The Black Lung Captain by Chris Wooding

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!

RETRIBUTION FALLS was fun, fast-paced, action-packed, brilliant stuff – and THE BLACK LUNG CAPTAIN is even better.

the-black-lung-captainThe Black Lung Captain is the second book in the Tales of the Ketty Jay. The first book, Retribution Falls, was one of my favourite reads last year and I was keen, if not a little hesitant, to get back with Frey and his crew for another adventure. When you read a book you enjoy so much it’s always a little worrying that you’ll pick up another only to find it doesn’t meet the expectations you have for it. Fortunately The Black Lung Captain met, and even exceeded, my expectations and proved that Chris Wooding can write a damned fine adventure novel with characters you’ll come to love. Again.

As we rejoin the crew of the Ketty Jay it is clear that not all is well. Resorting to stealing from an orphanage, a simple job that even Frey and his crew manage to botch, highlights this fact to a tee. All becomes clear that each member of the crew are dealing with their own problems, from Jez and her hidden secret as part-Mane, to Crake and his unbearable guilt over the death (and subsequent reincarnation as a Golem) of his niece, Bess. Add to the mix an offer by Captain Grist of the Storm Dog to join him in the search of untold treasure on a remote and dangerous island and you’ve got a stonking story that goes from strength to strength.

Story-wise, The Black Lung Captain is high on double-crossings, action, adventure and a nice amount of intrigue. From the opening chapter where the Ketty Jay try to loot the aforementioned orphanage, and the mess they get in as a result, it’s clear that Chris Wooding has brought everything that made Retribution Falls so good back to the table. When the story evolves into the treasure finding mission, then to the inevitable ‘searching for the missing item to save lives’, it’s evident that we’re getting a huge story here. With Manes, Awakeners, Tranica Dracken, the Century Knights, and Daemonism all present, there’s very little not to like.

While the story initially sounds like a simple progression of events that lead Frey and the Ketty Jay from one place to another, it’s far more than that. With further details emerging about the Manes and the Awakeners, Wooding is building the world and history very well indeed. There were aspects in Retribution Falls when I wished more time could be spent exploring them, but they’ve been raised and looked at in The Black Lung Captain, incorporated into the story to give strength to an already impressive plot.

The characters are all back and, with the inclusion of Captain Grist, make a fine contribution to the novel. We get to see more of the little details developed here, from Harkins and his ongoing troubles with Slag the cat, to Pinn’s idolised love who he left at home long ago. Each character has the attention they deserve. Personally I found Jez’s plight one of the best, the truth about her half-Mane heritage finally becoming common knowledge and just how the others react to that. However, Crake’s breakdown because of his guilt over Bess’ death is another well-handled development, showing strong characterisation on Wooding’s part. Speaking of Bess, she steals the show every time we see her.

Perhaps the biggest, and most changed, relationship in The Black Lung Captain is between Frey and Tranica Dracken. Dracken, being Frey’s jilted (at the altar) fiance from years past and central to the Ketty Jay’s lack of fortune after the ending of Retribution Falls, is a much more central character in The Black Lung Captain. When Dracken’s ship, the Delirium Trigger, steals the stolen goods from them, it all kicks off. But as the story progresses we start to see more interaction between Dracken and Frey, and much of this fills in the gaps of their history, but also shows different sides to both of them. Really good stuff!

Suffice to say that I enjoyed The Black Lung Captain enormously. It has everything I want from a good book – great characters, superb story, plenty of action, and all the little extras that add to the story. While I’d recommend this in a heartbeat, you really need to read Retribution Falls first to fully enjoy it. Don’t worry, that’s no chore either, and I’m sure you’ll discover what I already have: Chris Wooding writes one hell of a novel!

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