Stephen Hunt – Secrets Of The Fire Sea

My fiftieth review of the year is Secrets Of The Fire Sea (2010) by Stephen Hunt. It is a steampunk novel that feels more like science fiction than fantasy as the fantastical element is small, although not absent. A mishmash of technology provides a mixed combination of the society of his world, which is quite different from any Earthly analogies. Overall this novel provides few insights in the world the story takes place, as its setting is located at a distant island at the edge of civilization.

Secrets Of The Fire Sea starts off as a murder mystery which through other storylines quickly evolves into a greater mystery. The plot develops rapidly with much happening within a short interval. Halfway through the novel the story changes as the greater mystery gets preference over the murder mystery. Hunt keeps his pace, all the while expanding his plot until it reaches a grand finale. The novel is a real pageturner and it certainly caught me as well.

There are two main protagonists from whose view the story is told although some of the side characters also get time to provide a greater perspective and more action. The better of the two is the detective who with his unusual side-kick forms a great pair that I enjoyed a lot. I certainly want to see more of them in the future. The other characters remain somewhat bland although Hunt fleshes them out sufficiently. The fast pace of the story and the steady revelations concerning the mysteries leave hardly any time for character development. This can be a choice and with the engaging plot it is not missed.

The novel is far from perfect. The plot shift halfway through the book turns the murder mystery into an adventure story. The whole murder mystery gets overwhelmed and its solution later on is presented on a side note, not having gotten enough attention with lost focus due to the adventure plot having taken preference. In the end both plot halfs do not get enough attention and combining them gives the novel as a whole a mixed mood that might separately be very enjoyable, but is not wholly satisfactory together.

That said I was quite impressed by the ideas and strong writing style of Stephen Hunt, who dodges a number of steampunk clichés, at least in this novel, and makes it much more substantial. Personally I envision steampunk to be more science fiction than fantasy, the latter being the more commonplace in a number of novels I’ve encountered the past years. As I’ve written in one or more of my blog posts certain subgenres get swamped by average or cliché novels that take advantage of the popularity but scorn the essentials of it. It causes me to avoid those subgenres although I usually go by my gut feeling (which is usually very accurate) to try something out that may be something better. Now with Stephen Hunt I have the feeling he gets the steampunk genre right and I certainly want to read more to discover if he can sustain that opinion. After completing the novel I discovered that Secrets Of The Fire Sea, although being a rather standalone novel, is the fourth novel of a series taking place in the same world. So I will have more to read in the near future. This one is certainly recommended.

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