Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding

Werthead

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Retribution Falls is the first novel in The Tales of the Ketty Jay, which promises to be a series of semi-stand-alone novels set in the same world and focusing on the crew of the airship Ketty Jay and its crew of miscreants and scoundrels. If I had to provide a quick soundbite for this it would be Firefly meets Crimson Skies, with a dash of Locke Lamora sprinkled on top.




Darian Frey is the captain of the Ketty Jay, a battered old freighter which he keeps running by the skin of his teeth, by accepting jobs on the dubious side of the law and trying not to get into too much trouble. When Frey is offered the chance of a lifetime - an easy theft in return for a massive fortune - he overrides his common sense and accepts the job. When it goes hideously wrong and a lot of people die, Frey realises he has been set up, and must prove his innocence even though he and his crew are now Public Enemy #1. Frey's quest to redeem himself takes him and his crew through multiple aerial dogfights, double-crosses, high society soirees and lowlife gambling dens. At the same time we get to know his crew, from the troubled new navigator harbouring a dark secret to the former aristocrat-turned-demon-summoner to the alcoholic ship's surgeon to the powerful and dangerous metal thing they keep in the hold...

Occasionally a book comes along which takes the concept of fun and turns it up to 11. Retribution Falls is one such book. The story powers along at a relentless, page-turning pace. The characters are a diverse and fascinating bunch and Wooding uses skillful economy in getting into their backstories and motivations quickly and convincingly without bogging the story down in unnecessary detail. The world of Vardia is a fascinating one as well, with its diverse landmasses, the dark, forbidding storms that wrack the planet, and a wide range of cultures and people. There are certainly a tremendous number of concepts introduced in this book that aren't followed up on, leaving open a large number of possibilities for future adventures with this crew.

What makes the book refreshingly different from so many fantasies is the setting and tech-level. Airships are the primary method of transportation and the cavalry charges and duels of traditional epic fantasy are here replaced by frigate broadsides and intense dogfights. The technology of the airships and how they work is depicted convincingly, and the battles are great fun and a nice change of pace for a fantasy novel.

As I said before, the book is 'FUN' but at the same time it is not lightweight. Some of the characters are carrying real demons around with them and Wooding doesn't wimp out of some the bad things they've done or had done to them. There are also some genuinely unsettling moments (one flashback sequence to an arctic location is pretty disturbing, which is all the more impressive since we know the character involved survives), and hints of greater, darker threats out in the world which could come into play in later books.

Retribution Falls (*****) is an accomplished and enjoyable novel, and hopefully the start of many adventures for this crew. The novel will be published on 18 June 2009 in the UK in hardcover and tradeback, and the tradeback will be available in the USA via Amazon after that date as well.
 

Thadlerian

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I'm tempted to say "ME WANTS" very loudly, but the disappointment that was called The Red Wolf Conspiracy has taught me to be careful about what to wish.
 

Vertigo

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My thoughts:


Wow! So it looks like I might have found me a new guilty pleasure!

When an author who chooses to fill his book with well-worn tropes, clichés and corny characters it’s quite possible that book could be a disaster, at least for the more discerning reader. However there are several different ways in which this can be done. One approach is to tackle everything very seriously which, for me at least, is never going to work. A good example of this kind of approach would be pretty much every Sylvester Stallone film I have ever watched (apologies to any Stallone fans out there). Another is to keep tongue in cheek, at least a little; examples of this approach might include all the Indiana Jones films, or a good SF book example would be Toby Frost’s Space Captain Smith stories. Strangely, I have come across both of these variations in recent weeks; the former approach was taken in Leviathan Wakes and was consequently, for me, pretty much a disaster. But in Retribution Falls Chris Wooding has adopted the latter approach and, combined with loads of swashbuckling action and mostly excellent pacing, the result, whilst certainly not about to transform the literary world but, does make for some of the most fun reading I’ve enjoyed for quite a while.

Retributions falls is steampunk with a generous dash of Indiana Jones combined with Pirates of the Caribbean. The hero, Darian Frey, has far fewer scruples than Indiana Jones and instead of a square rigged sailing ship he has a dirigible (sort of…). His crew is a classic collection of misfits some of whom, naturally, bring with them various bits of dark luggage. Sadly, this is one of the areas where Wooding is somewhat less successful and is the main reason Retribution Falls doesn’t make 5 stars in my rating; his handling of the crew’s back stories is very clumsy. His constant teasing of the reader is heavy-handed and becomes steadily more irritating until he finally condescends to reveal some morsel, which he invariably does smack bang in the middle of some piece of exciting action; instantly killing the pace and tension.

My only other complaint was the characters themselves; with the sort of clichéd characters this book is filled with I don’t really expect, or need, any great depth of characterisation so, whilst it is laudable that Wooding wanted to give most of them suitable flaws, I felt he tried too hard, placing too much emphasis on those flaws and making them deeper than was really necessary for the story. And where any of the characters received redemption it generally felt forced and implausible.

But a story like this doesn’t bear too much close examination. It’s a great fun adventure romp and I’m very much looking forward to the books that follow on from it, especially as I have heard the writing, and in particular the characterisation, is much improved in them.

4/5 stars.
 

thaddeus6th

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Been a while since I read Retribution Falls, but the Tales of the Ketty Jay is a very good series. The backstories, from memory, improve over the quartet of books.
 

Vertigo

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Great author. This book does sound like good fun to read.
Oh it certainly is fun, though as I say, you do have to ignore some of his clumsiness. But all in all a great fun read. It's not pure adventure; Wooding has made it fairly gritty in places but that's really where it felt clumsy with Wooding trying a little too hard in pushing that grittiness. A small complaint in an otherwise great read.
 

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