RogerBW's Blog

The Ace of Skulls, Chris Wooding 08 March 2021

2013 steampunk fantasy, fourth and last of its series. Civil war has broken out between the Awakener cult and the government, and it's not entirely Captain Frey's fault.

As I usually say by this point in a series, this isn't the place to start. Not that there was necessarily all that much emotional capital built up in the first place, as you could summarise most of the characters in a few words; but they act consistently with those summaries, while doing some slightly different things rather than just the same old trick. So Frey has flipped from commitment-phobe to being utterly dedicated to one woman (her feelings don't seem relevant, but fortunately they more or less match his), Harkins is still a coward but works out a way of living that works for him, and Pinn still has the intelligence of cheese. (And not a lively cheese like Stilton or Coulommiers, either.)

There's a complicated war with a triple cross, lots and lots of action, sudden reverses from triumph to despair and vice versa, and moments of emotional Feels that never quite ring true but never mind on to the next thing. Although the technology is obviously imaginary, it seems to act more or less consistently. The writing is never lyrical but always competent.

And it's all… fine. It's fine. I wouldn't set out to read this series (unless I were a huge fan of Firefly and wanted more with very much the same aesthetic even though it's not in space or with the same characters) but it doesn't offend, and it even has some decent moments; it just feels at times that it's lumbering along flapping its wings when it ought to be soaring.

She frowned. ‘I see death.’

‘Death?’

‘Death.’

‘The good kind, or the kind that happens to me?’

‘Don’t interrupt. I see death. That’s all.’

‘Okay,’ said Pinn, although privately he was a little put out. The specifics were sort of important.

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