Friday, September 24, 2010

The Black Lung Captain: A Tale of the Ketty Jay

If anyone has read my recent review of Chris Wooding's first tale of the Ketty Jay Retribution Falls, then you'll be aware that I thought the book was immense fun. That made me look forward to the followup The Black Lung Captain with keen anticipation.

I was not disappointed, if anything, The Black Lung Captain is even better and more fun than it's well received predecessor.

Much like Retribution Falls the story begins right in the middle of a dangerous and life threatening situation. Captain Darian Frey and his misfit crew are down on their luck and have been reduced to unsuccessfully robbing orphanages, Frey's skewed moral compass justifies this as okay because he himself is an orphan, just to keep their derelict ship in the air. That's when they meet Captain Harlin Grist. He has a proposition for the crew of the Ketty Jay. All they need to do is accompany him to a remote island populated by dangerous beasts and subhuman savages, and use the talents of their daemonist; Grayther Crake, to retrieve a fortune from a crashed aircraft. Yes, it's crazy and possibly suicidal, but there's money to be made here.

The fun really begins when the object of Grist's desire has been located and retrieved. The future of a world could hinge on the possession of that object and everyone wants it. Cross and doublecross ensues, there may have even been a triplecross in there, and Frey and his crew are caught up in the middle of it all. Old friends and enemies return. The bonds between the members of the Ketty Jay's crew are tested to the limits, and it takes the reader on a breathless thrill ride.

Initially I had an air of I've seen this before about the book as it did follow the formula of Retribution Falls quite closely early on, and there didn't seem to be anything new to learn about the characters I'd come to love in the first book, but then Wooding changed the story, introduced new elements and delved further into the lives of the crew. Again there were echoes of Firefly with the Manes; zombielike creatures who were very reminiscent of the cult show's Reavers. That's a minor quibble, though.

The moments between Crake and his golem Bess were particularly touching and well done. The continuing battle between twitchy pilot; Harkins and ship's cat; Slag provided some brilliant comic moments with a surprising resolution. We also discover that there's more to Frey than initially met the eye in Retribution Falls. The characters are not cardboard cutouts, they have depth and history.

The world building continues to the extent that I thought a map would be most useful. There are two distinct levels of society on Vardia, the haves and the have nots. Frey tends to move between both worlds as the situation demands. The society party in Retribution Falls was one of my favourite sequences in that book and there's another delightful soiree in The Black Lung Captain, and an interlude at a university which is also fascinating.

The Black Lung Captain proves that lightning can strike twice and has me eagerly awaiting the next tale of the Ketty Jay The Iron Jackal.

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