Literature / Tales Of The Ketty Jay

Since he'd almost crashed in the canyon, the question had been haunting him. "What would he leave behind?" Now he had an answer. A damn good story.
"The Black Lung Captain"

Picture, for a few seconds, a tale of scallywag sky pirates trying to survive beneath the notice of the law. A tale of steampunk airship pirates. And now that we have your attention...

Tales of the Ketty Jay is a series of four sci-fi fantasy books by Chris Wooding which focuses on an aircraft called the Ketty Jay, owned and piloted by Darian Frey, and her ragtag crew.

We follow the ship from the arrival of Jezibeth "Jez" Kyte, the new navigator. She discovers that everyone on this ship has a reason to leave the world behind. Meanwhile, the world keeps trying to drag the crew into the schemes of the great and powerful.

The series plays in a well-established toolbox and doesn't add much (apart from psychological depth), but is damn good fun. The series is now concluded, and consists of four books: Retribution Falls, The Black Lung Captain, The Iron Jackal, and The Ace of Skulls.

The books contain examples of:

  • Action Girl: Jez. Samandra Bree. Trinica Dracken.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Trinica Dracken. She was once engaged to one Darian Frey, and found out she was pregnant just before they were due to get married. Frey got cold feet and ran away, leaving Trinica at the alter. She then ends up killing their unborn child in a botched suicide attempt, and eventually runs away from home, only to end up amongst a pirate crew. They brutally raped her and treated her as nothing more than a pet until she had the courage to stab the Captain in the neck, and take over the ship for herself.
  • All There in the Manual: The first book has a set of rules for the card game Rake in the back.
  • Awesome McCoolname: Darian Frey.
  • Badass Adorable: Bess, hands down. One minute she'll be tearing through an armoured ship, the next she'll be cooing and singing lullabies.
  • Badass Crew: The crew of the Ketty Jay, who all have their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Berserk Button: Pinn has one when he's teased about his sweetheart supposedly waiting for him back home.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Bess is very sweet towards Crake, but she will tear men apart if she has to. Crake himself can also count.
  • Big Good: The Century Knights. Kinda.
  • Black and Gray Morality: Frey and his crew are definitely grey, they've all done their share of bad things, and they'll kill to avoid being killed, but they won't kill without reason. They even express shock and horror when someone is murdered in front of them for the pettiest of reasons.
    • The Awakeners heavily tread the fine line between grey and black, despite being a supposedly spiritual religious faction, and the Century Knights are ultimately grey, but also the closest you'll get to white in the Ketty Jay universe.
  • Cool Airship: The Ketty Jay manages to be this, despite being quite an old and outdated model at the time the novel is set. Apparently she's patched together in such a haphazzard way, that only Frey can really fly her to her full potential.
    • The Delerium Trigger is a more straightfoward example, although while it's very big and powerful, it's not quite as fast as the smaller fighter ships.
  • Cool Sword: The enchanted cutlass that Crake gives to Frey in order to pay for his passage on the Ketty Jay.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Trinica Dracken in the second book.
  • Cultured Badass: Trinica Dracken reads widely, has a very good understanding of religion and politics, and is the deadliest pirate in all of Vardia.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The Manes are a race of undead super-human creatures known for killing everything in their path without exception. In the second book, a legion of them comes across a handful of Century Knights. The Manes never stood a chance.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Darian, Jez, Crake. Malvery and Silo have their moments.
  • Dysfunction Junction: Everyone has issues. However, in the process of getting over them, they demonstrate surprising psychological complexity.
  • Fate Worse Than Death: Arguably, Bess's situation. The suit of armour actually contains the soul of Crake's niece, whom he murdered after a summoned daemon took over his body. He managed to attach her soul to the suit of armour, but she only exists in her most basic form, more like a pet than the bright and vibrant little girl she had once been.
    • Also what happens when the Manes get a hold of you.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: Bess the Golem.
  • Gentle Giant: Bess the Golem is a large, powerful and frightening suit of armour. But she's a total sweetheart when she's not being ordered to attack.
  • Hero of Another Story: The Century Knights are clearly this. They are an law-keeping organization whose each member has a very specific appearance and who all seem to embody the general feel of a pulp adventurer.
  • Hidden Depths: The entire crew of the Ketty Jay have intricate backstories to explain how they've become who they are.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Darian Fray
  • Magic Compass: Grayther Crake makes daemon-bound compasses for the crew of the Ketty Jay that always point towards Darian Fray.
  • Path of Inspiration: The Awakeners, especially during the second book.
  • Perpetual Storm: The Wrack, a permanent belt of storms which starts at the North Pole where the eldritch Manes live, and runs across a large segment of ocean. Only recently has anyone found way past to the lands beyond.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The captain is a drug addict with commitment issues, the medic is an alcoholic Sad Clown, the mechanic is an escaped slave, the wingmen are a delusional fantastist and a Shell-Shocked Veteran, the Magitek guy is wanted for manslaughter, the navigator is a Half-Human Hybrid... and you cross them at your peril.
  • Rape as Backstory Pretty much stated that this is what Trinica Davis had to go through in order to become the dread Queen of the Skies we know today
  • Share Phrase: 'Spit and blood!' is an exclamation used by almost everyone, from pirates, to upper class arisitocrats.
  • A Simple Plan: The books follow a formula that begins, "the ship is hired to do a simple job for quite a lot of money. Then it turns out someone tried to take them for a ride."
  • Villain: Exit, Stage Left!: The Ketty Jay and the Delerium Trigger, whenever they are involved in a fight between the good guys and the book's villains. Because, well, if they stick around, someone might try to arrest them.
  • Worthy Opponent: Trinica Dracken, "Death's Whore", the captain of the Delirium Trigger, and the biggest name in outright piracy in these skies.