Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding

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Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding

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Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A rousing adventure story, involving a merry band of adventurers thrust into a dark and dangerous world by the offer of a too-good-to-be-true job. This is too sprightly to concern itself with creating a fully rounded and populated world, and is all the better for it
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: June 2009
Publisher: Gollancz
ISBN: 978-0575085152

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Things are never quiet when it comes to life on the Ketty Jay. For Captain Frey and his mismatched band of friends, colleagues, call them what you will, that make the raggle-taggle crew of the craft, will always find a dodgy scrape, a damsel in distress or some risky cargo to transport – and up til now have survived the consequences.

Our first look at goings-on involves Frey and his sole passenger being threatened by pirates looking to purloin the Ketty Jay as revenge. By the time this is over we have met the rest of the crew – including the spunky new female navigator on her first morning at work – and have had a roustabout drama involving a dockside shoot-out. You will not get far in this book thinking this some stodgy space opera.

Some background serves – there are generally two sorts of aerial craft in this world to concern us – larger freighter-types, such as the Ketty Jay, with multiple use – being purloined for action in a war, or carrying, say, a cargo of fish; and much smaller craft like its own outriders, that can zip about and provide stirring dog-fight action that will test anyone wishing to make a film of this book later in its life.

I might mention some background to the various characters on the ship's complement, but needless to say they are generally scallywags of good entertainment value, freebooters running from something, idly seeking some glory. And besides, they all get some brief personal look at by the book, but this is done almost apologetically at times – there is a strong adventure to get along with first.

This adventure involves the old stereotype of the big job that seems too good to be true – easy money in large amounts, for what the Ketty Jay and company can do in their sleep. But even though this book is billed as A tale of the Ketty Jay you may well doubt the chance of their being another, so deep are the consequences this time. Things are going to get a lot noisier on board, until there's any chance of reaching the settlement of the title, where, it is said, pirates go to die.

There is a slight bit of science fantasy about the book – said passenger is a daemonist, and as such can advance certain inanimate objects with some kind of possession, creating a novel kind of technology. There is a religious element to the created world whose geography we soar over in a very brisk fashion – and which we never leave, there being no space travel to concern us. But on the whole this is an entertainment pure and simple. Yes the ship flies, yes there are battles between zippy little mechanical craft, but there are enough bounty hunters, militia, Evil People in Authority, and more to make this easily interchangeable with so many kinds of writing.

But fans of science fiction will be grateful Chris Wooding has stuck to sci-fi. There was one break-in scene here involving Frey that reminded me, happily, of Harry Harrison's character Slippery Jim diGriz – and even without the Stainless Steel Rat books' larkabout comedy and consummate gadgetry we get a host of fun at practically every turn.

There is comedy to be had, now and again – especially at the beginning of chapter 21, but what has just gone before is so dramatic we need a breath of something to change the mood.

The book does not try hard to convince us by defining its characters as unique, at least not before the latter stages, when - to be hypercritical - the balance of the book might err towards being very meaty and serious about secrets. Nor does it worry with creating a perfectly formed world for us to live in temporarily – there are no maps in the proof copy that I read from at least. Instead we get the rules of the gambling card game the characters win and lose at. The story hiccups slightly, I think, in its breaks from one spot to another – there is a gamut of locations and geographies foisted on us – but this only speeds us through the adventure. It looks a little dense at 350pp, but it flashes past one very pleasantly.

To repeat, it won't serve those who wish to wallow in alternative worlds, but for the buccaneering spirit writ large across a realistic world of aerial technology, and some daemonic entities but little else of a genre form, this can only be highly recommended. For its action scenes - and very strong dips into the more profound - I give this a strong rating. I'll be looking for more tales of the Ketty Jay and her crew.

We at the Bookbag must thank the publishers for our review copy.

For more excellent Science Fiction we can recommend Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod.

Booklists.jpg Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding is in the Bookbag's Christmas Gift Recommendations 2009.
Buy Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding at

Buy Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding at


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