Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Black Lung Captain by Chris Wooding

The Black Lung Captain by Chris Wooding is the second book in the Tales on the Ketty Jay. It is a tale delivers on the promise of the first book and guarantees that future books in the series (two have already been announced) are going to be worth getting.

In the first book, Retribution Falls, we are introduced to the captain and crew of the Ketty Jay. They are a sorry mess of misfits settling for a life of petty crime and brigandage. They all leave lives irretrievably damaged by character flaws that they are still . Their character flaws are played up: alcoholism, drug abuse, cowardice, whoremongering, even murderer. The captain and crew manage to stumble and connive their way to win in the end despite their shortcomings. They survive but not much more than that.

The second book continues few months later. The resolution of the fragile nature of the group is set against the personal demons that each crew member struggles with. I enjoyed Black Lung more than Retribution Falls because while the worldbuilding and plot were just as effective the character development was much more satisfying. The characters did not become a kinder, gentler crew thus engendering sympathy. Wooding drives deeper into character development giving everyone a unique personality instead of a cookie-cutter stereotypes.

The plot is fine, leading to some solid worldbuilding and secondary character development. It's not surprising that its not called a trilogy. There's certainly room for a long series with a caper alongside the ongoing themes of the supernatural, religious and political wthough finding out what blacklung was all about was both icky and disappointing. The benefit of having stronger characters in the second book was that the humourous elements were quite good. Wooding may have taken a page from Pratchett when decided to play up the crazy cat scenarios.

Captain Darian Frey's Kirkian flirtation with pretty women and addiction to gambling took a smart turn with the continuation of the bride left at the altar story. This subplot along with the crew as family theme provides a weight to the story missing from the first book. Fleshing out the knights as characters also guarantees more interesting stories.

Overall the quality of Black Lung Captain makes reading the first book well worth it. Kinda the opposite of Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by Jemisin where the first book was great and complete in and of itself. But the second book, while entertaining, felt a bit like gilding the lily.

The Wertzone:
Readers of that book will feel immediately at home here, as Wooding continues his Firefly-meets-steampunk story of a clapped out aircraft and its crew struggling to make ends meet in a hostile world of shady deals and, at the fringes of civilisation, hostile savages.

Speculative Horizons:
Verdict: Perhaps predictably, The Black Lung Captain doesn't match the brilliance of its predecessor. The characters are as strong as before, but the sense of excitement just isn't quite there. Perhaps this is merely because of expectations heightened by Retribution Falls, but it's equally likely to be due to the plot, which doesn't allow for the surprises that the first novel managed to fling the reader's way. That said, aside from the good characterisation, the events are supplemented by some interesting revelations about certain people and other aspects of the world, while the humour - again, as before - is well observed, with plenty of amusing moments to lighten the tone (which is perhaps a little darker this time around). In all, an enjoyable read - it just lacks the panache that made Retribution Falls exceptional.
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. But instead of me telling you about it, I’m just gonna quote this rather wonderful review in the Guardian:
“This is a steampunk romance full of battling aerium-fulled aircraft, villainous buccaneers and hordes of ravaging ghouls, held together by an expertly orchestrated plot which uses every trick in the book to keep the reader hooked… Marvellous.”
A third and fourth instalment are coming soon. Oh yeah.