The Iron Jackal by Chris Wooding
Published by Gollancz, October 2011
ISBN: 978 0 575 09807 7
Review by Mark Yon
Book Three of Chris’ bucklepunk series, and things are settling down nicely. After the events of The Black Lung Captain, Darian Frey, captain of the good spaceship Ketty Jay, has been hired by his ex-fiancee, Trinicia Dracken, to retrieve and help offload a valuable artefact from a train.
Things are actually looking up for Frey. His crew have not killed each other, despite chances to do so, and he’s in employment. The Jay’s been refitted and holding together quite nicely, for a change. Such good fortunes clearly cannot last – and they don’t.
Hitting the ground running, there’s a bar shootout and a breathless chase across the rooftops of Shasiith, all in the first few pages, the pace is as frenetic as we’ve come to expect.
The heist occurs, though it is unexpectedly messier than anticipated. The artefact is taken and foolishly taken out of its transport case by Darian. A two-bladed sword, the object stabs Darian’s hand and gives him a ‘black spot’, something that, it is told, will kill him. As the tale unfolds, things get complicated for Darian and this has consequences for his motley crew.
If I had any complaints this time around, and I am struggling a little, really, it’s that this time around, more so than at any time previous, I’m noticing the joins a little more. The train heist is reminiscent of the Firefly TV episode The Train Job, the roof chase Jason Bourne, the Thief of Baghdad or Hitchcock’s Vertigo. It’s very well done, it’s clearly an homage, yet unlike previous books in the series, in places I’m getting that feeling of ‘been here before’. Though some of the events here are pretty much telegraphed before they happen, it’s like watching the inevitability of a car crash that keeps you reading.
However, I quibble. What is the strength here is the great characterisation and the sparkling dialogue that characters seem to generate without effort. We have some issues amongst the crew resolved, some closure on events of the past and a new crew member who seems to settle in pretty well, and the others are there in their typically sniping best. We also have another great ‘Bess moment’, my favourite character. As we are now starting to get to know the characters of Chris’s universe more, this allows a little more subtlety than I was expecting. In the end what we see is that despite all their arguing, fighting and disagreements, at the finish the crew of the Ketty Jay stand for each other and are the stronger for it.
This is another winner, and clearly fans of the series are not going to be disappointed.
Mark Yon, October 2011