Words: Brody Rossiter
Stephen Hunt has made a name for himself as an accomplished purveyor of fantasy, crime and steampunk fiction. The author of the best-selling Jackelian Series and the founder of the popular online genre magazine, SF Crowsnest, has consistently merged the thrilling with the unique. Hunt’s latest offering not only continues this spellbinding trend of teaming far-flung fantasy and raw characterisation, but also elevates his storytelling to towering new heights.
The first novel of a major new fantasy series, The Far-called Sequence, In Dark Service relates the story of an alternate world plagued by one of reality’s most devastating crimes, slavery. Pastor Jacob Carnehan spends his days providing for his family and congregation; placing bread on the table and ensuring blood isn’t spilt upon the bar of the local inn. Carter, Jacob’s son longs for excitement and adventure beyond the reaches of his humdrum township surroundings, but in the wake of a reckless teenage duel the young thrillseeker gets much more than he bargained for. Slavers rip Carter from the only life he has known and sequester him amidst a strange and often cruel new world of the unknown.
Unlike the manner in which Hunt elected to fill the unique universe of his Jackelian books with a series of standalone stories, the author’s latest venture into fantasy is far stricter in terms of its intertwining sequential storytelling – offering readers the chance to embark on the first stage of what promises to be a daring new journey. Jacob must cast away his pacifist lifestyle and fight, steal, blackmail, and betray his way across the this immeasurable world in the faint hope of being reunited with his son before it is too late.
The typical steampunk genre juxtaposition of smoking mechanical marvels and surviving relics of yore are all present, vast airships soar, flintlocks fire, and unforgiving steel is thrust and swung. Yet Hunt’s exploration never feels rehashed from familiar traits and tropes, offering variety whilst still remaining immersive. Immediately, within the space of the opening chapter an intricately fleshed out set of unique characters and races are introduced – alongside their traits both brilliant and dangerous.
In Dark Service possesses much complexity in terms of its detailed and often riveting exploration of locales and the differing characters which call them home. That complexity extends to Hunt’s language, though the book manages keep its epic scale in check, ensuring not to alienate the reader with overcomplicated and meandering prose – offering an exhilarating read for fantasy hunters young, old, seasoned, or just discovering the genre.
A welcome escape for those looking to fly through exotic lands on something other than the back of dragon, In Dark Service along with its thrilling set pieces, rich characterisation and vibrant lands is a perfect beginning to Hunt’s series of adventurous expeditions.