TITLE: Retribution Falls
AUTHOR: Chris Wooding
PUBLISHER: Gollancz, 2009 (Spectra, 2011)
SERIES: Tales of the Ketty Jay, Book 1

Darian Frey captains the airship Ketty Jay, scraping up jobs of dubious morality and legality but usually staying on the lawful side of piracy. The crew of the Ketty Jay are of dubious morality as well, each hiding secrets and running from the past. When Frey takes a job to hijack a trunk of gems from another airship he know this is both bigger and more illegal than anything they’ve pulled before, but the payday is too good to resist.  When everything inevitably goes wrong, Frey and the rest of the Ketty Jay crew will face piracy and murder charges. They need to find who set them up if they want to survive to fly another day.

This book has it all — roguish hero, back-stabby villains, 8-foot-tall metal golems, pirate armies, a midnight raid on a nunnery and a jilted fiancee who really, really wants revenge. Wooding is a talented writer, skilled in you-are-there description.  Although his geo-political landscape is complicated (maybe a little over complicated here, but readers get to explore more of it in the rest of the series), it is the small sets where he really excels. The dingy back alleys, the interiors of the airship, the criminal lairs — Wooding brings you the sights, sounds, and smells that take you there. And the action is top-notch as well.  From the aerial battles to the bar room brawl, the pacing and plotting make this book hard to put down.  But what sets this apart are the characters.  Beginning with Frey, we get a cocky, handsome playboy who knows his limitations but still overreaches when greed gets the better of him. Malvery is a surprisingly jocular doctor who lost his reputation and his practice when he fell too far into a bottle and he still can’t climb out. Crake is a daemonologist whose ambition to control unseen forces caused a terrible tragedy.  Jez is the newest member of the crew, and her secret might be the worst of all.  Add in fighter pilots Harkin and Pinn and the taciturn engineer Silo and you get the crew of the Ketty Jay.  By slowing revealing each crewmember’s hidden secrets and pain, we get to watch them struggle to rise above them and coalesce as a team.  The plot rollicks along with plenty of action, including cinematic aerial battles and swashbuckling sword fights.  The conspiracy that Frey and his crew are up against is wide-ranging and well-constructed, and the pace builds to keep you on the edge of your seat. Anyone who was a fan of the show Firefly should read this series, as it similarly combines the action and adventure of a Western with the imaginative possibilities of speculative fiction. The humor is similar, although less quippy and characters are darker than on that beloved show, and while Frey grows on you he is a very shallow and unlikable at the beginning. But fans of the show should find a lot of love in this whole series.

Fantasy/SF: This one is actually hard to classify.  On first glance, I would put it down as steampunk, but this is not a faux-historical setting.  There are airships but they read more like modern aircraft than your standard steampunk dirigible. There are mechanical inventions, most notably the golem Bess, but she is animated by daemonology, a fantasy trope here given a scientific underpinning. The world is more like the vivid setting of a planetary romance or an epic fantasy.  Still, I think you could give it to any steampunk fan with ease.  Adventure: The other genre is adrenaline of the adventure variety.  The colorful landscape and non-stop action, coupled with the hero in way over his head make this a terrific choice for those who enjoy caper plots and fast-paced escapades.

RATING: 8.5/10 – Excellent

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