Thursday, October 27, 2011

Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding

Dear Chris Wooding,

You are writing Firefly fanfiction. It's okay, it happens to the best of us, and there's a twelve-step program for that. We all know Joss Whedon is God, but there can only be one. And frankly, it was still really good. But for someone who's written 20 books, I was hoping for a bit more on the unique scale. I'll probably still read the next one, but only eventually.

Sincerely,
Gina

A synopsis, from BN:
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. Crake is a daemonist in hiding, traveling with an armored golem and burdened by guilt. Jez is the new navigator, desperate to keep her secret from the rest of the crew. Malvery is a disgraced doctor, drinking himself to death. 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.


On his blog, Wooding talks about how this book was supposed to be a break from the dark books he usually writes, so in that sense he set out what he wanted to do. It was a fun book, full of snarky characters and stuff blowing up. I would compare it to a Michael Bay movie: it's meant to entertain, not ponder the meaning of the universe. And I did enjoy it, but I think only because I'm a fan of Firefly. I feel bad saying it because I know the author put a ton of work into it, but all I could think of was Captain Malcolm Reynolds. He acted the same way, talked the same way, even treated his crew the same way. In my mind, Darian Frey was Mal Reynolds. But it's okay. I don't mind looking at him a while longer. And seriously, how many women is Frey going to have almost married? It got old. One, okay. But when more start showing up, the relationship is hard to believe.

The plot was good, even if it was straightforward. Something blew up, they reacted and made a plan, they went forward with that plan. There was no long-term goal, other than to get the Navy off their ass. The book only looked forward one or two chapters at a time. Personally, I would have liked to see an end goal much earlier in the novel, to have something to connect the whole book and keep dragging you through. Since I had never heard of Chris Wooding before this, I thought this was his debut work. I was surprised to find out that he has a whole slew of stuff under his belt. it would be interesting to read his other work to see how it differs, since these books are his "break from the norm" stuff. And I should mention that his prose was very plain, to the point of boring. I want the prose to act like a sepia-filter on a film camera, and I want it to sing to me. With this, even though what was happening wasn't boring, I felt my eyes dragging several times. Like a bunch of office employees sitting in a conference room and reciting lines from a memorized script. And not The Office employees, either.

The setting was interesting, but had nothing to set it apart. The most interesting spot in the book—Retribution Falls, of course—really didn't get that much air-time. It's a pirate town with ramshackle buildings, and a whole slew of horrible people crammed into a small place, and nothing happens there. Sure, there's the battle at the end, but to have the book named after the place it was disappointing to have all the plot development occur somewhere else. And one more thing, the index in the back to explain, in detail, a card game that is poker with one rule changed is completely unnecessary. I read it. It was a waste of time.

The strongest part of the book was the characters. Each one has a unique history and something they are running from, and the secrets gave an interesting dynamic. They fight, they stick up for each other, and even though no one slept together (some romantic tension would have done this book some good!) you can tell that they all grew together, too. They transform from a bunch of secretive idiots to an actual crew. Although, having such transparent histories also did some harm, because there is no way you can make me believe that Crake, with his sheltered genteel upbringing, could have figured out Jez. No way. But I'm interested to see what happens to Jez through the next books. (And for all you Firefly fans, even the Reavers showed up to play their part.)

Overall, I liked this book. It was fun. It's much better if you're thinking of Nathan Fillion while you're reading it. I would like to read the other books eventually, but I'm not in any rush to run out and get them. I wish there had been a little more depth or twist to the plot or color to the prose, but it was entertaining enough for me to stick with it.

This is the first in a series of episodic, stand-alone books. They don't have to be read in order. Maybe even skip the first book and go to the others, not because it was bad, but because origin stories are always so badass when you're already invested in the characters. The next book is already out, The Black Lung Captain, and The Iron Jackal is forthcoming.

Reading Next: A Matter of Blood by Sarah Pinborough

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