Stephen Hunt – Jack Cloudie

I continue my reviews of the Jackelian series by Stephen Hunt with the fifth novel Jack Cloudie (2011). Those who read my previous review will note I am seemingly skipping the fourth book. This is not actually the case as the fourth book was the first of the series that I read. So you can find my review of Secrets Of The Fire Sea in my post of a few months ago.

Stephen Hunt keeps varying the amount of fantasy and science fiction in his steampunk novels. The first and third novel had a more stronger fantasy component while the second and fourth had very little with a stronger science fiction component. One might guess Jack Cloudie would have a stronger fantasy component again, but this time he breaks with pattern as Jack Cloudie has very little fantasy. Like Secrets Of The Fire Sea the scope of the story is toned down, although there is still a major threat that has to be overcome.

For the first time in the series there are two male protagonists and the story contains a range of new characters, although one familiar one remains, as Hunt doesn’t seems able to let go him. The story itself does not need him as he is put in an unusual position. Also for the first time one of the main characters is a foreigner which provides another change. Even so, they are not Hunt’s strongest protagonists. Hunt fails to make them unique although he does provide a certain gusto to both of them. Nevertheless the characterization is not very strong compared to the other books except the third.

With this fifth book I also noted a contrast with the first three books, which had a bit of a dark and grim atmosphere about them that reminded me of the feeling I had when reading China Mieville‘s New Crobuzon novels. After the third book, which was very dark, Hunt changed his tone. Secrets Of The Fire Sea still had some dark themes, but overall it was lighter and the characters did not go through the heavy hardships and terrors of the first three books. The Mieville-vibe was not there anymore and Hunt continues in the same style in Jack Cloudie. Hunt aims at having more fun while keeping the familiar elements he used previously.

The plot of the novel is also somewhat simpler than the first three novels, although there are plenty of twists. There is still plenty of story but the road taken goes much faster. The pace is actually rather fast and sometimes too fast. In one scene characters are going to leave a place and in the next scene other characters refer to the place in the past. A number of events are skipped and the reader can only assume the previous scene did occur before the reference in the next scene. A few extra scenes to fill in the time difference could have helped there. Now it just felt odd.

After my disappointment with the third novel this one got me right back on track. Especially the more uplifting and lighter tone of the story helped a lot. It is still a rather traditional plot. Hunt follows paths that have been successful before. The main differences which allow the story to be something quite more and very entertaining are the steampunk elements and the mixing of ideas that he puts together to form a vibrant brew. As usual there are still minor flaws, but they remain superficial. The main weakness of the novel are the main protagonists which are not as original and developed as Hunt has managed in his other novels. It is for this reason why I put it on fourth of the five novels read until now, although the gap to fifth is huge and with the top three small. Recommended.


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