Frey is the captain of the Ketty Jay, leader of a small and highly dysfunctional band of layabouts.
An inveterate womaniser and rogue, he and his gang make a living on the wrong side of the law, avoiding the heavily armed flying frigates of the Coalition Navy.
With their trio of ragged fighter craft, they run contraband, rob airships and generally make a nuisance of themselves.
So a hot tip on a cargo freighter loaded with valuables seems like a great prospect for an easy heist and a fast buck. Until the heist goes wrong, and the freighter explodes.
Suddenly Frey isn’t just a nuisance anymore – he’s public enemy number one, with the Coalition Navy on his tail and contractors hired to take him down.
But Frey knows something they don’t. That freighter was rigged to blow, and Frey has been framed to take the fall. If he wants to prove it, he’s going to have to catch the real culprit. He must face liars and lovers, dogfights and gunfights, Dukes and daemons. It’s going to take all his criminal talents to prove he’s not the criminal they think he is …
Hello again dear reader or listener, I’d been feeling steampunk of late and after the nth rewatch of Treasure Planet, masterpiece that it is, I turned that mood toward one of my backlog books currently residing on my shelves, curtesy of our powerhouse leader at BWG, Beth. Thank you again, Blog Mom. I truly do not remember who recommended this book to me way back when, but I’m 99% sure it was one of the FFA lovable maniacs, so a second thank you goes there.
Now then, Wooding presents the reader with a true band of misfits, the likes of which I haven’t truly read in a while if I’m being honest. The exception being De Castell’s most recent release, The Malevolent Seven, which oof, chef’s kiss, but let’s not digress. Captain Frey and his crew of outlaws – but not really pirates, mind you, they couldn’t quite hack it that far – are both ill-fitting in society and amongst each other, and yet, they come to make it work by the end of this book so much that you end up with such a lovable band of idiots becoming a true sky crew and aaah the found family vibes abound. They start off with such discordance that when they each in turn realize that they’ve actually developed strong camaraderie and can work well as a cohesive unit, the realization has snuck up on both them and the reader.
Moreover, Frey is not a likeable protagonist, if I’m being frank. Or rather, we the reader love him but he’s definitely got his picture under the definition of occasional jackass. The same goes for a few of the others too! And yet it all works so well to bring to life an endlessly entertaining story, where nothing seems to go right for our protagonists who, ok they may not be paragons of virtue but hey at least they’re not evil? You can’t help but root for them, even through their failings or hypocrisies, or their rare moments of self-awareness. Wooding’s characters well and truly fit the morally grey mold, unlike commonly considered morally grey protags these days, who just bend the rules a lil on occasion and lean on sarcasm.
(cough looking at you BookTok and Booksta cough)
Wooding’s plot is fast paced and following a ‘political intrigue using small time criminals as scapegoats’ trope which is always good fun. Especially with the heaps of attitude and character work that he puts into it. His world building is rich and his descriptions will have something in there for everyone looking for a vivid picture and to tickle all their steampunk lore loving bits. Moreover, the author doesn’t shy from some gritty details and, although endlessly amusing, this isn’t an entirely lighthearted stroll through a meadow, packing the occasional gut punch and small reminder that darkness does still exist at the edges. Each of his protags seeks to rebuild themselves, with one glaring exception but he doesn’t really count, as he is too stupid to even understand why he would need to, and I am in fact paraphrasing part of his intro here.
Seen as this book was first published in 2009, moreover, I was happy to see that the overall handling of topics, humor, and one-liners aged really well, which was not something I was actively looking for but something I was pleased to find. Truly as I read, I was aware this book was a bit of a backlist but I was more than surprised it was this old. Another surprise came in the handling of certain topics and the attitude of the characters towards them. I was in fact delighted to find instances of ‘Everyone Is The Asshole’ where neither side is hailed as the victim or hero, romanticizing something arguably problematic. Rather, you have some blunt as hell moments that are fairly shown as awful from both sides, with Wooding not caring about sugarcoating our hero just because we’re supposed to love the protag and he can’t have any real faults. It feels realer for it and just as modern and fresh as anything you’ll find on newly published shelves today. I think it’s safe to say there’s a reason why these books are still in print, is where I’m going with this.
So then, dear reader or listener, if rich world building you don’t even notice happening, chaotic disaster characters, occasionally sharing the one braincell between themselves, hilarious moments akin to a comedy of errors, and feels that sneak up on you in between awesomely flowing action sequences is the thing you’re looking for your future reading, do yourself the favor and give The Tales Of The Ketty Jay a go. It will be worth it and you’ll have felt your mood lift beyond what you were expecting. Personally, I can’t wait till I get to continue reading this series (as I’m currently away from my physical copies – single tear running down) and I have a strong feeling that by the end it’ll have earned a spot among my top favorites of all time.
Until next time,
Eleni. A. E.