Set on an alternate Earth in a distant time, Stephen Hunt has created in Jack Cloudie a fantastical world seemingly similar to our own yet vastly different. This is a world of two warring nations: the Kingdom of the Jackals and the Cassarabians. The Kingdom of the Jackals is a Victorian England-like Empire thriving on steam power. The Cassarabians prefer bio-technology over steam. The story is distilled through two unlikely protagonists, Jack Keats and Omar ibn Barir; both are the epitome of the anti-hero.
Jack Keats is a street urchin trying to provide for himself and his siblings after gambling debts place his father into debtor’s prison. A botched robbery places Jack before the magistrate in a scene reminiscent to Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. Jack’s sentence is forced service into the Kingdom of the Jackals’ Royal Aerostatical Navy. Jack is assigned to the RAN airship Iron Partridge and finds himself going to war.
Omar ibn Barir was born a slave in the middle eastern lands of Cassarabia. In a chance of fate, Omar is unexpectedly freed then must learn to fend for himself. He joins the service of the Caliph’s military forces and is introduced to the biologicks created by the Cassarabians priesthood.
The novel is told in two narrative modes and switches by the chapter from either Jack’s or Omar’s points of view. This allows the reader to get into the mind of each character and gives insight into the military and country they each serve. Hunt did a good job developing his worlds and pressing the action to create an indelible story. I admit that it took me a couple of chapters to get into this novel, yet the story does pick up and I found the novel rather entertaining as long as I set aside any preconceived ideas and overlooked the stereotypical ethnic and gender portrayals found within the book. Jack Cloudie is Stephen Hunt’s fifth novel set in this fantastical steampunk world; I have yet to read Hunt’s earlier novels, but I found that Jack Cloudie seemed to stand well on its own.
Whether you are a fan of steampunk, alternative history, or just looking for a good read, Jack Cloudie is fairly well written and an entertaining read.
Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Tor Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.