Retribution Falls is a return to the classical adventure story. It comes to us from its really quite brilliant author, Chris Wooding. He is not new to the writing scene having written a number of other novels, but he’s kept for the most part to YA. Retribution Falls begins the Tales of the Ketty Jay, a series for which, after having read this excellent first entry, I hold great hope and anticipation. Not overly complicated stock-full of excitement, this is a book I’m glad I got around to reading.
Darien Frey is the roguish captain of the Ketty Jay, and leader of a small and highly dysfunctional group of layabouts. Frey and his gang run contraband, rob airships and generally make a nuisance of themselves, all the while avoiding the Coalition Navy frigates.In Retribution Falls, Wooding creates a fast-pace story that is just like a good old swashbuckling pirate story but set in sci-fi environment. He brings together all the familiar elements of an adventure tale; pirates, gunfights, swordfights, discovery, humor and a touch of emotion. The tone and feel of the book is pitch perfect. From the onset it is hard to imagine oneself not enjoying such an easy going book. Wooding is not trying to build a complex plot for his readers to puzzle over, he delivers a simple, good natured story.
A hot tip on a cargo freighter seems like a great chance for a simple heist. But when the robbery goes awry and the freighter explodes Frey suddenly finds himself public enemy number one, with both the Coalition Navy and hired bounty hunters after him. But Frey knows something they don’t ; that freighter was rigged to explode and Frey’s been framed to take the fall/ To prove his innocence he’ll have to catch the real culprit, surviving gunfights and facing down liars and lovers, Dukes and daemons along the way.
It’s going to take all his criminal talents to prove he’s not the criminal they think he is…
In fact, a lot of the story can seem a bit predictable, but event when being relatively straightforward, Wooding managed to surprise with a few unforeseen twists. That is something I enjoy greatly, as it’s always better to hit a certain twist or another when not expecting it. It beats reading one in a book where you’re expecting complexity. That is what Wooding pulls off in Retribution Falls. He tells a story that grabs your attention and keeps it angled towards the lesser important bits like the fights, the humor, etc. and then out of nowhere surprises you. It would also be fair to add that Wooding does a noticeable amount of world-building. Just the various steampunk, sci-fi, fantasy and vaguely historical elements are enough to make the world of Retribution Falls and rich and original one.
The other strong point of the book is its characters. To go along with the usual tropes of the pirate/adventure story, Wooding has also written some of the most loveable, if a bit stereotypical, characters. Frey is a prime example of this, as he represents the immature and irresponsible captain that gets caught up in the most hazardous of plans only because of his too-great greed. Then, of course, follow the crew of the Ketty Jay, the destitute doctor, the ex-slave engineer, the reckless pilot and the pursued magician. All of the characters, Frey first among them, have a tragically long personal history filled with the most bizarre and dangerous people whom they never fail to encounter on their travels. Ultimately, these characters are perhaps the strongest asset of the novel; they are the ones for whom we care, the ones that deliver the often hilarious one-liners and the ones we root for in their multiple skirmishes and unlikely survivals.
Though Wooding might not absolutely excel story-wise, he is a clear winner in terms of action, pace, tone and general fun-ness. Retribution Falls is perfect for those in search of some quality entertainment. I am left looking forward to July and to the next installment in the Tales of the Ketty Jay, The Black Lung Captain, but I fear that even the short span of two months will be too long a wait for me. Parting words, if I may: Plot, style and everything else aside, it is rare for me to have this much pure fun with a book; in that sense I cannot recommend this enough…
My Rating: 4 out of 5
Reading Age: 16 and up
Chris Wooding's website: http://www.chriswooding.com
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