Jared Black Returns!

Have you read the Kingdom of Jackels novels? If so, rejoice! (Hey, you! Rejoice!)

Jack Cloudie, the fifth novel in the series, has finally come across the pond to our benighted shores. While residents of the great old United Kingdom can read all six books in the series already, we must be content with what we have. And let me tell you, what we have is pretty good.

In Jack Cloudie the Kingdom will go to war, not that that’s anything new, but this time they face the people of Cassarabia and their womb mage creations. This time, the Royal Aerostatical Navy will have to face airships like their own. This time, Jared Black won’t be in his native element, the water. Can they win? More importantly, will we enjoy the ride?

The answer to the second question is an unqualified yes. If you love high adventure, satire or Jared Black, this is a book for you. The cranky old Commodore is back, once again plying his wits, vast experience and exhaustive knowledge of just about everything against the world and the contrary members of his own nation. This time he’s been called in to ride herd over an experimental armored airship, built by the now-defunct House of Quest, that has been sent out to figure out how the Cassarabians are getting the nonflammable gas they’re using in their airships. And he’ll have to do it without one mortal consideration for his aging bones or life of difficulty, so there’s nothing left to do but rail at the world and grumble his way through.

On the other side of the battle lines, Omar ibn Barir, former slave, is working his way through the ranks of the Cassarabian army towards a revelation that will shake his country to the core. Not that Omar ever sets out to do these things. Mostly, he just wants to save the girl and do his duty. But the simplest goals often have the most complex implications.

Like all the Jackelian novels, Jack Cloudie is a rousing tale of adventure. While it does feature the Commodore, he once again sits comfortably in the secondary character line-up, so don’t go in thinking these are the trials of a slightly overweight old submarine captain. Airships, genetic engineering and many other factors come into play. Like all Jackelian novels, Jack Cloudie contains elements of satire, particularly strong in this tale, but as saying more than that definitely qualifies as a spoiler I’ll just say they’re there. Note that, while Cassarabia is a theocracy with weird practices, it is not, in and of itself, the primary focus of Hunt’s satirical guns. So if that kind of thing bothers you or entices you, be aware that it’s, at most, a minor subtheme.

All in all, if you like steampunk, satire, high adventure, airships or Jared Black, this is a novel for you.

Cool Things: The Kingdom of Jackals

What do you get when you combine satire, comedy, steampunk-sci-fi and a grouchy old steamboat captain?

Why the Kingdom of Jackals, author Stephen Hunt’s crazy, tongue-in-cheek romp through adventure, human nature and Science! The Kingdom is a far cry from many steampunk stories in the themes it chooses to look at. While many steampunk stories are obsessed with Progress or Science!, Jackelian stories are a different beast. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of steam powered robots, airships, scientific societies and more to tickle your neo-Victorian sensibilities, but they’re not the focus in Jackals. Rather, Hunt turns these things into subtle (or not so subtle) metaphors for modern culture.

Some struggles in human history are timeless, and by setting them in a place that never existed he manages to both show us the extreme forms of some historical and sociological themes and let us enjoy watching fun, engaging characters deal with them using gratuitous quantities of coal powered, pressure gauge studded, improbable technologies.

Jackals is full of weird but entertaining ideas. It’s the Republic with a King. The state religion is the Circlist Church, which worships reason and math and views the word “faith” as blasphemy. Groundquakes periodically send huge sections of the ground floating into the air unless worldsingers can calm the pressure in the tectonic plates. And that’s just day to day living, before the evil cults, chosen wielders of ancient, thinking weapons, lost civilizations, alien invasions and displaced nobility is taken into account.

As I said last Friday, Hunt makes excellent use of his characters in these novels. There’s nothing exactly like a main character in the series. Although some characters, such as Molly Templar and Jethro Daunt, are the focus of more than one book, the closest thing to a central character is actually Commodore Jared Black, the only character to make an appearance in all six novels to date. While never a central character in any of the stories he manages to be consistently among the most surprising, engaging, human and personable. Among the wild tales of aspiring authors, outlaws, famous detectives and belittled archaeologists, Jared manages to be the voice of the Everyman – and that while harboring some impressive secrets for himself.

Steampunk is many things to many people. It is commentary on the Victorian era, a time of unprecedented progress and struggle. It is a reflection on the relationship between knowledge, reason and the human soul. And it is a great excuse for huge quantities of gratuitous cogs, gears and pressure dials. If you want all that, with a healthy dose of thought provoking ideas for today, then the Kingdom of Jackals might be a place to think amount visiting…