The Iron Jackal is the third book in Chris Wooding's 'Tales of the Ketty Jay' series, following Retribution Falls: Tales of the Ketty Jay (Tales of the Ketty Jay 1)
and The Black Lung Captain: Tales of the Ketty Jay
. If you haven't read either of the previous novels I would highly recommend tackling them both before picking up this third adventure. Not only are they both great reads, its also important to understand past events to put those in the Iron Jackal into their proper context.
After the sublime 'Black Lung Captain' I was worried that The Iron Jackal might be a let-down. It turns out those worries were unfounded. Whilst it doesn't quite hit the heights of its predecessor, this is another highly entertaining addition to the series that also succeeds in further broadening out the world in which the Ketty Jay and her crew exist.
The book offers the usual solid mix of character development, world building and an exciting, stand-alone plot. The latter kicks off when the crew of the Ketty Jay are hired to purloin an ancient relic from the Sammies and Captain Frey ends up under the threat of a deathly curse. What follows is a breathless mix of museum robberies, prison breaks, air races, desert chases, subterranean monsters and robot battles as the Ketty Jay crew attempt to lift the curse whilst staying alive.
Along the way we learn more about what makes Silo the taciturn engineer tick, Both Frey's and the daemonist Crake's romantic relationships go through various ups and (mostly) downs, Jez continues to come to terms with what she has become and Doc Malvery considers his future.
At the same time we get a better understanding of the world they live in. We see Sammie society up close, for example, with its unpleasant caste system. We also get a greater understanding of the technologies that underpin the world and their possible origins. What had previously appeared to be a pseudo-Ruritanian set-up of Archdukes, guilds, nobles and villains, albeit one with airships, is revealed to be a place with electricity, automobiles and trains, deserts and jungles and lost hyper-advanced civilisations. Its a testament to Wooding's skills as a writer that all these concepts cohabit so happily and don't overcrowd the plot.
There is the odd mis-step along the way. An air-race episode feels both rather superfluous and somewhat reminiscent of a very similar sequence from the Star Wars prequel The Phantom Menace (although thankfully without any irritating children present). Its presence feels almost as if Wooding has one eye on a possible screen adaptation and wanted to include an extra action sequence to help sell the idea. The episode certainly feels very cinematic but doesn't work particularly well on the page and serves no real purpose in terms of the overall plot.
Apart from that and a finale that feels a little too OTT at times (and again is strangely and vaguely reminiscent of the dénouement of The Mummy Returns [DVD
]) there's not much I can fault The Iron Jackal for. It certainly maintains the series high standards and sets up the next Ketty Jay adventure nicely. I will look forward eagerly to finding out where Frey, Crake, Silo, Malvery and the rest end up next.