For my review of the first in this series, Retribution Falls, click here.
The Black Lung Captain is the second in Chris Wooding’s Tales of the Ketty Jay, and the sequel to the excellent Retribution Falls. It follows Darian Frey and the crew of the Ketty Jay about a year after the events of Retribution Falls. They’re once again down on their luck, looking for work and doing anything they can to avoid another meeting with Trinica Dracken. And then, in comes Captain Grist, of the airship The Storm Dog. Again, Frey finds himself faced with an offer that is too good to be true, and has to enter an alliance with the mysterious and ferocious Captain Grist to do it. On the way he will have to contend with the religious sect known as the Awakeners, the infamous century knights and the terrifying Manes, whom we met briefly in Retribution Falls. The crew fight through a series of internal spats, contend with more than one of Frey’s exes and come face to face with that most terrifying of foes: Slag, the ship’s cat.
Black Lung Captain follows on from Retribution Falls in style. Wooding knows how to do pacing better than most authors out there right now. There’s something consistently exciting about reading a Ketty Jay novel, and it’s all down to the relentless pace of Wooding’s writing. Every character has something to do here – something which Retribution Falls didn’t always do quite right. There are still the fast and furious airship battles and hare-brained schemes we’ve come to know these characters for, but the story itself takes on a new level.
In Retribution Falls, Wooding started to lay the groundwork for some much bigger character arcs which were left to burn in the background. In Black Lung Captain, for most of the characters, he completely delivers and gives us some extremely satisfying resolutions to the many of their stories, and sets up further questions to be answered further down the line.
Along with Frey himself, Jez in many ways takes centre stage here – and it’s through her character that we’re introduced to a whole other side of this world that we barely knew existed in Retribution Falls.
The major sub-plots for the book involve Crake and his developing alcoholism, and his subsequent decision to do something about his life, and Pinn and his lady-love, and whether or not she’s really waiting for him to come home. But arguably the most satisfying sub-plot in the entire book, in hilarious and surprising ways, is that of the relationship between Harkins and the ship’s cat, Slag. In Retribution Falls, this was a minor sub-plot, which although funny, ultimately served only to give Harkins something to do in the book and to serve up some comic relief. In Black Lung Captain it serves the same purpose, but to a far greater extent. You’ll cheer every time these two appear on the page – I did.
The Black Lung Captain delivers on so many of the promises set up in Retribution Falls. It has a tighter plot, more for the side characters to do, and yet still manages to move at a breakneck pace. It was hilarious, touching, action-packed and just a really entertaining read. It could be read as a standalone, but you will get a lot more out of it for having read Retribution Falls. I can’t wait to see where the crew of the Ketty Jay are going next – so expect a review of book three, The Iron Jackal, very soon.