The Kingdom Beyond the Waves
by Stephen Hunt
Review by Tom Easton
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765320438
Date: 21 July 2009 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Stephen Hunt's The Kingdom Beyond the Waves (sequel to The Court of the Air) is a strange steampunk homage to Jules Verne.
When Verne did it, it wasn't steampunk. But we know it's homage because one villain is Jules Robur, and if I recall Verne's Robur the Conqueror aright, Hunt's and Verne's Roburs are alike in their tragic background, their technological prowess, and their megalomaniacal ambitions to save the world.
Hunt's world has a deep past, far back in which oil-fueled barbarians destroyed civilization. Since then, humanity has given rise to several variants, steammen (robots) have established their own realm, and deep in the jungle lies the greenmesh, where plants and animals, and whatever humans intrude, comprise a hivemind of frightening power.
Amelia Harsh is an archeologist with an obsession, the ancient city of Camlantis, which supposedly endured for two millennia of unparalleled peace and prosperity. The obsession has destroyed her academic reputation (just as an obsession with Atlantis might in our world), but fortunately, at the very nadir of her career, Abraham Quest, the entrepreneur whose financial manipulations destroyed Amelia's father, invites her to lead an expedition deep into the greenmesh in search of Camlantis. He has ancient documents that say where it used to lie before civil war tore it loose from the Earth and threw it into the sky. He also has a secret air force of newly designed aerostats and the money to hire her the crew she needs.
Meanwhile, a pretty young thing has begged a certain masked hero to rescue her poor father from the death camps in a neighboring tyranny. Soon after that, the graves of the oldest steammen start being robbed. But of this Amelia knows nothing. She must deal with sabotage on her submersible, a native attack on the jungle town where they stop for repairs, being trapped by rogue steammen who want to throw them to giant dinosaurs, and finally being nabbed by the Daggish of the greenmesh and sent to the ruins of Camlantis to retrieve an artifact of ancient potency. There is thus more than a little homage to the whole Indiana Jones and Lost Worlds genres of fiction (which last Verne also had a hand in, as did A. Conan Doyle and others).
When she succeeds, she finally learns of Abraham Quest's true ambitions. Her life's quest is achieved, but now the question is whether Quest can be foiled. And can she possibly survive the foiling?
The tale is packed with incident and echoes of many seminal works of the science fiction genre. It can be enjoyed as a straight action yarn, but I think if one is aware of those seminal works of the past, one can enjoy it even more.