Retribution Falls. Shit, it even won an award (or something) as one of the top books that I read in 2011. With serious cred like that to kick off the series, it was only a matter of time before I got my hands on the next installment in The Tales of the Ketty Jay series and took another dip into the waters of bucklepunk mayhem.
The Black Lung Captain picks up about a year after the events of Retribution Falls and finds the crew of the Ketty Jay stuck in the same old ruts. Crake is still wallowing in guilt and shame from actions in his past; Jez is still feeling lonely because she can't share her big secret with the crew; Harkins is still afraid of everything under the sun, including Slag the psycho cat; Pinn is still pining over his sweetie; Malvery is still a slobby drunk; Silo is still fixing shit in the engine room; and Frey is still trying to figure out how to carve out a happy life for himself.
Oh, and the crew is broke.
Well, lucky (or unlucky?) for the crew of the Ketty Jay, they are soon approached with a tempting offer that involves a bit of risk, and high reward. This job offer comes in the from of one explorer by the name of Rodley Hobb and one gruff looking, cigar chomping captain by the name of Harvin Grist. The two require the help of Frey's crew, namely the deamonist, Crake, to help unlock a magically protected door. Of course, the door is part of a downed ship in the middle of a far off mysterious and dangerous rain forest.
This is exactly the kind of job Frey and his crew excel at, however, not all is as it seems. Before too long, Frey and crew are wishing they had someone as insightful as Pete to deliver this wonderful piece of advice:
Unfortunately for Captain Frey he soon discovers that he's in way over his head and is forced to take desperate actions to make things right. With powerful bedfellows and old enemies helping him out Frey must lock down his fortune before his whole crew falls apart.
Aside from being ridiculously fun and entertaining, the most amazing quality of The Black Lung Captain is that it is an even better book than Retribution Falls. Chris Wooding has taken pretty much every element that made the first novel great and kicked it up a notch. An impressive feat.
The characters that populate this novel have definitely reached that point where they stop feeling like characters and more like old friends. Wooding wasn't content to just rest on the character development he had in the first novel. Instead he added more layers to each member of the crew, and further fleshed out their past, and their inner feelings and demons. Wooding also develops a few side characters as well, which makes the story feel bigger, and gives the reader the sense that the events will have ramifications that spread beyond Frey and his crew.
Another quality of The Black Lung Captain that I love, and the same goes for Retribution Falls, is how much fun these books are. Wooding has found the perfect balance between action, characters, plot, humor, and drama. It all magically comes together to make one fantastically great read. I really think a book this fun and this engaging is a rare find, yet Wooding has written two gems so far.
I do however, have one gripe. Maybe it's the fantasy lover in me, but I really wish there was a map included here. Only because I struggle with the scale and distance of places. I don't know how fast the airships can travel, so it is hard to judge how far away places are or how big the land is they are covering. This little gripe doesn't really do anything to decrease my enjoyment, I just wonder about the mechanics.
So, if you haven't pulled the trigger on this series yet, I really think you should. The Tales of the Ketty Jay novels are some of the best on the shelves these days.