Black Lung Captain: Tales of the Ketty Jay by Chris Wooding

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Black Lung Captain: Tales of the Ketty Jay by Chris Wooding

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Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A welcome second rollick through this world of aircraft-borne pirates and their duplicity in the sight of treasure.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 448 Date: July 2010
Publisher: Gollancz
ISBN: 978-0575085176

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Things on board the Ketty Jay have never been as low. Darian Frey and his crew are even having trouble thieving from defenceless orphanages. So when the next token job-they-can't-refuse comes along, they fall under it's spell. An explorer has returned with tales of untold riches, courtesy of the most mysterious artefacts and treasures of an unknown civilization. The fact that the remains are those of an aircraft crashed in the most Arctic of rainforests, inhabited by the most evil beast-men monsters, is neither here nor there. The problems start with what they find there, which is worse than anyone could have expected - or indeed years ago, with a mysterious connection between the remains and the more unusual crewmember...

There were times early on in this book I had to wonder if Chris Wooding had not settled a little for the easy. The high action drama he seems to do effortlessly was there, also the poignant bits of more introverted character formation - but these seemed initially to be overlapping slightly on previous such instances. The comedic side of the book was not as prevalent as I remembered from the series opener, Retribution Falls. Also, the world in which these novels are set seemed too rich to rely on returning characters, and to build only on what had come before. But before too long I was wrapped in the drama, and had decided that our author had hardly made a false step.

This works as a standalone volume in the series, although things would be a lot clearer if you knew the world's set-up as regarding religion, soldierly forces and more. Also the characters, as well formed as they are, perhaps need more introduction - especially the one who killed his neice and trapped her soul in a metallic Golem, and Jez, the (other) dead one. They're countered with a very interesting sort of Borg-like hive mind, but one composed of wraiths. But the self-contained saga of what was on that island, and what people want with it, and what they're prepared to do to each other as a result, is great.

Perhaps even more than first time round this struck me as a superlatively formed piece of science fantasy. We need hardly worry how the world works - the Ketty Jay drops in on one Allsoul-forsaken outpost-cum-landing strip after another, flying courtesy of mysterious elements in her engines that are forever at breaking point. Most transport mentioned is in one kind of aircraft or another, there are mysterious daemonic technologies but not much else to mention, and copious unusual lifeforms - this is definitely neither straight sci-fi nor fantasy.

And being superlatively formed, the plot is more than satisfactory. Much is made in the blurb of double- and triple-crossing, but we knew to expect that from book one, and very rarely do we get the smugness of predicting what's happening. The characters perfectly fit in with their dramatic arcs, and also with the overall story, and nothing seems forced. So I'll return to that word, 'easy' - whether this was for Mr Wooding or not I'll never know, but this is more than easy to get swallowed up by, and spat out hours later, with a huge smile on one's face.

There are two more of these to come, according the author's news on his blog, and I'm looking forward to them both - if a little wary that this was a lot bulkier than the original, and not wishing for a similar progression in length. However, in mentioning that, I must concede that whereas book one was almost solely an adventure, this book covers themes, such as communality and commonality - and covers them most engagingly.

This is well worth recommending to people who like a sense of fun with their highly dramatic sci-fantasy.

I must thank Orion's kind people for my review copy.

There's a slight religious side to this book, as there is in The Holy Machine by Chris Beckett. For straight fantasy, I enjoyed The Lord of the Changing Winds (Griffin Mage) by Rachel Neumeier greatly.

Chris Wooding's Tales of the Ketty Jay series in Chronological order

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