Retribution Falls is the first in Chris Wooding’s Tales of the Ketty Jay. It follows the ever charming Darian Frey and the crew of his airship, the Ketty Jay. Made up of a band of scoundrels you’d be lucky to see in a Pirates of the Caribbean movie, the Ketty Jay is a rickety old ship that Frey holds dear to his heart. When Frey is given an offer he can’t refuse – involving a spot of sky-piracy, a ship full of gold and the right place at the right time – what’s he to do but take up the offer? It quickly becomes apparent that not all is what it seems, and Frey and the crew find themselves on the run from almost every faction out there in Wooding’s madcap world. From bounty hunters to government paid assassins, they need to keep running if they’ll ever have a chance at a dishonest life again.
Early on in Retribution Falls, we’re introduced to a character named Bess. She’s sympathetic, terrifying, loyal and funny. She’s also an enormous golem, never talks and spends most of the novel sitting in a heap on the floor. It’s with characters like this that Chris Wooding manages to convey his tremendous skill as a writer. He gives each and every one of them a layered backstory, filled with internal conflict and motivations, external desire and whip-cracking dialogue. Whether they’re the ship’s charismatic captain, Darian Frey or the hilarious out-flyers, Pinn and Harkins, each and every one of them feels rounded and, fundamentally, real.
Although characters are at the heart of the novel, Wooding certainly doesn’t skimp on plot. This book moves like a Skylance in a firefight – swift and deadly. Right from the opening moment we’re thrown into a tale of sky pirates, aerium-fuelled dogfights and the occasional bit of daemonism (magic) thrown in for good measure. There are double crosses, triple crosses and colourful new characters on every other page.
If there’s anything negative to say about this novel, it’s that sometimes the world itself takes a backseat to all the action. It never feels entirely clear where the Ketty Jay is in relation to everything else – whether this would have been helped with a simple map at the front or some clearer explanation, I’m not sure. The book moves at such a pace, it would have been a shame to see it slowed down by extraneous detail – a map would probably be the way to go.
Retribution Falls really was one of the biggest surprises of 2012 for me – a rip-roaring belter of an action adventure story, with plenty of character depth to boot. I’ve heard it compared to Firefly on more than one occasion – but try Firefly crossed with Cowboy Bebop, mixed with Pirates of the Caribbean and a healthy dose of Steampunk, and we’re halfway to explaining just how awesome this book is.
Now – where’s the Rake table? I fancy a game.
(Note: If you fancy an excuse to read Retribution Falls, Fantasy Faction will be running it as their monthly book club choice in March - so plenty of time to grab a copy and prepare! Link to sign up - http://fantasy-faction.com/forum/book-club/(march-2013)-retribution-falls-by-chris-wooding-who's-reading-with-us/ )