The Black Lung Captain – Chris Wooding
I enjoyed “Retribution Falls,” Chris Wooding’s first entry into the tales of the Ketty Jay series quite a bit. It was fun, witty and action packed. The characters had enough about them to set it a notch above other books of its kind. The reviews for the “Black Lung Captain” whilst still good were not as favourable as the first. Still I was looking forward to flying with Darian Frey again.
The Blurb:Darian Frey is down on his luck. He can barely keep his squabbling crew fed and his rickety aircraft in the sky. Even the simplest robberies seem to go wrong. It's getting so a man can't make a dishonest living any more.
Enter Captain Grist. He's heard about a crashed aircraft laden with the treasures of a lost civilisation, and he needs Frey's help to get it. There's only one problem. The craft is lying in the trackless heart of a remote island, populated by giant beasts and subhuman monsters.
Dangerous, yes. Suicidal, perhaps. Still, Frey's never let common sense get in the way of a fortune before. But there's something other than treasure on board that aircraft. Something that a lot of important people would kill for. And it's going to take all of Frey's considerable skill at lying, cheating and stealing if he wants to get his hands on it . . .
Strap yourself in for another tale of adventure and debauchery, pilots and pirates, golems and daemons, double-crosses and double-double-crosses. The crew of the Ketty Jay are back!
For me, “The Black Lung Captain” improves on “Retribution Falls” in every way. Although Darian Frey is undoubtedly the star of the show, each member of his crew has enough personality and back-story that they could conceivably be the lead protagonist.
It is the sign of a good book where I enjoy every character when they appeared on screen and was sad when they left. This is exactly what happened in “The Black Lung Captain.” Darian Frey is the captain of the Ketty Jay, a heap of junk that he is very fond of. He is unsure of his path but knows there is something missing from his life.
Frey’s obsession with Tranica is both satisfying and monotonous. You yearn for him to find some happiness but deep down you know it is not going to happen. It is part of the charm of the novel. When Frey is on form he is a lovable rogue however, if there is a criticism it is that when Frey does wallow, his self monologues tend to be a bit repetitive.
Tranica herself is a great character. She is enigmatic and ruthless. Just when you think you have her figured out, she surprises you. Chris Wooding does an excellent job of demonstrating her softer, more tortured side which explains why Frey does not want to give up on her.
After the events of the first book, the team on board the Ketty Jay are more cohesive. Frey also feels something akin to love for them now and actually cares what happens to them.
However, his leadership leaves a lot to be desired. Darian prefers to ignore the problems and sullen moods of his crew members operating on the “if I leave it long enough the problem will fix itself” school of thinking. Sometimes this is effective, often it is not. As a result, the issues of the crew slowly manifest until they reach a point of no return. It makes for interesting reading as each character’s actions are justified and you are able to empathise with their plight.
The most intriguing of these stories belongs to Jez and Crake. Both have secrets that eat away at them and both struggle to come to terms with their present situation. The Ketty Jay might be a refuge for those who do not wish to have their past questioned but it also full of crew that just want to belong. Jez and Crake fit this description perfectly and it is their inner turmoil that prevents them from fully fitting in.
Not all of the crew’s back-stories work. Harkins’ character is fairly flat and Silo’s history although interesting is underutilised. There is also the rather out of place POV of Slug the cat.
The plot hurtles along at 100 Kloms an hour. The rest of the supporting cast pop in and out like a revolving door but it is always interesting and always good fun. There are more twists and turns here then you can count, but they don’t ever feel contrived.
There are some nods to other films and books (hello Star Wars and Hulk). Some of them work and some feel a bit copy cat like.
Chris Wooding has created a world where flying ships and guns exist but technology never feels like the dominant force. The inhabitants are struggling to find their place and make a nice safe haven for themselves, but there is always the chance that anything good is temporary.
The ending is very good. What ending isn’t where lives are at stake and a climatic battle is fought? All in all, I really enjoyed “Black Lung Captain.” I would recommend it to anyone that loves fun, cool novels where the characters are riveting and interesting.
My rating: 8.8