Chris Wooding has been writing the Tales of the Ketty Jay for several years. He is all the way through Book 4 in the UK when I was tapped to write a review in 2013. But, it was his US agent who contacted me, and told me that they were going to start with Book 3 for the American releases. I was a bit skeptical about starting in the middle of a series, but it meant being dropped into a fully formed and complex world that was a joy to explore. It actually made me even more interested to go back and read the earlier books. There are airship pirates, complicated relationships, daemon-imbued walkie talkies, and multi-faceted cultural and political systems that overlap and contradict in a very realistic way. What’s NOT to like?
This tale focuses on the captain of Ketty Jay, Frey, but the story is told through the eyes of the entire crew as they take turns enriching the story with their insights and foibles. It all starts when this rag-tag band is enlisted by Frey’s “its complicated,” Trinica the pirate queen. She hires them to steal an artifact of unknown origin and purpose off of a moving train. It reminded me a little of one of my all-time favorite episodes of Firefly, though Frey’s not the type to give back the goods afterwards.
In this case, the artifact turns out to be a weapon that seems both ancient and futuristic at the same time. When Frey lets his ego get the best of him and lifts it from its case the real adventure begins. The weapon pricks his palm and leaves behind the most dreaded of pirate iconography, “the black spot.”
As scary as the Kraken is, the daemon that pursues the bearer of the spot in Wooding’s world is even more terrifying. The Iron Jackal is a sinister amalgamation of flesh, machine, and the bearer’s darkest secrets and most painful regrets. Frey is haunted by the voice of a man he left to die and the eyes of the woman he abandoned to pursue his life of piracy. But even with his dark past, his loyal crew will stop at nothing to help their captain return the artifact to its resting place to save his life and the family they have built aboard the Ketty Jay. If only they knew where that resting place was…
What I thought of The Iron Jackal
I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a fun read, but doesn’t mind some moral ambiguity. Frey is by no means a “good guy” by nature, but his Sterling Archer-like humor and quest for redemption in Trinica’s eyes make him a very compelling hero. The rest of the crew also gets to be fully-formed people with loves, losses and secrets all their own. So, in the end it is really an ensemble piece rather than a story just about Frey. There are some nuances that I am sure that I have missed because of not reading the earlier books, but it still definitely holds together as a stand-alone novel and a great place to start exploring Wooding’s work.