The Iron Jackal by Chris Wooding

October 16, 2011

@SamaelTB got married recently and as an extra special wedding gift I gave him a copy of The Iron Jackal to read.  Here is his review, I should warn you it would appear that all the love has gone to his head.

I love Chris Wooding. Not in the romantic sense of course. We’ve never met and while I’m sure he’s lovely, I’m already married. You hear me Chris? It’ll never happen!

But I digress. Mr. Wooding is a damned fine writer. My lovely wife told me to read The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray and, while I enjoyed some of it, it didn’t quite work for me. There were elements that were just a little too YA. Fast forward a couple of years and I still hadn’t read Retribution Falls because I assumed it was YA. It isn’t. So I read it. And it was/is awesome. Like really, really good. A brilliant adventure story, that while being a little too long and meandering in places, was still a hugely satisfying read. The sequel, Black Lung Captain, brought more of the same.

When Mr Cheesecake offered me the opportunity to read The Iron Jackal, before it went on sale, I jumped at the chance. It was a bit of a homecoming. I slipped back into the action like I would my slippers.

Mr. Wooding really doesn’t waste any time. We’re straight into the action and unlike the previous two books the action at the start actually has something to do with the overall plot. This series is not for fans of the slow burn. Moments of gentle contemplation don’t come very often and are sandwiched between chunks of grand adventure.

So let’s get the complaints out of the way first. These aren’t long books compared to some in SF/fantasy, but they aren’t short either. The Iron Jackal comes in at 500 pages and I think for a book primarily focused on action this was a bit much. Some of the sub-plots didn’t add a massive amount and new character Ashua Vode wasn’t especially well developed. I suspect it would’ve been a much tighter read at 400 pages. Still, it’s nice to see another girl on the crew who is more than capable of kicking arse.

My only other complaint is all the death. When it comes right down to it, the crew of the Ketty Jay do a whole lot of murdering. Mr. Wooding does attempt to justify this to some degree and I get that these books are effectively Westerns, but it just seems a little unnecessary, especially where Bess is concerned. In the first book, Wooding spent most of the time making his characters likeable. Three books in and what we’ve got is a bunch of very jovial killers.

It’s also worth noting that there seem to be two different blurbs for this book. The one on Goodreads bears no relation whatsoever to what’s actually in the book. In fact it reads more like a possible synopsis of the fourth book. Then you have the blurb on the back of the actual book. It’s reasonably accurate so far as plot goes, but it’s one of those blurbs that spoils way too much.

The crew are all back and in fine form. This book is a lot less emo than the last one and is more fun for it. The resolutions to a couple of characters’ issues in Black Lung Captain make way for development of others and damn are they good. Silo and Malvery just grow and grow, Silo especially. I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that Frey is actually the least interesting character. If it wasn’t for his fascinating relationship with Trinica then I’d happily see him step aside in the next book. I also wonder if, by this point, the characters pretty much write themselves.

The adventure is even more traditional this time around, with curses, stolen artefacts and archaeology! We relocate to Samarla which, for Silo, can be best described as “awkward”, and learn a lot about the desert society. The theme this time around seems to be control. What makes us do what we do? Who controls us and how? How does our personal history inform who we are now? These somewhat heavy questions are dealt with in traditional Ketty Jay style, fun, last minute escapes and rather a lot of violence. There’s also a pitch-perfect moment of male-bonding in the face of certain death!

The ending is really solid and actually feels like a proper ending. When I read the final line I knew I was happy with where Mr. Wooding had left things. Of course I’m looking forward to the next one, but it’ll be a gentle wait, without impatience.

If you like action and adventure – perhaps even a combination of the two – mixed in with Whedon-esque dialogue and great characters then you really should read this series.

The Iron Jackal is published by Gollancz on 20th October 2011.

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