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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"Retribution Falls" by Chris Wooding (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Chris Wooding Website
Order "Retribution Falls" HERE

INTRODUCTION: I encountered Chris Wooding's work for the first time in 2007 when I bought the wonderful novel The Fade. That was his first adult book after a very successful YA career and it seemed interesting based on description and online reviews. I ordered it from the UK despite not really knowing what to expect. It impressed me so any new adult novel by Chris Wooding became a buy on publication. A similar mixture of sf and fantasy, though much darker in tone than "Retribution Falls", "The Fade" is a novel I would also strongly recommend.

However some so-so online reviews of "Retribution Falls" made me hesitate a little and I did not even try to get a review copy, not wanting to commit as per our policy of FBC as a site to showcase books we love first and foremost, but airships, "steampunk" and adventure sff are what I like a lot so when THIS review from Strange Horizons appeared, it made my decision to buy the book on publication
the following week all but certain.

And I have to say that "Retribution Falls" was unadulterated fun, a book with line after line that made me laugh out loud wherever I was reading it - home, on the go, park - and I enjoyed it much more than I expected.

OVERVIEW: Set in a "steampunk" with "magic" universe, with airships, necromancy, a church bent on universal domination and a rich variety of countries and people, the novel takes place sometime after the end of the second Aerium War between the Coalition and the nasty slave holders "Sammies".

We follow the adventures of the crew of the airship Ketty Jay. The main characters and POV's are Darian Frey its captain, Crake a second son from a noble family who is on the run and books passage on Ketty Jay for an indefinite time and the new navigator Jez who is a woman with unusual powers but terrible secrets too. Not that anyone on Ketty Jay does not have his or her checkered past and we find out quite a lot of the background of each crew member along the way.

Addicted to the local poker version called Rake - of which a loving description is given in an appendix - Darian Frey
seems to attract the attention of beautiful rich girls once too many times for his own good and is scrapping a living as airship smuggler and occasional pirate. Kind of bottom feeders in the underworld, but Darian and his crew are happy that way, or to be more precise they are just content to try and survive a day at a time and forget the past...

When a nasty job needs to be done, no survivors required, someone hires the "right" captain with the right "hook". Of course Darian Frey does the job, which is not quite what he expected either, but his crew is better than even they knew, so they inconveniently survive; however a large reward with an accurate wanted Frey poster may finally eliminate the inconvenience especially when fearsome bounty hunter Trinica Dracken who has a personal interest in the matter gets involved.

"Retribution Falls" stands at close to 400 pages and has a pulp-like presentation with chapter headings a la Jules Verne:

"One - Lawsen Mac­arde - A Ques­tion Of Prob­abil­ities - Frey’s Cut­lass - New Hori­zons",

but the novel is thoroughly modern in tone and content, partly ironic, partly serious.

The ending is superb solving the main thread and of course setting up for further adventures and I really, really want more!!

ANALYSIS: If there is one description for the novel, "pure fun" will do. However there is a lot of heartbreak and tragedy too, so the novel is not really a light humorous one, but a very entertaining sff adventure, staying firmly on the "serious" side rather than going into parody mode.

From its first lines:

"The smug­gler held the bul­let be­tween thumb and fore­fin­ger, study­ing it in the weak light of the store room. He smiled sourly.

‘Just imag­ine,’ he said. ‘Imag­ine what this feels like, go­ing through your head.’

Grayther Crake didn’t want to imag­ine any­thing of the sort. He was try­ing not to throw up, hav­ing al­ready dis­graced him­self once that morn­ing."

when we meet Frey and Crake in a bit of trouble with one local underworld boss due to a misunderstanding about the quality of some airship fuel sold by Frey with Ketty Jay's delayed departure leading to said fuel tested and found wanting in a very spectacular way, the tone of the novel as a fast paced and engrossing novel that you do not want to put down is set.

While for the first several chapters the world of the novel and the characters are in a bit of a haze, the fast action and smart dialog keeps the pages turning and slowly we find out what's what and things start making sense.

The world building is actually quite interesting both in the geopolitical setup which is explored to some extent though there is a lot of room for more in later installments, and in the technological level with a combination of guns, airships and magic which powers robots, listening devices and even special weapons like the "Frey's Cutlass" of above.

Of the characters Frey is the most developed and slowly his current situation and life-path start making sense for us but there are quite a few a surprises in store. A likable hero in the rogue mould, Frey has actually quite a lot of depth but it would not do to spoil the book revealing more.

While true, this line which seems to characterize him is misleading as we find out later:

"One ques­tion,’ said Malvery as he huffed along­side. ‘*****, this no­ble feller, you know him?’

‘No,’ said Frey. ‘But I knew his daugh­ter very well. In­ti­mate­ly, you could say.’

The other character that almost co-stars with Darian in the novel, Crake is quite different; an almost though not quite typical pampered son of nobility with dark secrets of his own, his role grows in importance as the book rolls.

Of the women, Jez and Trinica are the most prominent and they are a great counterpart to Darian and Crake, while the few scenes that Amalicia - the "daughter" above - has are superb too and I expect she may play a larger role in further installments.

So what's not to love in this book - fast action, great characters, great setting and superb one-liners? Highly, highly recommended and another notable sff novel of 09 for me.


Fabio Fernandes said...

It seems very interesting indeed!

kevin said...

For what it's worth, [i]The Fade[/i] wasn't Wooding's first adult novel. The Braided Path trilogy predated The Fade.

Liviu said...

I know about The Braided Path but to me it still read YA whatever its label, though I read only a little which was enough to know it's not for me, so I may be wrong, no quibble there.

kyodnb said...

the cover looks great and the book seemed like one that i would love reading it..a world with steampunk in it and nicelz done characters ...yummy indeed!

kevin said...

"I know about The Braided Path but to me it still read YA whatever its label, though I read only a little which was enough to know it's not for me, so I may be wrong, no quibble there."

Yeah, it is in no way shape or form YA- very violent and sexual (one of the more depraved characters frequently rapes and kills small children).

Memory said...

This is definitely on my list. Every review I read makes me want it just a little bit more.

Anonymous said...

This story seems to me to have too much surface and not enough message. It doesn't really have anything to say and relies on shock value of its characters.

Liviu said...

Why does a story needs to have a message?

Retribution Falls is a fun, fast adventure with interesting (for me) characters that have some deeper traits than the usual one-dimensional humor sff ones, but are not necessarily angst filled intellectuals in the wrong business...

If that is not your cup of tea, that's neither here, nor there.

Sometimes fun, especially copious fun like here is more than enough but of course it all depends on how the author style works for you

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