If you like your steampunk served with a side of Firefly, The Ace of Skulls: A Tale of the Ketty Jay by Chris Wooding is the book for you.
Earlier this year, I was introduced to a book series about the Ketty Jay, a steampunk-ish story that sometimes reads like Firefly, if Firefly had been books. My review was favorable, so when Titan Books asked me if I’d like a review copy of the follow-up (and what I believe is the last of the series), The Ace of Skulls, I did not hesitate to say “yes.”
The Ace of Skulls picks up after The Iron Jackal. Things aren’t good for the crew of the Ketty Jay. Jez is well on her way to becoming an inhuman creature called a Mane. Captain Frey is regretting ever letting the love of his life get away… again. The rest of the crew are still reeling from events that happened that’s, more or less, started a massive war between the Awakeners and the rest of the book’s fictional world. All in all, things look bad.
And throughout the course of the series, things get even worse. There were times when I felt as if the bad news just wouldn’t stop coming. But that’s the tone that this novel takes. It’s a dark tone, but it suits a story set in a time of war, especially for a group of misfits who were sworn not to get involved, but sort of have to anyway.
I actually enjoyed this book more than the previous one, although I grew frustrated with each turn of events, because these characters are taking a beating left and right. In particular, Captain Frey gets so down and out that, at one point, you really don’t think he’s going to recover. However, this is a story of misfits who save the day, so without spoiling anything, keep that in mind.
The pace of this novel is frenetic, but in a good way. Every chapter is an action sequence, building up to a climax that leaves you dangling on the edge of a cliff preparing to jump off. This makes the story a page-turner, and I spent some late nights reading page after page and not being able to actually put the book down. You really feel for the characters and even the dumbest of the lot can be sympathized with. Even the big metal supposedly emotionless Golem creature is written in a way that you care about her as much as the rest of the crew.
There is one thing I absolutely hate about this book. This is the last one in the series. I’d only just discovered these stories, so I’m sad that the journey is now already over. However, I’m looking forward to seeing what Wooding will write next.