Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Iron Jackal

In 2009 British fantasy author Chris Wooding (The Braided Path and The Fade) started a new series with Retribution Falls. As Retribution Falls was referred to as A Tale of The Ketty Jay, it was reasonable to assume that there would be further books in the future. Retribution Falls was a steampunk inspired, audience pleasing swashbuckler and it’s success and enjoyability was repeated in 2010 with the sequel Black Lung Captain. I’ve enjoyed and reviewed both books here. I was eager to get my hands on and read The Iron Jackal. The annual Tale of The Ketty Jay has become one of the highlights of my reading year.

Following the events of Black Lung Captain, smuggler Darian Frey and his rag tag crew have become minor celebrities. While being recognised for their efforts is nice the notoriety doesn’t put food on the table or aerium in the tanks of the Ketty Jay, so Frey takes on a retrieval job from his rival and occasional lover bounty hunter Trinica Dracken. The capturing of the item in question; a much wanted relic of a lost Vardian civilisation is dangerous enough, but it’s what happens when Frey is unwise enough to play around with the relic that really sets the explosive events of the book off and gives it the title.

Frey’s hand becomes infected with a daemon, a daemon that plagues the smuggler’s mind and will take his life if he can’t restore the relic to it’s original keeping place by a certain time. First Frey has to get the relic back, and he’ll need all his crew and their talents to do that. Then he has to get the one person in the world who can take him to the relic's origin, that individual is heavily guarded and his captors aren’t about to let him go without a fight. It’s about then that things really become dangerous…

Although I had a lot of fun reading The Iron Jackal I’ve come to expect that from this series and at times I had a bit of ‘I’ve seen this before’ air about the events. Chris Wooding has revealed so much about the crew that he didn’t have a lot left to tell us about them, although the former slave and mechanic, the taciturn Silo remained a bit of a closed book, so we got his background this time. I appreciated the story and it gave the character a lot more depth, he actually communicates in words now, not grunts and facial expressions, but his story didn’t have the same impact on me as navigator Jez’s secret, and the daemonist Grayther Crake’s tragic past did in Black Lung Captain. Wooding is gradually fleshing out the world, readers got to find out more about the Samarlans and their Arabian/North African influenced culture, plus a little bit about the almost mythical former dominant race of the planet.

I’m still trying to figure out exactly what the Manes are. I had thought they were something like zombies previously, but Jez’s actions and interactions with another member of that strange and powerful undead race made me think they’re more closely related to vampires.

Some of the action set pieces were fantastic and edge of the seat stuff. The hijacking of the train carrying the relic, twitchy pilot Harkins’ star turn in an insane flying race reminiscent of The Phantom Menace’s pod race and the explosive finale in the stronghold of a lost civilisation.

Darian Frey himself gained some more depth and readers saw other sides to him. It would appear that where Trinica is concerned he’s a bit of a hopeless romantic, plus he has affection for his crew that transcends his usual amorality. The interaction between Crake and his indestructible golem Bess were again highlights for me and it’s a testament to Chris Wooding’s skill that he can evoke such emotion using a character that has no voice and no facial expression. From the ending it also appears that the Ketty Jay has gained a crew member, but it will take the next book to see if this is a permanent addition to the roster.

Readers were reunited with old friends aside from the Ketty Jay’s crew in Trinica Dracken and the Century Knights Samandra Bree and Colden Grudge. I’m not certain we’ll see Grudge again, and he talks about as much as Bess, but I think Samandra will definitely return.

If anyone has enjoyed the first two Tales of the Ketty Jay, then they will also like The Iron Jackal, but to continue the strong start I think Chris Wooding will need to add a new string or two to his bow in forthcoming books.

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