This is a review of “Retribution Falls“, the first book in Chris Wooding’s series about the Tales of the Ketty Jay.
Darian Frey is the roguish captain of the Ketty Jay, and leader of a small and highly dysfunctional group of layabouts. They are small-time smugglers and pirates, making a nuisance of themselves while avoiding the Coalition Navy frigates. When a hot tip on a cargo freighter seems too good to be true, Frey should have known something was dreadfully wrong. The freighter explodes, Frey is suddenly public enemy number one with both the navy and bounty hunters after his head. But Frey knows something they don’t: the freighter was rigged to explode, and Frey isn’t about to take this lying down.
The world is excellently built. It is interesting and fascinating to read about, and the technology is grounded and explained enough to make sense to the reader. It is nice to know how things work, and it is realistic how the desire for aerium would have started more than one war. Although it is clear that airships are quicker, it is still unclear to me why no other mode of transport was really mentioned – nor was it explained why these potential modes of transport would or wouldn’t work.
The action is rapid and imaginative, and the book itself is a quick read. The chapters pass by quickly as the ships fly through the skies in dogfights, or enchanted swords help their owners in swordfights.
As a character, Frey was easy to both like and dislike. It was refreshing to meet a character who doubts themselves, doubts their plans working, and then being quite surprised when they do end up working. Or when they end up actually shooting someone, the confusion as to why that person didn’t simply pull back from the gun like they were supposed to. But he is also a coward and a shameless womaniser, and he is terrified of being tied down. All of it makes him human.
Trinica Dracken was a truly fascinating female character. She is smart, strong, vicious, powerful, and incredibly dangerous – and not only because of the large amount of men loyal to her. The relationship between Trinica and Frey that was revealed almost at the end of the book, was excellent. It was good to read a romance story that went wrong and where both parties agree that they are both at fault. It is far more realistic than most romance that shows up in fiction, and though it was the main reason for the antagonism between Trinica and Frey, it wasn’t allowed to overwhelm the plot.
I do have some complaints about this book.
The story was very formulaic. There were little to no surprises along the way. A happens and then B and then C. Not once did Frey and his crew actually have real trouble with what they were trying to do. There were no real setbacks. Everything goes smoothly for them even when they are afraid that it won’t. There is action and danger, but the characters never feel like they are, in fact, in danger. Or running around trying to avoid the enemy.
Pinn, Malvery, Silo and Harkins were quite flat. An omniscient author explained more or less everything about Pinn and Harkins whenever they had screen time, and Malvery wasn’t that interesting to begin with. And though Silo’s story was good, it was barely a footnote and he barely showed up as a footnote in some scenes. Crake’s story, though tragic, came far too late – and the same with Jez. All in all it was quite difficult to actually care about the crew, even Frey despite him being one of the more developed ones.
With the way the story was written and the characters, it was difficult to force myself to finish reading, and I ended up skimming for the past 130 pages. I just didn’t care about the crew or the plot. Either one got far too much information about someone which made one wonder why one should care for him or her, or one got far too little information far too late and one had simply stopped caring.
Considering all the action and the world it was set in, this would have made a good movie with a delightful Pirates of the Caribbean feel to it. As a book it simply falls short.
I will not be continuing with the series.