“What is it with women and kicking me in the face?” Chris Wooding’s The Iron Jackal

“I’m just saying,” Crake continued, as he reloaded his pistol, “that maybe walking into a den of drug addicts while brandishing weapons and shouting wasn’t the best way to go about things.”

“Tell you what, Crake. If I’m still alive in ten minutes, you can head up the inquiry. How’s that?”

The Iron Jackal opens with a firefight, a rooftop chase, and a train robbery. The third book in Wooding’s “Tales of the Ketty Jay” series, after last year’s Black Lung Captain and 2009’s Retribution Falls starts fast and doesn’t slow down, rocketing like a rollercoaster from the hectic beginning to the (literally—I’m not joking here) explosive conclusion.

Things are finally looking up for Darian Frey, captain of the airship Ketty Jay, and his small, highly dysfunctional crew. They’re not broke, the Ketty Jay‘s in fine shape, and no one in particular wants their heads on a spike. Even the pirate Trinica Dancken, Frey’s former nemesis and ex-fiancée, is no longer out for his blood. Instead, she’s offered him a job: steal an ancient, valuable relic from the desert of Samarla.

“Can we talk about this later? I’m trying not to die.” – Captain Darian Frey.

Frey’s never been able to resist showing off. He cracks the relic’s protective case and discovers, too late, that the valuable stolen antique will leave him a parting gift — a deadly curse. Now he has an ancient, terrifying daemon on his trail. If he doesn’t return the relic to its original resting place by the night of the full moon, Frey’s a dead man.

And Darian Frey is man rather attached to living. So begins a desperate scramble to reclaim the relic, to find someone who knows where it originally came from, and to actually get there. Breakneck airship races, museum robberies, teaming up with runaway slaves to break into a prison camp, and a trek across the Samarlan desert to a empty city filled with the remains of ancient technology culminate in a show-down with the daemonic Iron Jackal, a three-way battle through the streets, and a giant golem-thing that shoots fire from its eyes.

“Plan B? Isn’t that just code for ‘wade in there and shoot anything that moves’?”


“Remarkable how often we end up using it, though.”

“That’s because Plan A never bloody works.”

Like its predecessors, The Iron Jackal is brimful of Cool Shit™, snarky banter, a hit-it-to-the-max style of action, and a joyous sense of fun. This is a book that swashes its buckles with immense panache, and revels in barrels-blazing gunslinging.

But Wooding is too accomplished a writer to sacrifice character development to rollicking adventure: he’s good enough to provide both. Previous instalments gave us Frey’s growth from a man willing to sacrifice his crew to keep his ship, to a man who wrestles — or, it being Frey, more like scuffles — with the responsibility of leadership; while the Ketty Jay‘s navigator Jez and the daemonist Grayther Crake have both come to terms with the things which once haunted them. This time around, we learn more about Silo, Frey’s laconic Murthian engineer, a former slave from Samarla, and what led him to join the crew of the Ketty Jay. Wooding also introduces a new character in the form of Samarlan former streetrat Ashua Vode, and gives us a little more of Samandra Bree and Colden Grudge, elite Century Knights in the service of the Vardia Archduke who featured at the climax of Black Lung Captain.

And while The Iron Jackal can stand on its own fairly well, it probably works better read in order.

Beyond the Cool Shit™, the swashbuckling narrative, and the ups and downs (mostly downs) of Frey’s fortunes, Wooding implies a wider world of politics and disappearing islands, international tensions and civil and religious conflict. The world of Darian Frey and his crew is a large one, and I hope that Wooding keeps telling stories in it for a long time to come.

In conclusion, the Ketty Jay books are fascinating, hectic, and enormously engaging. The Iron Jackal is the most entertaining yet. I can’t recommend it highly enough, and you should all go read it right now.

Liz Bourke is altogether too fond of airship pirates, snark, and explosions. It’s a character flaw.


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