Steampunk Review: ‘Iron Jackal’ by Chris Wooding

I have a bit of a grudge against Great Britain.  In 1812 they took The Iron Jackalthe time out of their day to attack my great nation despite already being deep in the muck with Napoleon.  And why did they attack us?  Well, maybe we started it.  And maybe we tried to invade Canada.  But still, they could have just left us alone, right?

Or maybe I am just pissy because they have had Iron Jackal on their side of the ocean and have been hoarding it since 2011.  In which case I hold no real grudge for the war of 1812 (or as the British call it, ‘what the hell are you Americans going on about?’).  I just really wanted Iron Jackal long before it actually showed up (and was reminded of the War of 1812 in a recent forum thread that has nothing to do with this review).  But I have it now, so all is forgiven!  Which is great, because one third of the bloggers in Fantasy Review Barn are from the area and things were getting a bit tense I don’t mind telling you.

The tales of Kitty Jay, if you have been living in a vacuum, is a wonderful little steampunk tale now on three books (four if you live in Britain, and yes, my anger is rising again).  It follows Captain Frey and his diverse crew of misfits and possible outlaws through various missions of dubious legality, centered around a airship in constant state of repair.  And fair or not to Mr. Wooding, it has been grabbed up by fans of Firefly, dissected and analyzed, and generally agreed to be the continuation of the show everyone has hoped for.  So yes, with its similarities, fans of Firefly should consider this series a must read.

But say your one of those not familiar with the show and therefore have zero idea what the fuss is about.  Don’t worry, it is still a great series that doesn’t need pop comparisons to stand on its own, and Iron Jackal is a great addition to the series, and well worth the wait.

There were a few loose ends wrapped up in the last book.  I can’t stress how great this was as it gives Iron Jackal a fresh start rather than just recycling the same plotline over and over.   Frey and his crew have a ship that is in good repair, a bit of notoriety that allows them mooch drinks in bars all over, and Frey’s love/hate with Trinica has settled to a more stable place.  No longer a when will the betrayal come thing, Frey is free to pine for something that can’t happen without fear for his tale finally.

When Trinica sets him up for a pretty nice job Frey lets his hubris get him in trouble.  So after a quick mission that of course isn’t as easy as hoped he finds himself in desperate need to rid himself of an unknown curse before he is chased down by a demon in the shape of an jackal.  After two books of betrayals and backstabbing we finally get to see the crew pull together and be a crew, one more way the series has been given a fresh face.  Don’t worry, still plenty of sniping, minor pranks, and OK, maybe a bit of backstabbing going on.  It is still Frey’s crew after all.

It would take pages to go through the entire crew and each of their individual growths but if this tale belongs to anyone outside of our good captain that title would go to the previously hidden in the background Silo, former slave with a past that will come to surprise the crew.  Normally the most trusted and easy going member of the crew, not counting that whole throw someone over a bridge thing, his change catches everyone by surprise and leaves them wondering what to expect.

These are books that are built around the interactions of the crew, with a bit of action thrown in on a regular basis.  The only thing Iron Jackal is missing that the first two had is the emotional gutpunch that the damn golem provided.  But the rest is still there.  The action is action.  It will either work for you or not depending on how well you like action scenes.  I found them to be well crafted and easy to follow, though by no means the best out there.  But it would be a heart of stone that doesn’t enjoy this crew and their interactions.  Sure Pinn may be over the top comic relief at times, but for the most part they avoid filling a personality role and instead just show personality.

BRING ME ACE OF SKULLS!  I am ready.

5 stars.  Because sometimes pure live up to the hype entertainment is worth that extra star.

Speaking of Firefly I am guessing the marketing geniuses behind the cover have heard the comparisons.  Does that cover not scream ‘look, don’t I look like a young captain Mal?”

Copy for review provided by publisher.

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