Sunday, October 21, 2012

Review: Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding

Sky piracy is a bit out of Darian Frey’s league. Fate has not been kind to the captain of the airship Ketty Jay—or his motley crew. They are all running from something. So when an opportunity arises to steal a chest of gems from a vulnerable airship, Frey can’t pass it up. It’s an easy take—and the payoff will finally make him a rich man.
But when the attack goes horribly wrong, Frey suddenly finds himself the most wanted man in Vardia, trailed by bounty hunters, the elite Century Knights, and the dread queen of the skies, Trinica Dracken. Frey realizes that they’ve been set up to take a fall but doesn’t know the endgame. And the ultimate answer for captain and crew may lie in the legendary hidden pirate town of Retribution Falls. That’s if they can get there without getting blown out of the sky.

For a long time now I've wanted to read a solid old-fashioned adventure in the traditions of R. L. Stevenson and Jules Vernes, but there didn't seem to be any. I was as if the genre was extinct. So when I read Nataliya's review of Retribution Falls I didn't just put it on the list, I requested it at the library. That was a good call, let me tell you.
From the very first pages it was clear that in addition to the adventure I was after this book was going to give me several other genres. There is fantasy, sci-fi, steampunk, pirates and survive-by-the-seat-of-your-pants action. You would think, how the heck does all that fit into one novel and feel like anything other than a Transformers movie? The answer is simple - little bits at a time. The elements of all these genres are more like fine seasonings in a dish than the main ingredient, and the meat of the story is in the characters and the plot (yes, I have been cooking more than usual lately).
I'm used to seeing novels as either plot- or character-driven and in this case was pleasantly surprised to see a book that has both a plot jam-packed with action and engaging characters who go from a rag-tag bunch of misfists to them all becoming parts of a whole working for one goal, and all, or almost all, growing in the process. Even the main antagonist proved to be more than met the eye at first. I've actually grown quite fond of them all and even though the novel didn't end on a cliff-hanger promising a sequel (very refreshing nowadays when practically every book seems to be part of a series of interconnected installments) I very quickly made a mental note to look up the rest of the Tales of the Ketty Jay. The writing worked too - there was quite a bit of clever humor (Crake with his out-of-place refinement provided the best quips on more than one occasion) and the voices of different characters fit the respective personalities very well. Wooding is without a doubt a talented writer and it comes through in the book.
This novel is definitely a fun ride but as much as I enjoyed the adventures Wooding's exploration of deeper themes such as belonging, living with the consequences of one's actions, and being better than the bottom-feeders by more than a little bit was what kept my interest when the manly descriptions of aircraft and battles got a little bit too much. That and him masterfully keeping up the suspense by revealing secrets in small tidbits with Jez's story, which is by far the most intriguing, being told last. All this gave the story a certain seriousness and depth, which was very welcome in a book where the main characters aren't exactly philosophers pondering the universe.
I think this book can have a very wide appeal, from guys to girls and from readers who want the adventure, the fights and the rough talk every once in a while to those who prefer a bit of quiet introspection on occasion. I myself definitely intend to explore Chris Wooding's work further. If his other books are like this one we may have a winner here.

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