The Iron Jackal by Chris Wooding

Werthead

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Tales of the Ketty Jay Book 3: The Iron Jackal

The crew of the Ketty Jay, fresh from defeating an incursion of the nefarious Manes, have been hailed as heroes and have become minor celebrities across the lands of Vardia. Avoiding notoriety and seeking their next job, Captain Frey and his crew have relocated to Samarla to undertake a train heist. Unfortunately, what was supposed to be a straightforward caper turns into a major crisis, with Frey's life on the line and a supernatural force hunting the crew, known as the Iron Jackal...

The Iron Jackal is the third book in the Tales of the Ketty Jay series, following on from the excellent Retribution Falls and The Black Lung Captain. As before, the novel follows the crewmembers of the airship Ketty Jay as they get into various scrapes. Once again, Chris Wooding has delivered a tight narrative which mixes in humour, adventure, character development and worldbuilding in a near-perfect mix, but done it with even more flair and panache than the previous volumes.

The book is built around an escalating series of adventures: after the initial train heist, the crew have to take part in a dangerous aircraft race through a maze of canyons, break into the Archduke's palace and finally cross a burning desert to find an ancient city. The pace is fast and relentless, but Wooding finds time to give every character a moment to shine as each one faces his or her own challenges (internal or external). This also extends to some newcomers (the Ketty Jay acquires a new crewmember in this novel) and recurring characters as well. Frey himself ends up as the best-developed character in the book and manages to gain the reader's sympathy as his plight worsens with every passing chapter.

Wooding introduces a sense of weirdness and horror to the series that wasn't as prevalent in previous volumes. The Iron Jackal itself is a sinister, threatening creation, and the showdown in an ancient city is an appropriately nightmarish (though a titanic enemy introduced in the last few pages feels a little unnecessary). There are also intriguing hints about the distant past of the world that could fuel discussion on internet message boards for a while. At the same time, Wooding lightens things up with an appropriate level of humour (Pinn's decision to become an inventor and his attempts to experiment on the ship's psychotic cat provides a rich seam of comedic moments) and expertly maintains a precarious balance between the darker and lighter elements of the novel.

There's also the feeling of an expanding scope in this novel. A third war between Vardia and Samarla seems to be brewing and there's a sense of greater geopolitical events going on in the background which the crew of the Ketty Jay occasionally brush against the fringes of. Wooding also seems to be laying pipe for future novels, with mentions of distant, newly-discovered landmasses where colonisation efforts by Vardia seem to be going wrong. Intriguing stuff, which adds elements of depth and richness to the world not present in earlier books (though there isn't a map, as Wooding wants to retain the freedom to change things or add in new locations for future novels).

With near-perfect pacing, strong characterisation and an addictive mix of adventure, good humour and flashes of dark horror, The Iron Jackal (*****) will likely emerge as the most purely enjoyable, fun SFF novel of the year. Heavily recommended. The novel is available now in the UK and on import in the USA.
 

Vertigo

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My thoughts are pretty much in agreement!


Basking in the fame achieved in the previous instalment everything seems to be going Captain Darian Frey’s way until his incurable arrogance manages to get him cursed and a horrifying death at the claws of the daemon Iron Jackal seems inevitable. His only chance lies with the slightly unreliable loyalty of his ragged misfit crew and his estranged lover. Frey’s prospects do not look good but when have they ever looked good?

Wooding’s Tales of the Ketty Jay just seems to get better with each book. Each of the main characters is further developed and each, in their own way, is easy to empathise with. The balance between action (always gripping) and plot and character development is just right and the pacing though fast never becomes frenetic and, though there is plenty of humour, it is not a comedy and never slips into farce (well not too far!). Wooding does run a fine line between stupid decisions made by an all too understandably flawed main character and unforgivably immoral decisions that would rapidly loose the reader’s empathy, between redemption and maudlin self-blame, but, for the most part, he stays the right side of that line. Some of the escapes depicted might get close to crossing the border into the realm of implausibility but at least the heroes have the decency to be every bit as surprised as the reader each time they emerge still breathing (mostly) from yet another tight spot.

These books are without doubt my current favourite guilty pleasure; the writing is good (though not as well proofed as the previous books) but it never has any ideas above its station. This is unabashed heroic adventure and is simply loads of fun to read.

5/5 stars.
 

Inari Writer

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Feb 11, 2017
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Love this series. Good pulpy fun with a dose of horror and wry humour.

Definitely recommend it to fans of Firefly!
 

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