Stephen Hunt – From The Deep Of The Dark

One of the downsides of reviewing several book of a series after each other is that it becomes hard to review the later novels independently. You will automatically compare it with the previous ones and not judge it on its own merits. On the other hand it does provide insight into how readable the series remains when reading them all together.

The reason why I make this remark is because of this review of From The Deep Of The Dark (2012) by Stephen Hunt. It is the sixth book of the steampunk Jackelian series and the fifth in a row I’ve read and reviewed. In my earlier reviews I made some comments about the author sometimes taking it easy by rehashing plot elements and structures that worked well before. Until now he managed to add in enough variation to avoid doing so too much. With From The Deep Of The Dark he failed to avoid it.

The cause of this failure I can explain. The first third of the novel starts well and original and includes much to set up expectations. Unlike the previous novels there are now three main protagonists of which one is a familiar one I enjoyed before, so I was happy to see him return. Here I have to add that three main protagonists proved too much for the story as they don’t get sufficient attention. Only one of the two really gets established with the quality that we are used to. The other remains rather stereotypical.

After a good beginning Hunt starts disclosing the plot and here it goes awry. Initially there is a mystery to discover. Instead of following this course Hunt decides to expand the scope of the plot wildly. The threat is far larger than any character could have imagined. To solve this plot problem he introduces a plot device he used before and which in this series damages the story, except for the first novel, where it did work. This is the fantasy element. Overall Hunt founds his steampunk world on science fiction. There are some light fantasy elements to make it a bit weirder. This works well. Whenever Hunt cannot solve the plot in a regular way he adds in fantasy to fix it. This is necessary when he makes the plot too big and the scope too vast. When he does this he loses control of the story. He must follow a certain course to solve the problems he created with this plot. This results in the plot becoming predictable. Actually, much of the next two-thirds of the novel held few surprises for me. I had seen it used all before. The only questions I had were if he would use this or that at certain points. There were some surprising moments, luckily, so it was not all a disappointment.

The grand plot problem also had another downside. Hunt introduces a new underwater world to expand his universe. Before we get there the grand plot has already kicked in and because he has to follow through the set course he has almost no time to explore this new world. That he used the underwater world addition is rather striking, as another steampunk series, Shadows Of The Apt, also has a novel doing, The Sea Watch, something similar. Although I consider Hunt’s steampunk world to be more interesting and better realized overall, he fails here against The Sea Watch, which does take the time to establish the underwater world. Anyways, the problem with the set course is that it failed for me because I had seen it too much already in his previous novels. If I had read this novel one or more years later it would probably have worked much better. Nevertheless the grand plot problem remains an issue with Hunt’s plotting as he has a tendency to stick to that instead of aiming for something more reasonable which allows him to develop and explore characters and settings more. A more regular plot would also allow for more variation because grand plots leave little space for doing something different.

Another thing which I noticed was that the plot elements of this novel contain many similarities to the third novel of the series, The Rise Of The Iron Moon. I gave a pretty negative review of that novel. It almost feels to me that this novel is a rewrite of that novel, trying to remove a lot of discrepancies, inconsistencies and flaws, while keeping the essences. I have to say Hunt did succeed in his aim if he wanted to do a rewrite as From The Deep Of The Dark is a pretty decent novel.

My conclusion of the novel is mixed. As an independent novel it would have worked well enough. Even if the story is a standalone one, it is part of a series so it will be compared to them.  Many of the earlier novels were pageturners for me. I could hardly put them down. As this novel became quite predictable to me because Hunt re-used so many plot elements it became harder for me to continue as he didn’t seem able to steer off the course he was bound to follow. This rehashing was already slowly becoming a problem in the earlier novels and here he failed to avoid them. He is getting stuck on his own clichés and apparently does not realize it himself. In the series this is a reasonable novel. Nowhere close to the low level of the third book, but not near the good quality of the four other novels in the series. If you want to enjoy this one sufficiently, make sure to read it some considerable time after the other novels.

 

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