20121025-204834.jpgChris Wooding’s tales of the Ketty Jay series makes me feel warm every time I dip into it. There are now three novels in the series, the last one being the Iron Jackal, which followed Retribution Falls and Black Lung Captain.

Anyone who is writing about this series must mention the similarities between it and Firefly. Ticking them off — both have a crew of misfits who are freebooters. Both fly a ship that’s probably past its best. Both have captains who are veterans of a war. Both have a deadly woman on board. Both have an aristocrat who has been forced by circumstances to travel with the ship. Both have a version of humans who somehow are no longer humans and prey on other humans. Both have a stupid idiot of a man who everyone just puts up with.

But the thing that made these books original for me was the very different level at which we are introduced to the crew.

When we meet the crew of Firefly, its members are competent, and proud of what they do. Their captain might give them tough love, but he’s still recognised as caring about his team and having his own honour code. We watch the series because we’re so in love with Captain Mal’s honour that we don’t want to see it dirtied, so bite our lip, hoping the crew will make it through the scrapes it gets itself into.

When we meet the crew of the Ketty Jay, it’s sunk so low that we wonder if it’s possible to go any lower without dying. It takes time to fall in love with the decidedly down at heel, somewhat incompetent and dishonourable characters, who as a norm just don’t give a stuff about anyone else. But we do eventually, because they’re so gritty and real and they make us laugh in the milkshake snorting out of your nose kind of way. In the end, we really read this series because we grow to care deeply about the ragtag band of characters and want to see their redemption.

As to whether they ever do get redeemed, I’ll have to tell you when I know. The last book in the series is yet to come.

While Wooding is good at painting people, customs and metropolises with his prose, he isn’t so great with creating a sense of place. All of the action seems to happen on disconnected islands of description. I thought pretty much throughout the whole series that they were travelling between planets, until I noticed at some point that captain Frey kept talking about countries, not worlds. I am a vague reader, but I do feel that Wooding could have spent a little more time on setting. It seems a shame to be so adrift when we understand so well the motivations of the groups of people living in his world.

I do enjoy his form of magic, however, which has its own in-built limit. You can’t practice it without a lot of expensive equipment, patience and a laboratory where you will not be disturbed.

Since none of these things are to be had in abundance on the Ketty Jay, our magician, or Daemonist as they are called in the book, is constantly making do. No mighty powers here.

I really enjoyed this series and am slightly sad that there will only be one more book. I’m giving it a 4.5/5.