The Black Lung Captain (Tales of the Kitty Jay 2) by Chris Wooding (Gollancz) [Book Review]

Title: The Black Lung Captain
Series: Tales of the Ketty Jay 2
Author: Chris Wooding [homepage]
Genre: Steampunk
Hardback:  448 pages
Publisher: Gollancz (2010)

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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!

It is not easy to twinkle like a young boy about to read Treasure Island for the first time at my age but that was how I felt when the parcel with The Black Lung Captain arrived. It has such a beautiful cover made by Stephan Martiniere. I have to admit that it was the cover of Retribution Falls that first got me interested. It was with some concern I started to read since a few early reviewers claimed some of the magic from the first book were gone but I was fast alleviated it was there, more mature and on a different level since I first meet the characters. I feel almost guilty for indulging and enjoying this book as much as I did, almost.

The Black Lung Captain has a theme about facing fears, overcome them and grow beyond them. The Kitty Jay and her charming crew are back and they will face some of their worst fears before it is all over. It is also Captain Frey’s leadership lesson number two. I think the crew would appreciate if the team-building didn’t include treacherous partners, attacks by beast-men, mysterious but dangerous artifacts, persistent ghouls and former girlfriends but luckily for us neither them or Frey have much choice in the matter.

There are many strong character moments this time around too, and you learn more about the characters as they face their fears and grow beyond them. One of the strongest moments is when Jez face one of the Awakener’s high level operatives adding a whole new level of fear to the story. Harkins’ epic and entertaining struggle with the ship-cat takes almost the whole book before it reaches climax.

The plot is not bad either with the treasure hunt, the double-crosses and the underlying sinister plan that is gradually revealed. There is action non-stop and never a dull moment. There is also a romance or three but not in the way you expect. The ending kept me smiling for hours but that’s just me.

As you understand I am a bit euphoric about The Black Lung Captain, the sequel is almost better than original. Here we learn more of their Victorian retro-future world and the characters go places they never expected to, they grow and they overcome but they stay quirky and interesting. Frey matures a bit but I suspect he will never grow up or lose his charm. The ending is wide open for a number of sequels and plot lines to follow. I can’t wait to see where the next lesson, sorry misfortune will take them.

I have good news and bad news. As part of my research I visited, the good news is that there will be a book number three and four. The bad news is that Chris just threw the quarter he had written on The Iron Jackal in the bin and started over again that probably means the publication will get knocked back by a few months, meaning it’s likely to arrive late next year instead of the planned release date of August.