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Ace of Skulls by Chris Wooding

Ace of Skulls by Chris Wooding
Book Name: Ace of Skulls
Author: Chris Wooding
Publisher(s): Gollancz
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / eBook
Genre(s): Science Fiction / Steampunk
Release Date: September 19, 2013

All good things come to those who wait, and this is it, the last stand of the crew of the Ketty Jay.

They’ve been shot down, set up, double crossed and ripped off. They’ve stolen priceless treasures, destroyed a 10,000 year old Azryx city and sort of blew up the Archdukes son and heir. Now they’ve gone and started a civil war. This time they’re really in trouble.

As Vardia descends into chaos, Captain Frey is doing his best to keep his ship and crew out of it. He has his mind on other things, mainly the fate of Trinica Dracken. But wars have a way of dragging people in, and sooner or later you have to choose a side.

Cities will fall, deamons will rise, old secrets are uncovered and new threats exposed. But, when the smoke of battle clears, who will be left standing?

I suppose first off it might be worth a little back-story for those that have never read the three previous books in the Tales of the Ketty Jay series. We were first introduced to Captain Darian Frey, his beat-up-seen-better-days ship and his crew of misfits – Doc Malvery, navigator Jez, engineer Silo, ships cat Slag, and the Ketty Jay’s two out-fliers Harkins and Pinn – in Retribution Falls, next up was The Black Lung Captain and thirdly The Iron Jackal. Its best to describe these books as secondary world science fiction mixed with fantasy, a smattering of horror and huge helpings of steampunkesque ship on ship action. I know a lot of people that have likened the stories to Firefly, having never seen it I can’t comment, but I do know that based on that comparison I do feel perhaps I should seek the series out.

The adventures of the crew of the Ketty Jay are over the top rip roaring fun, there is plenty of action, plenty of humour and each book is full of skin of their teeth escapes. Originally planned as an ongoing series there was a lot of foreshadowing throughout the previous books to a larger conflict and a greater world than what we the reader was exposed to. But suddenly early on in 2013, author Chris Wooding announced that this fourth book would be the last outing for Darian Frey and his crew. That meant that this last instalment had a lot of ground to cover, and a lot of loose ends to tie off.

I’m not sure the reasons behind Woodings decision to finish the story now. I had heard he had concerns the format would get stale and outlive its popularity. I can understand if that was his reasoning, best to finish with the story still enjoyable, the characters still likable. But unfortunately for me, a third of the way into this fourth book, things were already getting stale. I’m not convinced trying to finish the overall story arc off in a single volume works, there is way too much to be done, too many subplots to address. I’m not saying this isn’t a good finale; there is still plenty of the trademark action, humour and daring-do. But it was the abundance of this that stunted the story as a whole.

There are a dozen too many last minute escapes from death, too many times Frey proves what a selfish bastard he is and how unfit he is for command, too many battles for battles sake. The odds are almost always insurmountable, most of the situations individual crew members – or the crew as a whole – find themselves in are easily got out of, most times without a scratch. I found this frustrating. It was almost like Wooding did not have the nerve to generate real threat by having something really bad happen to any of them. I’m not saying I want to see characters I like get maimed or killed, but a real sense of jeopardy is need in order for the reader to feel there is an outside chance not everyone will make it through. I guess I’ve become hardened reading the likes of George RR Martin and Joe Abercrombie, become accustomed to the possibility someone might die. I lost count of the number of times during reading this book that I thought, “Oh, another near impossible to get out of situation,” but knew they would anyway. To be honest when I reached the end I did feel slightly robbed.

In a way the best way to describe this book is it is very like the A-Team TV series, the characters are colourful and brash, the action loud and big, the injuries minor. Whilst it does round off this individual story well, and the overall series arc suitably, I do feel there could have been more. All of the characters get their chance to shine, even the ships cat gets its crowning moment, but that was it, everything was very workmanlike and ticked all the boxes.

If Wooding does ever decide to return to this world I would pick up the book because despite this ending, it has been a good quartet of books covering an exciting set of characters and setting. But if he does come back, I for one hope he concentrates on the Century Knights.


One Comment

  1. Avatar Overlord says:

    Wow – sad to hear this, the first 3 are among my favourite books! :O

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