The Black Lung Captain by Chris Wooding
Volume 2 of the Tales of the Ketty Jay
Published by Gollancz, July 2010 (Review copy received.)
Review by Mark Yon
Retribution Falls (reviewed HERE last year) was, for many, a highlight of the books published last year. As it was for me, one of my top five in the SFFWorld review of 2009.
Bearing this in mind, starting on the second novel is consequently sometimes a tricky business, as for the expectant reader the bar is raised a little higher: the setting is in place, the characters are a little more known… can the next be as good as the first? Better, even?
I’m pleased to type that, yes, The Black Lung Captain is as good, and dare I say it, even better than the first.
The background is pretty much as before: Darian Frey is the captain of a rag-tag bunch of sailors – sorry, aircraft crew – whose days are spent getting by, stealing from where they can in order to keep afloat = sorry, in the air – on the good ship Ketty Jay.
Here the tale is set about a year after the events of Retribution Falls. The Ketty Jay is holding together – just – yet despite their benefits received at the end of Retribution Falls, the difference between staying in space and staying in harbour the hangar is often pretty slim.
Along then comes an offer that Darian can’t refuse. Captain Grist offers untold riches found by an explorer in a crashed aircraft on the island of Kurg. An island known for its violent monsters and difficult conditions.
The thing is, Captain Grist needs Frey’s daemonologist, Crake, to do it. So the whole crew go to retrieve what they anticipate will be treasure, but in the end is not what they expect. Along the way they meet Reaver-like Manes, the Century Knights (again) and Frey tangles with his ex-wife Trinica, which is never a good thing.
This one’s a humdinger. Great pace, teeth-rattling battle scenes, terrific characters, lovely world-building slyly dropped throughout. As you would want, we learn more about our crew and their past as things go horribly wrong. Chris’s action scenes are wonderful, as is his dialogue between a pretty dysfunctional crew. There’s a nice sense of fun and some humorous touches that also works well – Harkins’s ongoing feud with Slag, the ship’s cat, is a delight – and these are combined effectively with some nicely creepy components (here mainly involving group minds and Daemonism) and even pathos. Scenes with Bess, the childlike golem, still steal the show for me.
The ending is a tough one to pull off – there’s an awful lot spinning in the air by the end and yet there is a satisfyingly bitterweet ending. It is not (thank goodness!) a cliff-hanger type ending, though there are some interesting ideas about the Awakeners shown that will no doubt be resolved in later books.
If you’re thrilled by tales of betrayal and revenge, space pirates, incredibly fast spaceship chases, great character repartee and steam punk sensibilities (though I think I am allowed to call it ‘bucklepunk’ following our conversations with Chris on the SFFWorld Forums) this one is a great read.
You can read it easily enough on its own, though I would perhaps still recommend you read Retribution Falls first. If not, go back and read it afterwards.
Recommended wholeheartedly – I love this series! Go bucklepunk!
Mark Yon, August 2010