The Black Lung Captain

The Black Lung Captain (Tales of the Ketty Jay, #2)The Black Lung Captain by Chris Wooding

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m afraid I abandoned this one around 30%, but I’m leaving it in the “maybe I will return to this” pile. It seemed like it should be right up my alley. I was looking for a lighter read with some memorable characters, and a story about some swashbuckling air pirates sounded perfect.

The characters were memorable, if a little bit cheesy, but there was just a little bit TOO much effort put into making them “whacky”. That’s fine. There was plenty of lighthearted humour to appreciate and I can handle rolling my eyes every now and then as long as it’s reasonably entertaining in the meantime. But then I found myself slogging through page after page of exposition. The bits of action that happened in between were interesting, and I kept waiting for the story to get rolling, but then we’d scene cut to another character and sit through pages of inner monologue as they brooded about their past. It was really starting to get exhausting because the book kept pausing the plot to do this and I didn’t really care, yet.

I realized shortly after I started it that I had inadvertently skipped the first book. I did a quick peek and it seemed like the stories were standalone, so I didn’t bother to go back and find the first one first. As a result, I was not already invested in the characters when wading into this one, which might be part of the problem. But… the problem is that there’s TOO MUCH exposition, not too little.  Especially since it opens with the main character looking in a mirror and describing himself.  UGH.  There is a chance that there is a more gradual introduction to the characters in the first book, which would lend the infodumps in this one a bit more value, but if you’re checking this review to see if it’s okay to start midway through the series, my advice is to stop now and find the first one instead.

This is the passage that made me quit:
“He watched the shuttle descend with a deep sense of trepidation. She would be on it, of course. The woman he’d loved once, back when they were both young and didn’t know any better. The woman he’d deserted on their wedding day. The woman who’d tried to kill herself in her grief and only succeeded in killing the baby inside her. His baby.”

Like being hit in the face with a brick wrapped in exposition.

I didn’t hate it and I think it has some potential if you can hang with it, but the writing just felt a little too unpolished for me. My habit of reviewing books might be turning me into a writing snob :( *weeps bitterly*

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Fran Bow

I think I purchased Fran Bow during a Halloween sale.  It got lost in my vast backlog of adventure games until I was finally in the mood for a point and click story experience.  I spent the next few hours sending messages to my friend which all said something along the lines of “Wow, this game.”  “WTF.”  “This is like the most fucked up game I’ve played in awhile…”  It actually reminded me a bit of Year Walk, although not nearly as ambiguous and without the same level of puzzle solving.  Both games come from Sweden, so perhaps that’s less of a coincidence than I first thought.

Fran Bow is a ten year old girl who survives a terrible family tragedy, and is then placed in a mental asylum.  The game takes place in 1944, so this is an old-school asylum environment with all of its various mental illness stigmas.  Fran was separated from her beloved cat, Mr Midnight, and she embarks on a mission to escape the asylum and find him.  The game has some mental illness themes that I found intriguing, and unraveling what’s going on is an engaging journey.

The game has quite a few mixed reviews on Steam, and I think that’s because there’s a huge tonal shift in the third chapter.  The opening chapters are fucked up.  There is a lot of really disturbing imagery and suggestions of some really dark content, which is probably what a lot of people dove into the game expecting after looking at the synopsis (and possibly got even more than they bargained for).  The third chapter, though, loses a lot of that imagery and becomes a fairly generic point and click story.  It doesn’t really return to its disturbing roots until closer to the end, and even then it doesn’t seem to reach the same heights.  I can easily see how someone who was engaged by the opening chapters would lose a lot of momentum in chapter three and not really manage to stick it out.  And the ending was… strange.  Many reviews point it out for being too abrupt, but I felt it had enough closure to seal off the story.  I wouldn’t say it was disappointing, but it might have been a little more effective if they had been more concrete rather than leaving some of the lines to interpretation.

If you can handle the disturbing underlying suggestions of the game, it’s probably worth the 4-6 hours that it will take to see Fran through her story.