The COURT OF THE AIR's plot follows the adventures of two orphans. Molly Templar has grown up in a poor house, doing odd jobs to help bring in money. She has an uncanny knack with machines, able to fix just about anything. The second is Oliver Brooks, a young boy who was exposed to an otherworldly source of Fey magic after an airship accident when he was an infant. Their lives are interrupted when both become targets of assassination plots. As they both flee for their lives, they discover that their special gifts are important in defeating an ancient enemy of humanity who has returned with plans to destroy the world.
THE COURT OF THE AIR was a really interesting read for a couple of reasons. First of all, I thought the plot was a really interesting blend of epic fantasy and steampunk. The air of the story is very reminiscent of something you'd find picking up a book that has dwarves and elves. But, rather than the familiar trappings of fantasy, THE COURT OF THE AIR offers the feel of a totally different milieu. There's a kingdom of steam powered, sentient robots that practice a religion akin to Tibetan Buddhism. The political system of the main location, the Kingdom of Jackals, is a constitutional monarchy in which the king has his arms ritually amputated so he can't raise his hands against the people. One of my favorite chapters in the book dealt with a meeting of the Parliament in which two politicians debate a proposition's merits by hitting each other with sticks while in session. There's magic, like many other epic fantasy stories, but there's also really advanced technology, like nanotechnology and DNA samplers, which give the book a really neat edge.
While the story is really enjoyable, it is by no means perfect. In fact, I felt the story had several large flaws. The largest and probably most annoying inadequacy is how the characters are handled. Molly and Oliver have the potential to be really interesting characters, but they come across as very flat. This is caused by a couple of different things. First, I found the similarities in their names and their back stories to be confusing. Secondly, there are few, if any, passages where we get any kind of peek into their heads. All throughout the book, we consistently see them reacting to what's going on around them, but we don't see what they're thinking. They're just rushing from danger into danger. It can be really confusing, especially since almost the entire last third of the book is one long action sequence.
Also, I felt like Mr. Hunt was a bit too self-indulgent with some of his world building. He has a propensity of working in groan worthy puns into the names. For example, there's a large firearms manufacturing firm founded by ones Locke and Loade. He also works in a plot by a group of political radicals founded by a character named Benjamin Carl. This group is either called Carlists, or communityists -- both of which are pretty bad puns.
On the whole, I'd recommend THE COURT OF THE AIR to people who are looking to move from epic fantasy into steampunk. The book's sequel, THE KINGDOM BEYOND THE WAVES, is being released in July, and Im looking forward to seeing if Mr. Hunt takes the magnificent world he's created and will be able to incorporate deeper characterization.