The Black Lung Captain by Chris Wooding


This is a good follow-on from Retribution Falls although it suffers a little for being the second book simply because of expectations set up by the first. I got a lot of what I wanted: more about Trinica Dracken, about Jez and Crake, a better understanding of the Manes and of daemonism, and plenty more piratey adventure and Bess bashing enemies (I lovelovelove Bess). But to get more something had to be sacrificed, and there was a lot less banter and general joviality than there was in Retribution. This was necessary: Crake’s guilt, Jez’s predicament and Trinica’s mental health can’t be dealt with too lightly, but I missed that lovely feeling of crew-ness that all the back-and-forth in the first book created.

Just to write more of the same would have been silly though when Wooding has created this big old world to be explored. This time round the crew of the Ketty Jay fall in with Captain Harvin Grist who has a job that, naturally, sounds too good to be true (Frey hasn’t gotten any smarter). We get a trip to the rainforests of Kurg, home to beast-men and monsters, plenty more chaotic zipping about chasing treasure and information to lead us to treasure, and we go beyond the Wrack to the home of the super-powered zombie-like Manes. The plot is as frenetic and unpredictable as the first time round, and just as much fun.

The stakes are getting higher though, and while he may be no smarter, Frey is starting to think about things outside of himself and his reflection in the mirror. Without spoilers, it becomes apparent that Grist isn’t telling the truth (a pirate not telling the truth?! Heavens, whatever next?) and that what he wants to achieve will have ramifications for far more people than just him and his crew. In a rare moment of altruism, Frey decides to be the one to stand in Grist’s way (no mean feat as Grist’s a scary individual with some serious anger management issues), and their cat-and-mouse chase makes up a good portion of the action. Along the way the crew of the Ketty Jay almost disintegrates when Crake leaves, their arch-enemy Trinica Dracken comes aboard to help in the hunt for Grist, Jez and Frey’s friendship suffers a blow and Pinn gets a letter from his beloved Lisinda that sees him abandon ship too (I silently rejoiced at this, but unfortunately he comes back… *sigh*). Crake’s journey is possibly the lowest point in the story as he desperately searches for a solution for Bess and there’s a scene between him and Jez when she comes to find him that is genuinely moving.

Then there’s Frey and Trinica. Their relationship, past and present, is explored a lot more in The Black Lung Captain and while we don’t get to deep dive into Trinica’s mind set, we do get to appreciate from Frey’s POV how much he is changing. Wooding does a good job with Frey’s character. I really didn’t like the captain at the outset (and I am confused by the comparison frequently drawn between Frey and Mal from Firefly in other interwebby places because while Mal is a fairly honourable scamp, Frey is just a lowlife A-hole … at the beginning), but by the end of this book I’m actually starting to think he’s not a bad guy. I mean, he’s trying. In both senses of the word. But if I were asked to predict where Wooding is going to go in the next two books I’d say Frey’s going to end up being an actual Good Guy, and that he and Trinica are going to get a second chance at happiness (… sorry, I threw up a little bit in my mouth there). I also predict that they’re gonna bring the Awakeners down.

Here endeth the prophesying of bkfrgr.

Anyhow, if you’ve read and enjoyed Redemption Falls you’re probably going to enjoy The Black Lung Captain just as much. It’s definitely worth reading, even if a little less fun and funny that the first Ketty Jay outing. If I were a drinker I could propose a pretty good drinking game to play when reading these books: take a drink every time one of the Ketty Jay crew avoid Certain Death (it’s very like Star Trek in this way, if you’ve got a whole name, first and last, then you’ll live through anything – perhaps I should say ‘continue’ rather than live, in respect to Jez – but woe betide those with only one name or, worse, no name at all, for doom shall befall you and it shall be gruesome).

Aside: I love great names and there’s plenty to go round in the Ketty Jay books so far. Character names like Samandra Bree and Colden Grudge, Rodley Hodd, Edwidge Crattle, Osric Smult are fabulously conjure-some, and place names too, like Tarlock Cove, the Hookhollows, Yortland, Scarwater, Kurg … I wonder if Wooding keeps lists of names as he thinks of them? I used to keep lists of my favourite words and names, so I like to think there’s someone else out there doing the same. Anyone?



  1. I am sure somebody keeps a list of favorite names/words. There’s just too many people who like lists for that NOT to happen.

    However, as much as I like lists, it isn’t me. I guess your quest will have to continue…

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