In my last review, I talked about my experiences reading Retribution Falls, the first in a series of steampunk (or some similar -punk) novels about the pirate crew of the ship Ketty Jay. I have now read the rest of the books in the series, and will be reviewing them as a unit.
Brief plot summaries of each book (each would work as a standalone adventure, I think, but of course it’s better to read them in order–and the last one relies more heavily on what has gone before)
The Black Lung Captain: Frey and the crew of the Ketty Jay go on a hunt for missing treasure from an ancient lost civilization alongside the cigar-chompin’, butt-kickin’ Captain Grist. Only problem is, Frey is suspicious–the pay is too good–and what seems at first like a simple hunt for ancient artefacts turns into something far more sinister.
The Iron Jackal: The crew of the Ketty Jay go to Samarla, the enemy of their home country/continent Vardia and the loser of the last war. They are hired by the fearsome pirate queen and Frey’s erstwhile flame, Trinica Dracken, to retrieve a priceless relic (not the same one as the last book). But Frey is cursed by the relic and must steal it back within a certain time limit or face the deadly consequences.
The Ace of Skulls: Civil war has come to Vardia, in which the priests and followers of the organized religion (Awakeners) fight against the government. Frey and his crew must infiltrate the Awakeners to try to save Trinica, testing the limits of himself and his crew and their relationships.
My conclusion in the last review that they were all a**holes… but rather fun ones. In the later books (which I’m reviewing as a unit), the characters still have some a**holeish tendencies, but each member of the crew does get an arc which sees them being redeemed somewhat. It’s done pretty well–some characters have arcs in each book, most notably the captain Darian Frey, the daemonist Crake, and the navigator Jez–while others come into their own more in later books or more slowly (Harkins, Malvery, Silo… sort of Pinn…). Silo is one of the characters who really comes into his own over the course of the series: he has a good backstory, he’s solid and dependable, and he’s probably closest character to ‘morally sound’ on the whole ship.
I definitely enjoyed these sequels more than I did the first book. In some ways, the first book was offputting because each character was at the lowest point in their overall arcs. By the 4th one, they weren’t perfect–some characters had even regressed–but they were more pleasant to be around for the duration of the storyline. Also, there are some great minor characters who keep popping up, especially Samandra Bree from the elite Century Knights, the crew’s (sometimes grudging) allies. The crew also gets another (much-needed) female member of the crew in Book 3: Ashua, a sort of street-rat character. She’s a bit meh, but plays off of some of the characters nicely.
Another aspect that is fun is that certain elements keep cropping up throughout: daemonism, the sort of ‘science’ that is opposed by the religious Awakeners; the terrifying Manes, otherworldly terrors who turn people to their brotherhood; the slave-world and geopolitical enemy Samarla; the lost civilization of the Azryx. Each novel contains elements of each one, but equally each crops up as more of a focus in the different novels. I said before that they could be read as standalone novels, and indeed they could, but the worldbuilding is done in a nice way in that information is only given when it’s needed/when the characters learn about it, so it builds upon itself quite nicely. And overall, there are good long-term arcs, especially regarding Frey and Trinica Dracken.
Yet, as with the first one, some of the worldbuilding isn’t exactly subtle. The Awakeners are an organized religion and are therefore opposed to ‘science’ (daemonism) and are of course evil. Samarla is equally an evil civilization because of their use of slaves (though I’m being a bit tongue-in-cheek here because Silo the ex-slave’s background is one of the more interesting). In fact, the Manes are somewhat more interesting exactly because they are not quite black-and-white ‘evil’.
I admit to being a bit disappointed with some things (Jez’ character arc most prominently), but overall these books are fun. They are quick reads, punctuated by lots of laughs (Pinn is and always will be awful, but he does make for some funny moments). I rate the series as a whole 4 stars (largely because of how much I enjoyed books 3 and 4).