soon becomes clear that the Kingdom’s only hope is a strange little orphan girl and the last, desperate plan of an escaped slave from a land far, far away.
Back in July, I picked up Jack Cloudie by Stephen Hunt. I had never read any of his books but I was sold on the premise by the cover alone. It was a lot of fun and afterwards, I mentally took note that I must try to pick up the other novels in the series. Jump forward a couple months to FantasyCon 2011 and I was given a copy of The Rise of The Iron Moon, reminding me once again how much I had enjoyed Jack Cloudie, and that I should really read more of this author’s work. Excuse my tardiness Mr Hunt but finally, nearly six months after the original thought, I’ve gotten around to doing just that.
With subtle nods to classic works such as War of The Worlds, and The Barsoom series by Edgar Rice Burroughs, it is incredibly easy to get caught up in this steampunk alien invasion story. The action is fast paced and builds nicely from the beginning right up until the epic conclusion. The battles described are vividly drawn visceral affairs and contain some spectacular individual moments.
There is a cavalcade of wonderful characters. Not only is there Purity Drake, you also get Jared Black, a cantankerous old u-boat captain; Molly Templar, author of science-fiction penny dreadfuls; and Coppertracks, a scientist and steam powered artificial humanoid. Each of these players gets moments to shine and I would happily read much more about any one of them. I was surprised to find how affected I was by the eventual fate of some of the novel’s key characters. The author is certainly not averse to highlighting the fact that there are always consequences to actions, and that sometimes in war, hard sacrifices have to be made.
The thing that really struck me about the writing is the exquisite attention to even the smallest of details. This novel, like the others in the series, is set on an alternate Earth where the Victorian-era British Empire is instead The Kingdom of Jackals. There is a sense of genuine delight when you spot the Jackelian equivalent to something that exists (or existed) in our world. It makes everything seem that much more alive when you catch one of these references. It doesn’t even have to be anything particularly relevant to the narrative. In the Jackelian universe London has become Middlesteel and I found myself ridiculously pleased with the Jackelian names for the River Thames and Big Ben, sad but true.
For those that are unfamiliar with Mr Hunt’s work there are currently five novels published in the Jackelian series, The Rise of The Iron Moon is number three and Jack Cloudie is number five. This is where I think I was most impressed. I have managed to successfully read two out of the five novels in an entirely random order and followed the individual narratives without any issue. I think anyone could easily pick up and quickly enjoy this novel as a standalone tale, but as soon as you start on another book in the series you’ll start to appreciate the larger overall chronology that the author is developing.
After reading The Rise of the Dark Moon I can guarantee you one thing – it will not take me six months until I read my next Stephen Hunt novel. I don’t just want to know what happens in books one, two and four; I need to know what happens. This is first class fiction that has effortlessly captured my imagination.
The Rise of the Iron Moon is available now from Harper Voyager. From the Deep of the Dark, the sixth book in the series, is due to be released in February 2012.