Friday, 25 November 2011

Review: The Iron Jackal (Tales of the Ketty Jay) by Chris Wooding

This is the third book in the Tales of the Ketty Jay. Although they’re pretty much self-contained stories I would advocate reading them in order as there are some references to past events, and it fits with the progression of various characters.

The Iron Jackal sees Frey and his crew of assorted miscreants and psychologically defective lunatics in the unusual position of being famous, fairly well-off and with a ship that actually works. Naturally, this doesn’t last long and Frey finds himself plunged into a race against time to save his own neck.

Rather bizarrely, this book reminded me a bit of when I was reading The Outlaws of the Marsh. Whilst brilliant, The Outlaws of the Marsh is an ancient Chinese mega-novel of over 2,200 pages and has little in common with Tales of the Ketty Jay (although both do feature rather violent criminals who are mostly good). Eventually I realised that it was the great sense of familiarity with the characters that reminded me of the ancient book. During the months it took me to finish The Outlaws of the Marsh I grew to like a few characters quite a lot (Wu Song, Sagacious Lu and Li Kui especially) and got a similar feeling reading The Iron Jackal.

One of the series’ great strengths is the fact that the entire crew is made up of characters who are three-dimensional and have realistic dreams, ambitions and flaws. Even better, they have genuinely believable relationships to one another and they actually do develop and change over the course of the books.

The Iron Jackal is no exception and a number of characters have some more of their past history revealed or are developed a bit more.

The central premise of the plot is sound, although I found the storyline to be of secondary interest behind the significant character development that occurred throughout the book. The pace was pretty lively, and there were quite a few nice scenes of considerable bullet-ridden destruction.

The back cover reveals some quotes from sci-fi organs and authors, which mildly surprised me as I’d always thought of Tales of the Ketty Jay as being fantasy. The tech level is similar to an alternative reality late 19th or early 20th century (revolvers, rifles, airships, rail and so forth) but there’s also daemonism, which is a scientific take on magic.

It’s an old-fashioned rollicking adventure, a ripping yarn of theft, adventure, deceit and misfortune which I thoroughly recommend.

I’m fairly sure I read that the 4th book had been written, so presumably that’ll be out relatively shortly.


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