The first thing I’d say about The Black Lung Captain is that you MUST go out and read it, but before that, read Retribution Falls. I’ll wait. Good, you’re back. See, wasn’t that good? So, here we are, the second book in what seems like it could be an open-ended series and though it can stand on its own, what makes reading Retribution Falls before this one a good idea is you can appreciate just how great Chris Wooding is at character. The depth, believability, and perhaps most importantly, likeability of these characters is one of the great strengths of the novel.
In this second novel charting the adventures of the crew of the Ketty Jay, about a year after the events of Retribution Falls, our heroes are dealing with the fallout of their last adventure while still trying to make amends for things they’ve done in the past. Crake, the daemonologist, still feels guilt for the heinous act he committed before becoming a member of the crew. Jez is still coping with just what she is, Pinn is still pining for his lost love, and Frey is still trying to figure out who he is and what it is he ultimately wants.
When another potential big score comes to Frey’s attention, he is compelled to lead his crew on the mission for what seems to be their biggest payday yet. The enigmatic Captain Grist comes to Frey in the hopes of convincing Frey to use Crake’s skills of daemonology to open a magicked door on a crashed airship from a distant land which could have a virtual Pandora’s box of riches and power on board. Grist has an archaeologist of sorts, think of a low-rent Indiana Jones, who knows where the ship containing this lodestone of these supposed untold riches may be.
Well, of course things don’t go quite so well. But then again why would they? Crake leaves the group to sort out his issues, Pinn departs after he finds out his supposed girlfriend is getting married, and Jez’s true nature unsettles the crew. Oh yeah, and along the way, Frey and crew meet up with his arch-nemesis and former bride-to-be, Trinica Dracken. In order to get the MacGuffin that set the plot in motion, Frey finds it necessary to welcome Dracken on board the Ketty Jay as part of the crew. Considering she’s the one who swindled Frey and crew out of their prize the last time they met, Frey’s crew is none too pleased. What Frey never told the crew, was of the depth of their past relationship – that they were engaged to be married but Frey left her. Right, all this character conflict and our intrepid Big Damn Heroes have to retrieve the MacGuffin which could bring them the standard fame and glory, but could also save a good part of the world.
Well, to say this is a thrilling ride is an understatement. As I said earlier, what makes the book so un-put-down-ably enjoyable is knowing these characters. The best scenes are those between Frey and Dracken, the words unsaid and the palpable tension between the two – how their past informs their ‘current’ interactions made for an extremely emotional ride. At times, I was reminded of the relationship between Shanna and Hari Michaelson in Matthew Stover’s superb Heroes Die. The past that informs Crake’s current situation is just as heart-wrenching, as is the inner conflict Jez is dealing with as she comes to accept what she is.
The ending is a twisty-turny thing that amps the stakes for the crew and is a terrific payoff for the storyline and characters story-arcs. Though it does serve as a conclusion of sorts, it is also setting of tables for their next level of development that I can’t wait to follow.
On Chris’s Web site, he says the following about The Black Lung Captain:
This one was a joy to write, lovely and smooth, as by now the crew of the Ketty Jay were beginning to feel like old friends.
I couldn’t agree more – it was a joy to read, the narrative was powerfully addictive and the crew of the Ketty Jay have indeed become great friends about whom I care very much and want to see again and again.
© 2011 Rob H. Bedford