The Kingdom Beyond the Waves
by Stephen Hunt
Review by Mel Jacob
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765320438
Date: 21 July 2009 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Set in the same steampunk world of The Court of the Air, Stephen Hunt's Kingdom Beyond the Waves takes the reader along paths blazed by other authors such as Haggard, Wells, and Kipling, but in a new jungle setting instead of Africa or South America. His heroine Amelia Harsh, a professor of archeology, is fascinated with Camlantis, a legendary utopia no one has yet found. Her dream coincides with Abraham Quest, a wealthy businessman who seeks to eliminate poverty, want, and war. The obstacles faced by Amelia exceed those Indiana Jones or Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody faced. Stronger than the average woman, Amelia has had her arms magically enhanced.
Her father imbued her with his love of learning and his knowledge of Camlantis. After his suicide because of bankruptcy, she forges her way seeking clues to the location of the ancient city. Danger waits at every turn. Quest hires her to undertake an expedition to the place he believes the city once stood and to locate clues to its present location in the sky above.
Together they recruit a crew to take Amelia upriver into the jungle. Monsters and strange native tribes bar the way. A mixed lot of scoundrels and Quest's private warriors accompany her. The scoundrels hope for pardons and treasure. Giant reptiles range the jungle and the queen of them all wants vengeance on their steamman guide who killed her mate.
A greater horror awaits, a jungle group mind absorbs all strangers into its hive. Those absorbed become automatons with no soul or ability to act independently.
Episodic in nature, the dangers and pressures never eases. Worse, a member of the crew is a traitor and works in hidden ways to sabotage the mission.
Much of the journey mirrors other adventure yarn including Haggard's King Solomon's Mines and Peters' Victorian archeological expeditions in Egypt to cite two. Here, steammen are self-aware automatons, have distinct personalities, and even their own nation. Some may suffer insanity.
Science and magic vie for dominance, although in most of the novel, science dominates with magic in a supporting role. Shamans provide ambiguous signs and add to the confusion. Hunt uses historical research for some developments taken from 19th century records.
Hunt's characters are focused on their obsessions and are not highly complex. Themes involve good versus evil, ambition, free-will, and utopias. How he resolves their desires and reconciles world views takes the reader on an exciting trip.
His first fantasy novel, For the Crown and the Dragon appeared in1994. His Court of the Air (2007) established his steampunk fantasy world and received a Booksellers' award. In addition to Court… and Kingdom…, Hunt has four other novels planned for this world, albeit each complete by itself. Some characters from earlier books will appear in the new ones. He has submitted a third novel as yet untitled to Tor.