The Court of the Air
by Stephen Hunt
Review by Harriet Klausner
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765320421
Date: 10 June 2008 List Price $25.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
After working at the Handsome Lane Laundry and breaking a taboo by reading, young Molly Templar is fired; this is the fourth time in four months. Her inability to keep a job angers the orphanage owner the Beadle, who has one year left to abuse her before the lass becomes free. The Beadle next apprentices her to one of Sun Gate's leading employers Damson Emma Fairburn, who runs Fairburn and Jarndyce, a brothel.
However, not long after arriving at her latest job site, Molly witnesses a brutal murder that frightens her. She races back to the poorhouse orphanage, only to find a slaughterhouse; every orphan and some adults are dead. Molly flees into the streets, but fears she has no place that will be safe; she knows in both cases, she was the intended victim. Someone wants her dead because she has a secret that if revealed will expose several people plotting against the state.
Oliver Brooks was living with his merchant uncle until his relative was killed and he was framed as the murderer. Special agents of the Fey chase him so Oliver flees for his life not sure where he can find safety. Assisted by an agent of the Court of the Air who accompanies him, the lad begins to unravel family secrets that suddenly endanger him. When Oliver and Molly meet, they soon team up to battle an ancient evil long thought dead after its previous arousal one millennium ago; this time this malevolence has powerful ruthless allies.
This is an ultra supersonic speed Dickens fantasy thriller starring two likable orphans on the run; her underground and him in the air. Molly is a fascinating protagonist who expects to make something positive of herself once she becomes of legal age; that is, if she can survive the employment opportunities the Beadle assigns her to. However, her jobs seem trite when she is forced on the run with assassins pursing her at the orders of their otherworldly masters. Oliver (no relation to Mr. Twist although in some ways just as naive) is in more of a mess as he comes from a slightly pampered background to being targeted by Fey hunters who insist on killing him before the truth behind his uncle's murder surface. His allies are agents who would mark him expendable if he was not important to their cause of preventing the return of abusive ancient gods (don't try to figure out why the insurgents want them back as they are a nasty lot).
The pace of the plot is frenzied chaos with plenty of frantic moments for both lead characters whose subplots run parallel until they meet up. This incredibly hectic pace does not allow much character development beyond the orphans. Adding to the wild pace and further preventing depth to the cast is every gizmo including the kitchen sink is tossed into the mix. Thus put on your seatbelts for a frenetic cat and mouse encounter that includes some nasty paranormal adversaries as this is an exciting tale of two orphans trying to save the world from those who want Armageddon now.