In Dark Service by Stephen Hunt
Jacob Carnehan has settled down. He’s living a comfortable, quiet life, obeying the law and minding his own business while raising his son Carter … on those occasions when he isn’t having to bail him out of one scrape or another. His days of adventure are – thankfully – long behind him.
Carter Carnehan is going out of his mind with boredom. He’s bored by his humdrum life, frustrated that his father won’t live a little, and longs for the bright lights and excitement of anywhere-but-here. He’s longing for an opportunity to escape, and test himself against whatever the world has to offer.
Carter is going to get his opportunity. He’s caught up in a village fight, kidnapped by slavers and, before he knows it, is swept to another land. A lowly slave, surrounded by technology he doesn’t understand, his wish has come true: it’s him vs. the world. He can try to escape, he can try to lead his fellow slaves, or he can accept the inevitable and try to make the most of the short, brutal existence remaining to him…. unless Jacob gets to him first and, no matter the odds, he intends to. No one kidnaps his son and gets away with it – and if it come to it, he’ll force Kings to help him on his way, he’ll fight, steal, blackmail and betray his friends in the name of bringing Carter home.
Wars will be started. Empires will fall. And the Carnehan family will be reunited, one way or another…
Hunt’s latest is like a giant ice cream sundae of all your favourite genre flavours together. Part steampunk thriller, part science fiction epic and a good-sized chunk of action adventure chucked in for good measure. The first hundred pages have a weirdly wonderful Terry Gilliam meets Katshuiro Otomo vibe, like the bastard child of Steamboy, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and even a bit of Spartacus to round things off. I really felt like I was being spoiled for choice. Importantly though no one single flavour in this delightful mélange is overpowering, everything fits together just perfectly.
Carter Carnehan has a wanderlust in his heart. He dreams of escaping the pastoral existence of his life in the small town of Northaven. He wants to travel to distant lands and experience everything the infinite world of Pellas has to offer. His father, Jacob, is the polar opposite. He relishes the simple peace that exists in the country of Weyland. Jacob wants nothing more than to live quietly and avoid any form of conflict. When the town is raided unexpectedly, Carter’s wish for excitement is granted, unfortunately not quite in the way he ever imagined.
The Vandian Imperium are an unknown quantity in the country of Weyland. Where do they hail from? Why is their technology so far removed from that of the Weylanders? What do they want with the young men and women of Northaven?
The invasion heralds the beginning of a huge journey for both men of the Carnehan family. I got the distinct impression that book one has just scratched the surface of a much bigger story and there is still much more left to be revealed. One of my favourite things in the book are the myriad little threads that are woven into the plot, everything from political power plays and intrigue, to hidden lives and shady pasts. The biggest unanswered question however – who the heck is the enigmatic character that goes by the name of Sariel and why does he keep appearing randomly in the lives of the Carnehan men?
It’s a damn shame that Hayao Miyazaki has just retired from filmmaking. I reckon In Dark Service would be an ideal candidate for the Studio Ghibli treatment. I’d love to see a visual interpretation of this story. The scope of events is just so huge it would look stunning. Instead, I’ll just have to content myself with the knowledge that this is the first book in a trilogy.
One word of warning however, the book is a big old doorstop stop of a thing. If you’re a weakling like me, and it’s within your power, I would heartily endorse the slightly lighter electronic edition. Put it this way, I won’t have to do any weight training at the gym this week.
This first novel in the Far Called sequence is a splendidly evocative steampunk adventure. It highlights the author’s masterful skill when it comes not only to world building on an epic scale, but also in creating characters who you want to read about. I’ve come to the conclusion, and I’m not embarrassed to admit it, Stephen Hunt’s writing makes me blissfully happy. The raging sentimentalist who lives deep in the dark recesses of my heart adored every page and can’t wait for more. It’s as simple as that.
In Dark Service is published by Gollancz and is available now. Highly recommended. I’m looking forward to book two, Foul Tide’s Turning, already.