Review: Black Lung Captain by Chris

Black Lung Captain by Chris Wooding
Black Lung Captain by Chris Wooding

Black Lung Captain
Chris Wooding
Orion UK, 2010

Black Lung Captain is the sequel to 2009’s Retribution Falls.  For those who are unfamiliar with the title, which is probably everyone in the good old USA, it is sort of like the canceled-too-soon and much-beloved by rabid-fans television series Firefly, except instead of space it takes place in a fantastical setting with demons, magic, and airships.  The second book in a series Black Lung Captain works surprisingly well as a standalone novel, though it does reference the events of the previous book, I’m of the opinion that the inferences and direct references to Retribution Falls are minor enough that reading that book first is not essential.

Black Lung Captain opens with a bang, with a heist gone wrong and a chase by crazed locals through the woods.  Its a great little vignette that serves well to introduces to the somewhat hapless, lovable rapscallion that is Captain Darian Frey and his oddball crew.  From their the plot quickly shifts as Darian and the crew of the Ketty Jay are hired by Captain Grist to explore the ruins of a downed airship deep in the jungles of an untamed continent and plunder its hidden treasures.  Of course, all is not as it seems and chaos, adventure, excitement, and frequent chuckling ensues.

I don’t have too much to complain about with Black Lung Captain.  Sure sometimes the drama slides a little close to melodrama, the action is frequently a bit over the top, and the plot unfolds at warp speed.  But those aren’t really complaints in a novel like Black Lung Captain.  This is a near pitch perfect fantasy adventure novel, swashbuckling and sorcery at its best.  Standing at about 450 pages Black Lung Captain feels like a book about half that length and Wooding barely pauses for a quiet moment.   For all its relentless pacing Woodring works in a fair amount of mostly seamless character growth with heroes and villains alike improving on their flaws.  I particularly enjoyed the point of view from the Ketty Jay’s resident cat, Slag, it was a refreshing surprise, nicely handled, and worked well as light-hearted break from novel’s main plot (though later would prove integral to climactic final scenes).

Black Lung Captain isn’t a particularly deep novel but it is probably the most exciting and grin-inducing book I’ve read all year.  The drama and crisis within and between characters over the early sections of the novel resolve themselves organically over the course of the novel and the resulting tempering those crises cause enhances the novel climax.  In fact I enjoyed Black Lung Captain quite a bit more than I did Retribution Falls and unfortunatley, like Retribution Falls, it was acquired via import.  As of now it looks like Retribution Falls is slated for a April 2011 release from Spectra, right now both Retribution Falls ($11) and Black Lung Captain ($18) are available from the UK via Book Depository with free shipping.  If you’re at all interested in these book I highly highly recommend not waiting for idiotic US publishers to print the book two years after it has already been available.