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This was another book which my brother picked out of the shop, and as I have said previously on my Lies of Locke Lamora review, that automatically makes me nervous. However, after The Lies of Locke Lamora was such an epically fantastic read and launched itself onto my all time favourite books, I didn't think it would be fair to complain. In addition to this I was massively bored due to the fact that my job is a ball-ache and I had absolutely nothing to do. All of this led me to the conclusion that it was worth a shot and I had absolutely nothing to lose!
Darien Frey is the roguish captain of a sky ship called the Ketty jay, and the leader of a group which at best can be called a dysfunctional group of layabouts, and at worst are a bunch of lazy, incompetent, bumbling buffoons. As a group of pirates they only ever do the small stuff like running contra-bound, robbing airships and being a general nuisance to anyone who comes near them, but they are not are not even amazingly good at that. Well, except for the making a nuisance of themselves bit.But things go wrong when Frey bites off more than he can chew, and when what seems like a simple hit on an unguarded cargo freighter for a massive reward goes disastrously wrong. Well, he should have known that such a reward must have one heck of a catch, particularly for a man like him. Suddenly Frey finds himself public enemy number one, with the most powerful forces in the world out to catch him and bring him to justice, or at the very least kill him outright. Depending on which force you are talking about, either will suffice. Frey on the other hand knows he's been set up, but he doesn't know why or by who. So he needs to find out the answers to who caused his downfall and why with great urgency, whilst at the same time evading his potential captors.
With his crew though, this tricky task becomes more like seemingly impossible. Particularly when you consider that between them they are half-wits and incompetents, alcoholics and cowards. And they're all running away from something, and whether they'll even stick with Frey is a matter of debate. But Frey's way of looking at life is that he is quite willing to own up to piracy, although never to a judge, but murder is a different matter. Even if they both carry the same punishment; death by hanging. So, incompetents or not, he needs his crew with him.
To my mind Chris Wooding has done an absolutely fantastic job with the characters, you just can't help but love them. From Frey with his bright ideas that never quite work out and his absolute devotion to his ship even if he has less devotion to his crew, Pinn who is a complete and utter idiot, doesn't know when to shut up and is too stupid to be afraid of death, to Jez as the one competent person on the ship but has a secret large enough to get her killed. Even down to the doctor, who may once have been a good doctor but is now an alcoholic who will never do surgery because of one fatal mistake nearly twenty years ago. All of them are believable, realistically portrayed and if not necessarily likeable on occasions, then they are always understandable and you can always empathise with them.Considering that at points this is the stereotypical swash-buckling pirate story you could be forgiven for making the assumption that all the characters would be 2D representations with a sword or gun permanently attached to them. In complete contrast Chris Wooding has done a fantastic job and has created characters who seem completely real and jump off the page at you, in this book the characters truly make the story. On the face of it this is not my style of book at all, I've never been a big fan of pirates and most of this kind of action style books are too thin for my liking with little in the way of character development and too much in the way of whizzing bullets. Now, I don't deny that there are plenty of whizzing bullets and strangled cries of pain and anger in this book but somehow Chris Wooding has made this complement the story instead of steering and over-powering it. And because of this he has made a fantastic read, whereas he could quite easily have destroyed it with poorly defined, cut-out characters. I think the main reason he has made this work so well is that the story and the plot is completely based around the characters, and his focus seems to always be on them rather than on the gun fights, which is a mistake that many of the old-fashioned pirate style shoot-em-ups make.
There truly is a sense of getting to know the characters, caring for their well-being and watching them develop throughout the novel. Chris Wooding has packed all of the characters with background, emotion and conscience whilst at the same time keeping the stereotypical behaviour of piracy. This could easily have failed because it is a very large juxtaposition of ideas, but he has made it work.
Once again I have been pleasantly surprised. At some point I guess I'll have to come to the conclusion that my brother isn't quite as useless as he looks, but I think I'll need a little more proof yet. I was caught from the first page, and enjoyed it thoroughly all the way to the very last page. I can honestly say that even if you would not think this is your usual reading style then you should try it, that is how I thought and it surprised me.This is a witty, funny and oddly touching book that somehow defies somehow defies normal stereotypes. I was almost expecting it to be crass and crude, but I was completely incorrect. In complete contrast Chris Wooding has managed to balance a rip-roaring tale of piracy, explosions and gun-fights with a plot that actually makes sense and is completely enthralling. At the same time he has characters who can't fail to please; I actually dare you to read the book and not find that you completely and utterly agree with Frey's way of thinking...it's only afterwards you realise you are agreeing with a pirate! As I have said before, I think the only reason this book is such a success is because of the characters. Chris Wooding has built his plot around the characters and not the other way round, which means that the gun fights and the action fits in rather that controlling the novel. If he'd have failed on character development then the book would be awful, but because of the characters the story works and is completely gripping. Well at the very least it had me completely gripped.
Whether you are looking for an old fashioned swash-buckling pirate adventure or a novel based around the characters then I can honestly say that this book is for you. It's fast moving enough to appeal to a wide audience, but he spends enough time on individual motives, moments and relationships to keep those of us who are looking for a more in depth and full novel completely enthralled. I know a lot of people will be like me; they'll look at the book and think that it's not their cup of tea. All I can say is that I did that and I was surprised by the book, so even if you don't think you'll like it - it might be worth a shot. At the very least it's got a full five stars from me.
The Black Lung Captain seems to be the second in the series and I've already added it to my Amazon basket...I think it's going to be next months purchase though as I've already spent far too much money this month as it is. But surely if I'm looking at buying the second already it probably says more than this whole review combined!
"Ain't no deserving or otherwise. There's what is, and what ain't and there's what you do about it. Regrets just a way to make you feel okay that you're not makin' amends. A man can waste a life with regrets."