Thursday, December 09, 2010

Ex Libris: Chris Wooding's Retribution Falls

If ever there's a book I've found that embodies the spirit of pulp adventures and boy's tales, Chris Wooding's first book of the Tales of the Ketty Jay, Retribution Falls, would be a clear winner.

But then again, what's not to like about this book? You have a rogue of a captain (Darian Frey) who's the leader of a crew (who all have something to hide) on a disreputable airship called the Ketty Jay (hence the series title) that's armed to the teeth (with its own two fighter crafts), and who is into piracy, smuggling and whatever low-down dirty act that gets them money.

(There have been certain comparisons of this book to Josh Whedon's TV series Firefly but-- having not watched the show except for the movie Serenity-- I did think that the Whedon's crew look too pretty while I certainly wouldn't trust the crew of the Ketty Jay. But then again, that's just me.)

As stories go, Wooding's tale is quite exciting. Frey's desperate attempt to earn him and his crew some easy ransom money by ambushing a passenger barge earns them all a price on their heads when the barge explodes and kills its passengers and crew. Because of this, the Union Navy starts hunting them down and it doesn't help that the most dangerous bounty hunter in the land-- Frey's ex-wife-- is also on his trail. However, though Frey isn't the smartest bird in the air, he knows he's been set-up and he'd be damned if he takes the fall for someone else.

Character-wise, Wooding avoids any heavy-lifting by using some stereotype characterizations on Frey and his crew. But at the same time he manages to shade the protagonists enough such that it's pretty easy to sympathize with them, laugh at their pratfalls and at least appreciate their attempts to attain some nobility of virtue despite their soul-scrounging status.

But what makes Wooding's book striking is setting: its mix of steampunk science, cowboy Westerns guns and tropes, and lots and lots of airships. I love airships and Retribution Falls has this in spades. The science is fudgy but it doesn't matter as you can almost see the aircrafts rip through the clouds as the Ketty Jay dog-fights its way out of any mess.

Really, it's a popcorn book-- similar to a popcorn movie in that it's a-leave-your-brain-at-the-door and enjoy-the-show kind of movie. But this one is definitely worth the price of admission and it made me realize that why I love reading science fiction and fantasy: for the sheer joy of it. (Rating: Three paws out of four.)

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