1/8/2010. Contributed by Sue Davies
pub: HarperCollins. 439 page hardback. Price: £17.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-00-728963-9.
check out websites: www.harpercollins.co.uk and www.stephenhunt.net
Over the seas and far away, the land of Jago alternately freezes and boils and this is the setting for the new Stephen Hunt novel, 'Secrets Of The Fire Sea'. Surrounded by underwater volcanoes, the journey to Jago is fraught with difficulty and frankly most people no longer bother going. The land itself is iced over and unwelcoming. The people scratch a remainder of a living from its edges using electricity conjured up from the depths by the Guild of Valvesmen. Now, as the cites are mostly empty and the population perched on the edge of extinction in Hermitica City, the people seek out the Circlist Church for answers when there are no gods to ask.
There is cold comfort indeed, for the head of the Church, Archbishop Alice Grey is brutally attacked and killed leaving already orphaned Hannah Conquest in need of protection from the unexpected wrath of the Guild of Valvesmen who want to apprentice her talents. Although the murder is blamed on the wild Usks, bear-like creatures who roam the wastelands, more than one person feels this had a more definite purpose.
Hannah Conquest, just a child really, needs answers before Vardan Flail, the dreaded head of the Valvesmen, claims her. Race trading clerk Chalph urs Chalph, her friend from the civilised bear-like Ursine, is also feeling washed up on the shores of Jago waiting for the call to go home to his beloved forest of Pericur. But he loves Hannah and will help where he can.
Added to the mix are the young girl called Nandi, who comes to study the transaction engine vaults but finds a mystery. She is protected by Commodore Black, late again of Tock Towers, who might once again need to wield his trusty weapons to protect the weak. Arriving on the same boat is Jethro Gaunt who has been appointed by the Jackelian Inquisition to investigate the death of Alice Grey. He brings his own unique investigative talents and his damaged steam-man, Boxiron, to be a muscular Dr Watson to his beaky-nosed Holmes. It all adds up to a team of characters who are seekers of truth in the murky streets of Hermitica City.
But what can they do against the might of the Stained Senate of Jago with its power-crazed First Senator and Vardan Flail with has his own vendetta against Hannah?
Apart from the occasional blind alley, this tale of derring-do with blood, gore and engine oil takes us for a thrilling chase down the streets and across the oceans. This feels like and old-fashioned 'Boys Own' adventure (for girls, too) and has an uncomplicated storyline despite the hefty cast. It's also good to see a couple of heroines who don't always need rescuing.
Being refreshingly free of wizards, rings and generally anything over-used in fantasy novels, 'Secrets Of The Fire Sea' offers a look a society that is politically sophisticated but has developed in a different way to our own. There is a great deal of depth to the Jackelian series and I like the way the story layers in this back-story without labouring the point overly. The rise of the Guild who has the 'power' not unlike a union which seeks to protect its members and there is plenty of food for thought. This is only the scenery to a great story that unfolds in a satisfying way. It is something to get your teeth into with natural and supernatural events pushing the action along. There is time to get involved with the group and feel emotion about their fate. The ending has a suitably epic feel with lots of energy and special effects. You know what I mean, Mr. Speilberg.
If they make the film, can I be the bear?
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA