Third fantasy set in Hunt's teeming, mind-boggling steampunk universe (The Court of the Air, 2007, etc.), this time complete with interplanetary invaders courtesy of H.G. Wells.
Astronomer and steamman Aliquot Coppertracks notices odd celestial events: signs of civilization on supposedly dead Mars; the abrupt return of a comet centuries before it's due; and, impossibly, stars shifting their positions in the heavens. Kyorin, representative of Martian humans who have been resisting evil overlords for eons, makes contact with author Molly Templar, who in turn rouses wily old U-boat captain Commodore Black, the eerie outlaw Oliver Brooks and others. But in advance of the invading Army of Shadows and their irresistible superscience have come bloodthirsty "slats" in pursuit of Kyorin and his message. What do the evil Martians want with humanity? In a word, lunch. Once the impending invasion can no longer be ignored, the rival realms of Jackals (think Victorian Britain) and Quatérshift (post-revolutionary France) form an uneasy alliance. An expedition to Mars must be mounted, so that Kyorin's people can pass on their fading knowledge in the hope of defeating the monstrous slats. Along the way, Hunt splendidly ridicules both the pompous Victorian scientific establishment and the French Revolution's more pretentious aspirations. Once again, however, the narrative's overstuffed and overcomplicated, which Hunt fans evidently relish, and improbably prolonged, with a showdown that recedes almost as fast as the plot rushes toward it.
A swaggering, eye-filling, brain-swizzling extravaganza, though Hunt's hyperkinetic saga may be a taste not all readers will wish to acquire.