Hardcover: 592 pages
Publisher: Voyager (2 April 2007)
When I were a lad, novels were maybe 200 pages. Except LotR, of course, but everyone knew that novel was unusual. But now, we have things like this book weighing in at just under 600 pages, and nobody blinks twice.
So, what do we get here?
Actually, we get an amazing concoction that takes place in an analogue England some five centuries after its equivalent of the Civil War. That it's different is obvious pretty early on, when we find that this country's answer to the question of how to prevent the monarch raising arms against his people is to, quite literally, remove them at his coronation. (Since the imprisoned royal family now exist purely to breed a miserable figurehead that mobs can throw rotten fruit at, you can imagine how happy they feel about it. And actually, this isn't just scene setting - there are plot points here.)
Then there are the Circleists (the local equivalent of the Church) and the Carlists (the communityists [sic- deliberately]). Oh, and Jackals' navy (yes, that's the somewhat odd name for a nation that contains places like Pentshire and Middlesteel and so on) consists of aerostats - giant airships - rather than surface ships. But then, this country doesn't have sea as the wall around it so much as an artificial magical curse-wall. And then there's the other border - the Feymist: people who wander into that come back with strange powers.
Into this rich mix come a couple of characters, Oliver and Molly. Both are orphans, but one is in the workhouse, and the other lives with his uncle in a country town. Both are individually attacked and end up on the run from implacable enemies intent on their deaths. In the course of the novel, they both develop (though Oliver's sudden transformation is a little explosive. On the other hand, certain characters have been morbidly expecting it right from the start). And Molly's great secret only becomes apparent to her half way through.
This is a big book. It's not afraid to address serious themes, including the Quis Custodiat one. (The so-enlightened House of Guardians is reminiscent of the worst of Rotten Borough era Parliament.) The author kills off characters fairly readily, enhancing the air of jeopardy that ramps up to the point here the entire human race (and others) are in danger of having their souls ripped out - and there's an interesting blend of horror and politics black comedy on occasion.
It's also, for all its size, a well paced book. I didn't find any slow patches that I was skipping over, and the steady ramping of the threat to match the steady accumulation of friends and abilities keeps a good balance, right to the final, satisfying, battle. And the story is properly wrapped up - no need for any sequel, and only one or two loose threads that I noticed. I've not heard of Hunt before (though he's active in the SF field - with http://sfcrowsnest.com/), but this one was worth reading.
All in all, unexpectedly good fun.