The Black Lung Captain is the follow up to the very well received science fiction swashbuckling adventure, Retribution Falls. Chris Wooding brings back the whole crew of the Ketty Jay and all their associates for a second round of excitement, betrayals and all of what he got us acquainted to in the first Tale of the Ketty Jay. Unfortunately, this formula doesn’t work quite a nicely as one would like for the sequel, resulting in a still greatly enjoyable story, but one that is not quite up to the level of the original. Still, this second novel helps separate this series from others with its continually distinctive approach.
Darien 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 civilization, and he need 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...
I’m quite certain that Chris Wooding envisioned this series as episodic, and that is just what The Black Lung Captain is. It’s episodic in the sense that it doesn’t carry any particular storyline over from its predecessor. Yes, there are many mentions of events from Retribution Falls, and several key characters, other than the crew, are back but for the most part it forges on with a complete story of its own. A new, intriguing premise presents itself, Frey and his gang set out for a job as risky and reckless as any we’ve ever seen and from there things unfold with the swashbuckling, the back and forth crossing of the different parties, etc.
Sadly, though, The Black Lung Captain can’t seem to hold up to the high standards the first book had set for this series. The reason may lie in that it attempts to replicate the experience from Retribution Falls too closely. Many of the plot-lines feel familiar and already used, just like before Frey gets betrayed more times than one can count, he’s still throwing himself into the most impossible situations and barely scrapping his way out - there was too little difference. Like any good thing, the type of story that Retribution Falls told can’t be overused, and that is what it is starting to feel like in The Black Lung Captain. The book remains highly fun and entertaining but there is just something missing.
What I really wanted was Wooding to take a risk again like he did when he chose to write the first of Ketty Jay stories. I would have appreciated him throwing the characters into some dramatically different situation, shake things up a bit, maybe even changing up the cast of characters, adding a new element (other than the villain(s)). What saddened me the most was his rehashing of character from the previous book that felt like we were done with, but he brought back for lack of introducing someone new. This affected me most because it only emphasized the sense of familiarity and almost made me think that Wooding had run out of plot twists he could play with.
Nevertheless, The Black Lung Captain is still a very recommendable novel - it not quite equalling its predecessor doesn’t mean it doesn’t outdo other books - its exciting, slightly quirky feel will plunge you into yet another improbably fun adventure. I’m still holding out hope for the third Tale of the Ketty Jay, for the moment titled The Iron Jackal though I hear that might be changing soon. All things indicate that a third bout with Captain Frey could still be a highly enjoyable read, so look for it around fall 2011.
My Rating: 4 out of 5
Reading Age: 15 and up
Chris Wooding's Website: http://www.chriswooding.com/
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