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Vardia is being torn apart by a civil war between the religious sect known as the Awakeners and the government forces under the command of the Archduke. Despite helping start the war (inadvertently), Darian Frey and the crew of the Ketty Jay are trying steer clear of any fighting. However, when Frey decides to track down the missing Trinica Dracken, the crew find themselves with divided loyalties.

After four novels, it's time for The Tales of the Ketty Jay to bow out. The author had the choice between making the series an ongoing cycle of adventures or wrapping up the main plot to concentrate on other works, and chose the latter. Whilst this is bad news for fans of the series, it's certainly good to see a series reaching a definitive conclusion after a short, focused number of adventures.

This does cause some problems for The Ace of Skulls, however. In previous books it felt like Wooding was developing a large number of background elements, characters and factions to play a long game with. Having to wrap everything up in this fourth volume means the plot accelerator being slammed down and the concluding chapters taking on an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach. This means that a few plot elements get short shrift and are resolved in a slightly more perfunctory fashion than might be wished.

However, the most important thing in this series is the characters and their relationships, and Wooding wisely concentrates on these elements. All of the crewmembers of the Ketty Jay get their moment in the sun, whether it's Pinn's undergoing a gloriously narcissistic and insane odyssey of faith and selfishness, Crake finally resolving his family issues or Jez finally confronting her heritage in full. Secondary characters return, such as the Century Knights, and get a lot of juicy moments as well. In short, the character arcs of the series are resolved more than satisfactorily. Hell, even the ship's cat, Slag, gets his own subplot.

In terms of the story, we are again whisked across Vardia, from the capital city of Thesk to a vast, Mississippi-style delta and to exotic islands and back again. There are robberies, infiltrations of enemy bases and epic battles at snowcapped mountain villas. There are massive aerial engagements, dodgy mid-air boarding actions and, erm, fierce cat-to-mouse combat scenes deep in the bowels of aircraft. It's the sort of narrative that cries out for words such as 'romp' and 'fun'. As with its three forebears, The Ace of Skulls is a highly enjoyable action-adventure novel with some excellent characterisation. It's also resolutely not grimdark: whilst there are genuine moments of horror, ultimately the ending is positive (despite a couple of shocking, major deaths) and the series bows out on an emotional high.

The Ace of Skulls (****) is fun, well-characterised and a page-turning read. It's also trying to do a little bit too much in wrapping up a huge amount of material in a limited page space, but it manages to pull it off. And whilst Wooding does wrap most things up, there's certainly enough scope here for him to return to the world further down the line. Personally, I'd love to see a Century Knights spin-off.
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on 29 June 2014
Well I have stopped reviewing books now but have come out of retirement temporarily having just reached the end of this series. One because I enjoyed them so much and wanted to share that with the author if he is looking and in and also I can't help but feel they do not get the attention and acclaim they deserve.

I don't think I have read any other writer who so successfully combines excitement and humour, Normally one takes from the other but not in this series. There is laugh out loud moments and yet sections where I could not put them down. Why?

Characterisation!!! It's the most important part of any book for me and where many writers fall at the first. You can be a poet, have a vivid imagination and great plot but if your world is peopled by manikins it just won't grab me. This was a whole crew full of oddbods and screwballs all evolving over four volumes of high adventure. Also supplemented by a sub series of characters just as colourful and interesting.

Wooding's world is a mix of sc-fi, steampunk, horror, cowboy, penny dreadfull and Captain Sparrow all melded into something with a unique style of it's own. You will be moved and amused in equal measure as the Ketty Jay and her rag tag crew rise from a bunch of losers to high notoriety.

It's heart warming 'feel good' stuff and I am very sorry to be at the end of the road instead of the beginning.
If you are reading Chris please consider more adventures in this world if not onboard the Ketty Jay.
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on 3 November 2013
Being a newcomer to this series, I was immediately taken by this books strong setting and its well-conceived world. There is an immediacy and urgency to proceedings, and I was soon invested in each characters fate. I thoroughly enjoyed the way the crew interacted with each other, particularly the use of sardonic humour and squabbling.

Captain Frey is the archetypal anti-hero: ambiguous, scheming and self-serving. It made a refreshing change to have a central character behave, well, like on of us. Too often in fantasy literature we have people always doing the right thing and acting nobly; here, there is no book of ethics and no rules, just survival and lots of sharp-tongued banter.

The story boasts plenty of action and incident, with the pacing spot on. Ancient civilizations are nicely juxtaposed with technology, so too is the corporeal with the supernatural. Chris Wooding allows his imagination plenty of free rein, and is clearly having a lot of fun in the telling of his story.

Against the backdrop of a Steampunk world, we have romance, horror and a surrogate family in the form of the crew of the Ketty Jay. There really is a minefield for them to navigate, and thanks to the break-neck, desperation of the action there is never a dull moment. This epic final instalment makes it clear that a big game is finally being played out; there is no certainty who will be left standing at the end. There are consequences, loss, regret and remorse.

The Ace of Skulls is a soaring, good old-fashioned, rip-roaring adventure. Fans of Steampunk and fantasy in general, are sure to enjoy this; Wooding has demonstrated a fine grasp of what makes for solid adventure and thrills.
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on 31 October 2013
The Ace Of Skulls is the fourth (and apparently final) story in 'The Tales of the Ketty Jay' series by Chris Wooding. For those who are new to the series, I'd urge you to read them in order, starting with Retribution Falls, then The Black Lung Captain and The Iron Jackal which will bring you to The Ace Of Skulls.

What's it about? It's been said before, but basically it's Firefly, but with steampunk-grade aircraft instead of spaceships. The Ketty Jay, a craft held together with a mix of love, luck and large spanners. A Captain who treads a fine line between doing the right thing, and breaking the law when needed. And a crew for whom the cliche 'a rag-tag bunch of misfits' could have been coined.

Bt far from being hackneyed, Wooding has created a crew that you will whoop for, worry for and cry for.

So what of The Ace Of Skulls? Is it a fitting end to the series?

Hell yes!

Civil war is brewing, which our heroes might have had more than a little to do with, and whether they like it or not, it looks like they're going to be in the thick of it until the final shot is fired. Wooding is clearly a man who doesn't like to leave loose ends with his characters, and so they all find closure - one way or another. What that closure is, I'll leave you to discover for yourself, but suffice to say I laughed, at one point I actually shed a tear, but for the most part I simply couldn't turn the pages fast enough.

Having said that, to my mind it takes a while to get going, but once you're about a fifth of the way in, the rollercoaster is well and truly at the top of the track, and from that point, buckle up, 'cos it's going to be a fast and furious ride.

If I had any criticism at all, it would be that I felt there were a couple too many red herrings along the way, but that would be like complaining that a trifle was missing one cherry.

If you like the sort of swashbuckling fun that you thought hadn't been seen since Errol Flynn took on Basil Rathbone in 'The Adventures of Robin Hood', you like a bit of sci-fi where fun is more important than science, and you like the sort of story which makes you want to give up the desk job to go and be a pirate, then do yourself a favour...

Read the Tales Of The Ketty Jay, and then pester Chris Wooding until he writes us some more!

Thoroughly recommended.
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on 26 September 2013
...this fits the bill. Every character gets a ending all of their own, from Slag the cat to Silo the ex slave who just wants to be a free man. And in a way this is all that I can say about this book: it is an ending. The plot was of the usual flare we've come to expect from the tales of the Ketty Jay: long odds, terrible luck, the fates of millions hang in the balance, and a last minute cathartic reversal that sees our gang of vagabonds get turned into heroes. Even Harkin's gets in on this hero business, so you might want to sit down for that part.

Heck the majority of the male cast finally get their girl, and can wander off into the sunset with a swagger in their step. Female cast not so much, which reminds me I need to buy BBQ sauce,

Now do not take that as praise, take it as criticism of a sorts. There is no ending here to the saga of the Ketty Jay. Instead we get characters dreams realised, their hopes fulfilled, and what loose ends remain used to cast us off into another direction. This feels like Empire Strikes Back, with no definitive ending, and more of a "We'll see you next time on..." If there is another book in the Ketty Jay saga, or a spin off or some such (Pinn, Hero of the Skies anyone?) I will buy it and not be surprised.

Apart from the lack of a solid ending, where I felt all the characters got what they deserved, we got a happy ending. Call me grumpy but of I wanted a happy ending I'd be reading Harry Potter....again....don't judge me man! I was weak....
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on 20 November 2013
I like books which carry characters throughout the series, and this is an enjoyable series with likeable characters!
The Ketty Jay books are a good read, and this is one which i found to be well-paced with enough action to want to keep reading.
The crew are back doing what they seem best at, which appears to be being invincible in every given situation involving plundering or fighting for their lives. That's the running theme throughout the series, and perhaps a reason why 4 stars seemed a fair rating for this. A very good book, but when all action culminates in the assured well-being of the crew, be it immediately afterwards or being resurrected at a critical point in the future...well, little surprise can stem from such related antics. That said, that's part of the appeal of the books, and I have bought them all -can't be that bad can it!? If you are a fan of the series, be prepared for the fact that this book represents a culmination of the crew's adventures, similar in theme (but not in scale!) to the end of the Lord of the Rings. I look forward to endings that keep you hanging on for the next bit of the same adventure; presuming this isn't the last book in the series (it could well be), there may well be new crew members to get used to....argh!! Change! How terrible! I'm sure it'll be worth checking out,.
The writing flowed, the book seemed to fly by on the train and now I'm back to a search for another enjoyable read.
Recommended
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on 16 April 2014
Although I am sure many people will be able to pick holes in the plot and the narrative of these books and moan about the fact that your constantly in this cycle of oh no their dead, oh wait a minuet no they're fine and the fact that there are many many similarities with fire fly. Well I don't care. Cause it is such a rewarding, fun, page turner. And all the things people could moan about the kitty jay books are what make it brilliant. It is fun, action packed adventure at over the top breakneck speed. Yes it's a bit like fire fly. Fire fly is awesome and this is great for all the same reasons and guess what? It isn't fire fly and actually fire fly isn't that original anyway so there. I think I enjoyed this one the most out of the four. Chris wording is a massively under rated writer. If these books aren't to your liking then I highly suggest you read the fade and the weavers trilogy and the haunting of alizabel cray they are such good books.
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on 11 July 2015
A thundering climax to the 'Tales of the Ketty Jay'! Frey and his crew can't seem to get out from the maelstrom of civil war that threatens to engulf Vardia. Cap'n Frey's quest to win his beloved Trinica continues, unbeknown to the crew. Jez is still living between the world of the humans and that of the Manes. Will she be able to resist the call of the Wrack? Cracke's daemonism is fast becoming an asset instead of the curse it used to be while Malvery dreams of patriotism in defence of the realm. For so long the quiet member of the crew, has newly promoted Silo finally found his place in the world? Pinn lurches unexpectedly towards religion and might just become a convert to the Awakener cause. Harkins...well, no one expects him to be a hero, do they? Then there's the new member of the crew, Ashua, who's always had her own agenda. What is she up to now? Whatever it is, she's not telling the rest of the crew!
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VINE VOICEon 20 October 2013
This has been an excellent series building to a four way slug fest between some very different nations. But at the heart of this is a love story where Frey battles to recover Triciania the woman he now realises he loved all along
It definately reminds me of 'Firefly' and I think would make an excellent firm / series. It builds to a bloody climax with some battle scenes that made me wonder if I was reading Cornwell or Scarrow they were so engrossing. But in spite of all that what I liked most about this whole series is the crew - dysfunctional , yes but I really wanted them to survive because you get to care about them - in fact there is a neat twist as the end where just for a second I wondered whose funeral it was..
This is an action packed finale to a great series - I hope there is more from Chris Wooding because he seems to write stories that grab you
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Whilst I wasn't originally enamoured of this series its one that has grown on me over time. As such its come as a bit of a surprise for me to see how sad I was at the end of this series with so many plot lines that could have led to successive titles but the author took not only a brave step but one where he feels that they could bow out on a high.

The writing was sharp, the pace wonderful and when added to an author who has a clear love for the characters created really put his all into this final excursion.

That's not so say that it's a book without problems, far from it, as in places it did feel quite rushed but with so many plot lines to tie up that's hardly a surprise. All round a book that I had fun with and I wish Chris the best of luck with his next project. I just hope it is as good as what has gone before.
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