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The book begins with a young girl called Molly, an orphan who's stuck living an unhappy life based in a poorhouse, getting sent off to a number of jobs she hates and can't bring herself to do. One day she is apprenticed out to a whore house to begin her training and when her first would be client tries to kill her she is forced to go on the run and her life changes forever. She looks for the help of a 'steamman' who is to take her to the underworld of Jackals, the city she lives in, thinking it will be the only place she can be safe. At the same time a young boy called Oliver has led a rather uneventful life so far, being confined to a small area for fear he has 'fey' abilities. He lived with his uncle as his parents died when he was young, until one day his uncle and everyone is the household are killed. He has only he visiting uncle Harry to rely on to spirit him away and make him safe.
Molly and Oliver are the main characters of the book but their stories remain separate until rather later on. Both must solve the mysteries of what happened to their selves and their families whilst there is huge political unrest and their country Jackals faces the biggest war it's ever seen.
I read a lot of different things, and read a lot. So it takes a lot for me to say that this is possibly the worst book I've ever read. Strong words I know! Regardless of what I think of books I find it very hard not to read them to the end, to not do so seems impossible. But this is one of I think only two or three books that I've not managed to finish. I tried to get through the 20 or so pages I had left just for the purpose of this review but I really could not bring myself to read the last part properly. However, I really don't think that will affect this review.
I thought this book was going to be just my sort of thing, a lengthy adventure set in a steam-punkish Victorian style city. But I got nothing much from it. It doesn't start too badly, Molly seemed like a good character and I could see her fighting her way out of her position and on to greater things. But that's where the good stuff ends. From the start this book is completely confusing and I found it near impossible to read at times. I do love books set in Victorian England, and although this was set in a fantasy world I thought it would still have that feel. Unfortunately I didn't think there was much description at all of where it was set. I think that when creating another land the author needs to give the reader a clear description of what it is like, what it looks like, what is the same and what is different from what we know, what the people are like...anything we need to know for the scene to be set. And if there is going to be more than one city in the story the lay of the land needs to be described and the relations between the cities. But I didn't get that, which led me to be constantly confused. Even worse, there are other creatures in this book which are very hard to understand without a lot of rich descriptions. Mainly these are the steammen and the fey creatures. The first time a steamman was introduced he was not described at all, I had to re-read the passage a few times to understand what was going on, I wasn't sure if it was just a kind of man who worked with steam, engineering, etc, or another creature. Which it turned out it was. Still, having read the majority of the book I don't really understand them or what they looked like, or what they did.
Complex books are hard enough to understand without good descriptions, and there is so much going on in this which makes it even worse. There are so many places and so many characters, a lot of which don't seem to have much use in the grand scheme of things at all. There were way too many character names for me, I do like books with a lot of people in and interesting side characters, but these just seemed to be totally useless.
On top of all this the plot made little sense to me. It started off as some kind of mystery/adventure, and then changed to a weirdly childish fantasy, but also tried to be a political novel, perhaps with some kind of moral at the end. The two main characters seem almost unrecognisable at by the end, their personalities don't follow on so that you become totally uninterested in them. Because there isn't much description, not much about what the characters are thinking, you can't really understand how they feel during what is happening to them and how they get to change to much. Everything just happens too fast. I think this book could have been told well, if perhaps it had been written over 3 or 4 novels the same size, or if the writer had focused on one theme and one story, rather than having dozens of things going on at once. There are ordinary people, fairy type people and people/machines, all in one story. Perhaps it would have been better just to pick one type and stick to it too. There was even another kind of person who I had no idea who or what they was all about from start to finish even though they were mentioned dozens of times! I also don't really understand what the Court of the Air actually was, it seemed to have nothing much to do with the story at all!
All in all, the only thing I can say about this book is that I can not suggest that anyone read it! I honestly don't have one good thing to say about it. It's not often that happens and I certainly wont be reading anything by this author again.