When first we meet Darian Frey, freebooting captain of the Ketty Jay, he is being held captive by a smuggler. That can’t last for long, of course, as there’s a story to get underway; sure enough, a bit of artful escaping later, and Frey is back on the run with his raggle-taggle crew of misfits. Over the course of the novel, the Ketty Jay will be drawn into a far-reaching conspiracy, which will see her crew being hunted by some of the world’s most feared individuals, including the pirate captain Trinica Dracken, who just happens to be an old flame of Frey’s.

The stage is set for Retribution Falls to be a fine adventure story, and Chris Wooding does not disappoint in that regard. He imbues his prose with the requisite amount of energy and colour, and knows just when to move the plot in another direction. Quite often, a significant event may happen in between chapters or scenes, which is a neat way of sustaining momentum, as it constantly shifts events beyond the reader’s understanding (albeit for only brief amounts of time). Although the characters aren’t overly fleshed out (this being primarily a plot-driven novel, and the first in a series), they have their share of flaws and interesting back-stories. And Wooding’s world of airships, electricity and magic, is not without its quirks (magic in this world takes the form of ‘daemonism’, a semi-scientific practice in which all effects are achieved by binding daemons, who take a little of the practitioner’s energy for their trouble). There is enough here to keep one engrossed to the end of the book.

The thing is, though, that Retribution Falls lacks that certain something which would take it beyond being a fine adventure story. The plot is not so surprising, the characterisation not so rich, the setting not so distinctive, as to make the book truly shine. In other words, the novel is good as far as it goes, with both the positives and negatives that stem from that. But, if you’re looking for an entertaining tale of swashbuckling adventure, Retribution Falls is most definitely a title you should investigate.

Chris Wooding’s website
Ketty Jay blog

This book has been nominated for the 2010 Arthur C. Clarke Award. Read all my posts on the Award here.