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The Black Lung Captain by Chris Wooding

01/01/2011. Contributed by Ewan Angus

Buy The Black Lung Captain in the USA - or Buy The Black Lung Captain in the UK

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pub: Gollancz. 442 page paperback. Price: GBP 8.05 if you know where to look. ISBN: 978-0-57508-518-3.

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I was a bit annoyed with myself for missing the release of this book as its predecessor, ‘Retribution Falls’, was a great, fun read. In this second outing for the crew of the Ketty Jay, things go to hell once more and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

‘The Black Lung Captain’ by Chris Wooding finds the crew in dire straits after the general disaster that was ‘Retribution Falls’. Completely broke and with the ship needing parts, things are looking bleak for Darian Frey’s group of misfits.

So when the titular black lunged Captain Grist appears, offering a seemingly perfect scheme, things start to look up again. Except, things never go to plan, do they?

In ‘Retribution Falls’, Wooding introduced us to the core cast of eight or nine characters, all of whom make a re-appearance in the sequel. Darian Frey, self-centred pirate and captain of the Ketty Jay is having a crisis of conscience. After a failed attempt to rob an orphanage, he’s hit a downer. It is not helped by the fact he seems to want to put down roots, buy a house and live comfortably. Or does he? He’s not quite sure.

This isn’t helped by the resurgence of his one-time fiancée and now super-pirate, Trinica Dracken, who seems to evoke feelings that Darian was unaware he owned. In the first novel, it was established that Dracken was engaged to be married to Frey but in his need for freedom, Frey selfishly legged it, leaving Dracken at the altar. Then the nasty bit emerged.

So depressed by this, Dracken attempted suicide but ultimately failed, killing the unborn child she was carrying. Years later, she has established herself as one of the most ruthless pirates in the skies and Frey just can’t seem to get her out of his head.

However, Frey’s not the only one with his problems. Jez, the navigator seems to be losing herself to the summons she receives from beyond the Arctic Circle. Part Mane, she fights this monstrous impulse throughout, although in a brilliant twist it does emerge that all is not as it seems.

The Wrack, the area that calls Jez, seems to be a twist on the good old Mordor or the blight, except here Wooding twists it, offering a new angle that arches eyebrows and alludes to more to come in the proposed sequels. He’s set off just the right amount of intrigue.

Crake, the ship’s demonist, has problems of his own. After accidently murdering his niece whilst possessed, he is wracked with an all encompassing guilt that is slowly driving him to drink.

Pike, the ship’s idiot also struggles with his own problems as he receives a letter that makes him question his own place not just aboard the ship, but in life as well.

There’s more than the above but it’s all juggled brilliantly by Wooding. He makes light of scenarios when it’s needed and the humour drives the book onwards. His characterisation is spot on and I feel that the characters are not merely expanded upon but bettered in their depiction as human beings with genuine problems. No matter how immature or stupid the characters are, there is no shirking of their problems here. They are laid bare and opened up, it’s not just an action novel, but a novel that works on many levels of multiple characterisation.

Adding to the first novel and ultimately surpassing it, ‘The Black Lung Captain’ is a widescreen action novel with a hefty amount of characterisation and humour thrown in to make it a stand out success. It’s unputdownable and bloody good fun.

Ewan Angus

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This book has 24 votes in the sci-fi charts

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