Another set of books I have been keeping up with is the Ketty Jay series I started a few months back when I read Retribution Falls. The series was continued in The Black Lung Captain, The Iron Jackal, and concludes with the Ace of Skulls. I had read that author Chris Wooding chose to end the series after four books rather than push on and expand upon ideas he picked up as the story continued. Having been caught up in a few series that have gone on for too long, I can certainly respect that decision, though there is a part of me that is sad to see my time in this universe come to an end.
WARNING: A general discussion of my thoughts on the series as a whole follow the break, as do perhaps a few observations regarding certain events. I don’t give any real spoilers, but if you absolutely don’t want to know please check back after finishing the series.
There was a lot that I liked about this series and was into the concept from the start – what’s not to like about airship hi-jinx? From there it was easy for me to get caught up in the action as the crew fly, drink, and shoot their way from one impossible situation to the next. There is plenty of dry humor and amusing banter amongst the crew to keep things light. I was also pleasantly surprised by how well these books came together by the end, united as they are by two key conflicts introduced in Retribution Falls. From frozen wastelands to desert slums and, of course, the skies above them all the various locations visited serve to create an interesting and well developed world. Populating it is a diverse but tightly woven cast of characters in addition to the Ketty Jay crew that offers a good sense of continuity as the novels expand. I wasn’t sure after the first book how cohesive this would be as a series but the four parts definitely come together to make a satisfying whole. There was plenty here to keep the reader interested around all the action.
The crew of the Ketty Jay, our main characters throughout, grew on me more and more as the story went on. At first I wasn’t that into any of them but as they are fleshed out beyond just having the identities of their assigned roles, I began to enjoy them a bit more and came to appreciate the subtle insights and humor each has to offer. My favorites were Silo, who has probably the most interesting and developed backstory, and Bess, the golem who in addition to being conceptually interesting also has a lot of oddly endearing and (often dark or morbid) comedic qualities. Even Pinn, whom you’re not really supposed to like, had a few long term jokes around his character which really pay off by the end that are enough to make putting up with him through four books seem worthwhile. The only real let down for me among the crew was possibly Captain Frey, who despite everything and the upbeat nature of the ending, just kind of comes off as an ass (though I’m sure there are those who would disagree). There are also probably a few too many point of view scenes from the cat’s perspective, though I did appreciate having them and some of these are actually quite essential to the story.
That said, this series wasn’t without its minor downsides. The two biggest things for me are that the plot at times felt slightly formulaic or predictable and there was a tendency towards repetition of thoughts and ideas in some of the point of view sections. The pacing and speed of the action in the story generally prevent these two things from being serious drags on any of the books, though they do begin to stand out if you are reading them all back to back. Also, as a result of that pacing, certain aspects of the story aren’t as deeply developed; for example some of the intrigues between different factions aren’t explored as much as they could be and you don’t see much of the crew together outside of action sequences or pubs. For what the story is though none of that really matters unless you’re in the mood to read something deeper. Light-hearted, fast-paced, action packed steam-opera is what this story was written to be and is exactly what you get.
All this adds up to a series that is a lot of fun to read and goes by pretty quickly, especially if you have a dedicated hour or two to sit down with any of the books. A good comparison that came to my mind while reading the first book, and apparently to the minds of many critics and internet commenters as well, is Joss Whedon’s Firefly. There is a similar roguish steampunk aesthetic and a few plot elements that really brought this comparison home for me as the series went on. Minor spoiler, the train robbery sequence early in the third book solidified this comparison in my mind for the rest of the series and made me look back on certain characters and events in that light as well. While I don’t think this will quite hold the same place in my heart as Firefly, I am very happy I happened upon this series and recommend it to anyone who is inclined to like this sort of thing.