The Black Lung Captain, Chris Wooding, Ballantine Books, ISBN 978-0-345-52250-4, 536 pgs., $16.00

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This is the sequel to Wooding’s Steampunk inspired Retribution Falls.  Darian Frey, Captain of the Ketty Jay, an airship that is mostly involved in pirate activity, is basking in the glow of his previous accomplishment, ironically a non-piratical event that did service to the empire.  His disparate crew seems to be coming together, his ship needs some work but is still flying, and he’s feeling a lot better about his lot than he has in a long time.  Then he meets Grist, a fellow pirate captain who has a lead on treasure.  That the treasure is in the heart of Kurg, a region known for huge, mysterious and blood thirsty beasts is one thing.  That Kurg’s ship is ten times the size of the Ketty Jay and more heavily armed is another.  That Grist is specifically looking for him is the third.  All of these things Frey ignores because of the treasure, boredom, and a need for cash.  Grist needs a daemonist to open a door on a ship that has been found in the jungles of Krug and Frey just happens to have one on his crew.  What is found beyond that door is not what is expected and the actions that lead to the door and come afterward have far-reaching consequences for Frey and each of his crew members.  Before he knows it, Frey’s crew is falling apart; two have left, one has had her secret outed, another has come unglued because of a cat, and Frey himself feels like it’s all coming to an end—especially since a woman from Frey’s past, now the most feared pirate in the sky, has returned once again to taunt him and take everything away.

There are two things about The Black Lung Captain that make it worth reading; the universe and the characters.  Wooding has constructed a fun universe of lighter than airships, pirates, war, empire, intrigue, magic and politics that serves as a superb background for adventure.  And then he has populated it with interesting, likable and intriguing characters that are fun to hang out with.  Each of the characters is following their own storyline as well so there are multiple paths being followed from beginning to end and these paths weave in amongst themselves on and off.  And, by the end of the book there is resolution, or, at least as much resolution as you can expect in these cases where you know there is a third book in the outing so something needs to be saved for that and we don’t really begrudge Wooding’s doing so because we want there to be another book as well.

The Black Lung Captain is well written and entertaining.  Picking up this book allows you to set aside the world you inhabit and be transported to a world of Wooding’s creation.  There are fewer and fewer books out there that do this well it seems.  This book is perfect at it.  I can’t recommend it highly enough.  You should definitely pick up the first book, Retribution Falls, and read it first.  Not that it contains all that much information that you will need to understand this one but more because you owe it to yourself to discover  not one but two books that are worth buying and reading.

Buy this book by clicking here: The Black Lung Captain

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Retribution Falls, Chris Wooding, Ballantine Books, ISBN 978-0-345-522511, $16.00, 461 pgs

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Darian Frey is Captain of the Ketty Jay, an airship running the lesser ports and landings of Vardia. He and his crew all have checkered pasts–smugglers, criminals, murders, oddities–and reasons to stay away from the law, authority, and remembering. It’s a marginal living–carrying marginal cargo for marginal profit, occasional low level piracy, doing the odd job for the odd price for the odd customer–but it keeps them flying and keeps them away from the past.

Until Frey takes on what looks like a fairly simple job for a large payoff. All he has to do is ambush a ship in a desolate region of mountains and make off with the cargo. The payoff would be enough to keep him happy for the rest of his life. That he’s going to keep the payoff from his crew hardly bothers him. He figures there will be enough other plunder to keep them happy. Besides ,they’re just crew. And then it all goes horribly wrong. The ship to be ambushed has fighter protection, more and better than expected, and a shot that should have simply disabled it instead destroys it, and everyone on board. Shortly after, the Captain and crew of the Ketty Jay find themselves the most wanted individuals on the planet.

Now, Darian Frey has to use all his wits and skills, as well as those of his crew, to figure out what happened and how to get out of it. That they were set up is obvious, but the who and the why still eludes him. And it looks like the secret may lie in Retribution Falls, legendary hidden pirate town and safe refuge for all who manage to make their way there. Of course, first he has to figure out where it is and then he has to avoid getting shot out of the sky on his way there.

This book is almost classic steam punk. It’s an adventure on an unknown world where great ships ply the airways using chemical reactions and steel nerves. The characters are a hodge-podge of criminals, people caught on the wrong side of the law, circumstances gone horribly awry at the wrong time, and one or two who just have no where else to go. Essentially, the book is about two processes; figuring out the mystery of the set up and the gelling of a group of disparate individuals into a crew.

I found the book very entertaining. The universe that Chris Wooding has developed is intriguing and bigger than the book. This is a good thing. There are bits around the edges that are mentioned but never really explained which lends a credibility to the plot. The writing is sharp and to the point, the pacing is generally quick, and the characters are definitely an interesting bunch.

I recommend the book to anyone looking for a steam punk fix or just a rousing good adventure.

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Retribution Falls