Retribution Falls (Tales of the Ketty Jay 1) by Chris Wooding (Gollancz) [Book Review]

Title: Retribution Falls
Series: Tales of the Ketty Jay 1
Author: Chris Wooding [homepage]
Genre: Steampunk
Hardback: 384 pages
Publisher: Gollancz (2009)

Order by: Amazon US | UK | sfbok

Frey is the captain of the Ketty Jay, leader of a small and highly dysfunctional band of layabouts. An inveterate womaniser and rogue, he and his gang make a living on the wrong side of the law, avoiding the heavily armed flying frigates of the Coalition Navy. With their trio of ragged fighter craft, they run contraband, rob airships and generally make a nuisance of themselves. So a hot tip on a cargo freighter loaded with valuables seems like a great prospect for an easy heist and a fast buck. Until the heist goes wrong, and the freighter explodes. Suddenly Frey isn’t just a nuisance anymore – he’s public enemy number one, with the Coalition Navy on his tail and contractors hired to take him down. But Frey knows something they don’t. That freighter was rigged to blow, and Frey has been framed to take the fall. If he wants to prove it, he’s going to have to catch the real culprit. He must face liars and lovers, dogfights and gunfights, Dukes and daemons. It’s going to take all his criminal talents to prove he’s not the criminal they think he is …

I remembered sneaking a glimpse at my first pirate movie while my parents thought me sleeping. It was exciting until they caught me looking. I think it was something with Errol Flynn and Captain Frey here has the same kind of Errolesque attitude without being a gentleman about it . In a way this tale is about extraordinary accidental team-building with Captain Frey, who at first only sees the crew as a means to keep the Kitty Jay running but that change over time both for him and for his assorted crew of misfits. I like the way the story builds up depth as it moves along and we get to know the characters.

The characters are all charming quirky refugees from society. There is the haunted daemonist, his hard hitting daemon possessed suit of armor with a personality of her own, the alcoholic doctor afraid to do surgery, the former slave engineer, and two outrider fighter pilots one pining for his sweetheart at home and the other a coward outside the cockpit. We learn to know them when Jez their new navigator signs on. She has a dark secret of her own, that’s why she ended up where she is.

Frey is not the most competent Captain around but he is persistent and charming. The plot is maybe not the most original but it is mighty fun to read. It contains airship battles, conspiracies, daring rescues, vengeful former fiancées, mystic artifacts and a secret pirate lair. One of the most entertaining scenes in the book is when Captain Frey visits his former fiancée in the monastery her father forced her into to obtain information. The characters are well developed and interesting especially Jez.

The Victorian retro-future world comes alive around the characters and makes me want to know more about the Coalition, their enemies and their history. The world building is not extensive but effective for the story. I hope we will learn more in future books. Chris Wooding is a new to me author and I am mighty impressed with Retribution Falls. It is a well balanced fun adventure tale that makes me want to read more by Chris.

I am half way through the next standalone sequel The Black Lung Captain and I am still as impressed. A review will be forthcoming.