Two years after dying in the fight against Dr Mirablis and the Murder Circus, Peg-leg Pete is miraculously restored to life by Father Peligro, half-mad priest of the God of Pirates! Peligro has foreseen that Jawbone Jack, the ghoul pirate, has returned and will unleash an army of the dead upon Freeport. Jack discovered some kind of mystical power in the secret abandoned temple of the Murder Circus – and only Pete can overcome its wards and ghostly defenders to uncover Jack’s plan!
But Pete can’t do it alone. He sets out to find the crew of the Guiding Star, only to learn that they had a falling out and separated after his death. Estrella Kuro now brews unstable alchemical liquors for Freeport’s seedier bars; Erik and his pet chimp Muddles are part of the city’s illegal monkey street racing scene; Roger runs a refuge for apes and monkeys near the edge of the jungle; Jobu (who somehow managed to return from the dead under his own steam) hunts sea monsters on the Docks, and Farn left Freeport entirely for parts unknown. While Pete manages to bring them together for one last job, tensions amongst the former friends are high, and no-one will tell Pete why.
Following Peligro’s visions, the crew finds the secret temple of the Murder Circus – a Big Top tent built under the city streets. Directly under – the ‘tent’ is made of black iron and is upside-down, affixed to the roof of a cavern and suspended over a underground river. The temple is crawling with ghouls and angry ghosts, and the crew have to muster all of their tricks – bombs, spirit allies, trained monkeys and maddening poetry – to fight past these terrors and search the temple for clues. At last they find the temple library and discover what Jawbone Jack is after – the Skull of God, which is buried on… Ape Island. Of course. At which point the temple breaks free from its moorings and plummets into the river! Fortunately it floats like a ship – a ship heading for a vast waterfall. Pursued by the giant spectral head of Charlie Chuckles, the crew manage to rig an anchor chain and swing to safety just before the temple falls into a bottomless crevasse.
To stop Jawbone Jack, the crew must get to Ape Island – but Pete learns that his friends fell out when The Travelling Lady was destroyed in a fire, in which Harcourt Horkel (its owner) also mysteriously died. Needing a fast boat to race Jack, they do something desperate – they steal the Sea Lord of Freeport’s own personal ship! Pursued by the Sea Lord’s Guard, they sail uncharted waters, taking supernatural shortcuts that pit them against ghoul sharks, unnatural storms and mermaid witches. Only Roger’s incredible steersman skills get them to Ape Island in one piece – but tensions mount along with the danger, as Erik and Roger clash over monkey ethics and Estrella reveals that she was the one that accidentally set The Travelling Lady on fire.
The ghostly gorilla guardian of Ape Island shows them what it has become – a maze of alleys and traps overrun by ghouls! Jack has uncovered the Grave of God, but it’s defended by an energy field projected by arcane pylons that must be activated within a brief time window. It’s time for Pete and Muddles to team up on a golem-powered monkey street race chariot! Erik directs them through the maze as the others hold off the ghouls, but emotions flare under the strain; Erik admits that the crew fell apart without Pete, especially once Farn ate Harcourt Horkel after the fire! Wrestling with feelings, Pete manages to activate the last pylon as Jawbone Jack leads his army into the fray – the field drops and a giant snake’s skull and skeleton, the size of a tower, emerges from its tomb!
As Roger, Estrella and an army of monkeys climb the skeleton of a primordial snake god, Jobu, Erik and Pete battle Jawbone Jack and his ghouls. Pete tears off Jack’s steel shark-jaw mask to reveal that he’s actually – Farn! As they fight, the former cabin boy declaims that after being rejected by the crew for his ghoulish ways, he became the new Jack to get revenge on the living. Pete doesn’t buy it, and pushes Farn’s emotional buttons until he admits that he just wants to feel accepted by his friends again, even if they’re all undead. The crew forgive Farn as Roger’s monkeys pull apart the Godskull, destroying the ghoul forces – and Jobu reveals himself to be a ghost, fading back into the ether as his crew is reunited in friendship. Electing Erik as their new captain, and putting old hurt behind them, they board their stolen ship and set off for new adventures.
With a hold full of monkeys…