The Iron Jackal by Chris Wooding

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The Iron Jackal by Chris Wooding

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: The entire world of science fantasy and its kitchen sink get thrown in the way of Captain Frey in a quest to save his life, when he approaches danger in his typically carefree way. This third book isn't perfect but there is little to match this in its genre.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 448 Date: October 2012
Publisher: Indigo
ISBN: 9781780620855

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For once I don't feel like devoting my first paragraph to a teasing plot summary. And while I'm here to judge the book and not the cover, even the British paperback blurb agrees, and gives nothing away in its woolliness. I am duty bound to say this is the third book to feature Darian Frey and the rest of the crew of his flying craft the Ketty Jay. If pressed I will say it starts with him indulging in a further instance of thievery, making a mistake, and then finding just how much is in the science fantasy universe that can possibly get between him and what might repair the damage.

What's more, if I were to give more details I might end up having to make you believe this is not a derivative mish-mash. The first big action scene involves beach buggies, but we are a long way from that awful Star Trek film that featured them. The mistake manifests in a way that should have every primary schoolchild shouting out the reference. But beyond that, while some scenes are designed to imitate computer games, and other things borrow from here and there, the world is definitely a fresh and incredibly well-created one. With writing this good you never get exposition – the history of the countries covered here touches on the plot in varying forms of subtlety just as it does on the characters, and no more. We get to learn a lot more about the crew-members, from the one who turned his daughter into a golem, to the stupid one, and the one who is dead, and might be merging with a population of shades.

To make a further reference, I think you have to set Captain Frey alongside Harry Harrison's Jim di Griz in the annals of comedic genre heroes. Take the Bond-style gadgetry away from Slippery Jim, add Frey's colleagues, and you have something like the hero here. The comedy seems ramped up from the previous two episodes, and features such things incongruous to the genre as earthy swear words we know and use, and running jokes about vocabulary.

While I'm comparing this volume to the prior ones, I think the comedy is more prevalent, possibly to the detriment of the action. The swirling, all-encompassing battle scenes are harder to find here, and the Ketty Jay herself is less of a character – to the point where the man stoically mending her battle after battle has to find something else to do. But the writing, while losing some of the kinetic bravura, is certainly not worse. I don't want to make you think this is one of those hyper-detailed genre books where every detail except people's bowel movements is itemised – if only because a few of those are mentioned here. But this is definitely an immersive read – details come back to be relevant much later on, seemingly trivial elements are allowed to help build up these lives we're reading about, and we see so much of this universe it stands out as one of the more successfully realised in science fantasy. If anything Wooding puts just a little too much in the way of Frey on his quest, but this was very close to getting a further half-star, and is one of those absorbing successes that just might appeal to those who rarely touch its genre.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

The series started here.

Buy The Iron Jackal by Chris Wooding at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Iron Jackal by Chris Wooding at

Buy The Iron Jackal by Chris Wooding at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Iron Jackal by Chris Wooding at


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