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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 29 July 2011
I love the IDEA of steampunk, but for that past year almost everything I've read in the genre has felt dull or disappointing. Maybe I'm just jaded, or maybe I've just been unlucky.

Then, joy of joy, I picked RETRIBUTION FALLS from my 'to be read' shelf and found myself on the airship Ketty Jay with a bunch of disreputable ne'er-do-wells - an inept rag-tag crew of odd-bod pirates with interesting and shady pasts. What really set this book apart from others I've read over the past 12 months is that the characters feel real; they're interesting; Most importantly of all, I CARED about them. I didn't expect they'd all get to the end of the book still alive, and the thought that one of them might come to a sticky end actually BOTHERED me.

When you have a great bunch of characters like this, then add a good story, the result is something very special. There are none of the increasingly tired old Steampunk clichés: no vampires; no zombies; no genuine historical characters acting ridiculously out-of-character. Just a convincingly real cast and a cracking good plot.

I finished the book in bed last night. Before going to sleep, I got up, logged on, and ordered the second Ketty Jay book, The Black Lung Captain: Tales of the Ketty Jay. It's that good, and I can't wait to catch up with the crew in their next adventure.

V Highly recommended
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 23 February 2009
Retribution Falls is the first novel in The Tales of the Ketty Jay, which promises to be a series of semi-stand-alone novels set in the same world and focusing on the crew of the airship Ketty Jay and its crew of miscreants and scoundrels. If I had to provide a quick soundbite for this it would be Firefly meets Crimson Skies, with a dash of Locke Lamora sprinkled on top.

Darian Frey is the captain of the Ketty Jay, a battered old freighter which he keeps running by the skin of his teeth, by accepting jobs on the dubious side of the law and trying not to get into too much trouble. When Frey is offered the chance of a lifetime - an easy theft in return for a massive fortune - he overrides his common sense and accepts the job. When it goes hideously wrong and a lot of people die, Frey realises he has been set up, and must prove his innocence even though he and his crew are now Public Enemy #1. Frey's quest to redeem himself takes him and his crew through multiple aerial dogfights, double-crosses, high society soirees and lowlife gambling dens. At the same time we get to know his crew, from the troubled new navigator harbouring a dark secret to the former aristocrat-turned-demon-summoner to the alcoholic ship's surgeon to the powerful and dangerous metal thing they keep in the hold...

Occasionally a book comes along which takes the concept of fun and turns it up to 11. Retribution Falls is one such book. The story powers along at a relentless, page-turning pace. The characters are a diverse and fascinating bunch and Wooding uses skillful economy in getting into their backstories and motivations quickly and convincingly without bogging the story down in unnecessary detail. The world of Vardia is a fascinating one as well, with its diverse landmasses, the dark, forbidding storms that wrack the planet, and a wide range of cultures and people. There are certainly a tremendous number of concepts introduced in this book that aren't followed up on, leaving open a large number of possibilities for future adventures with this crew.

What makes the book refreshingly different from so many fantasies is the setting and tech-level. Airships are the primary method of transportation and the cavalry charges and duels of traditional epic fantasy are here replaced by frigate broadsides and intense dogfights. The technology of the airships and how they work is depicted convincingly, and the battles are great fun and a nice change of pace for a fantasy novel.

As I said before, the book is 'FUN' but at the same time it is not lightweight. Some of the characters are carrying real demons around with them and Wooding doesn't wimp out of some the bad things they've done or had done to them. There are also some genuinely unsettling moments (one flashback sequence to an arctic location is pretty disturbing, which is all the more impressive since we know the character involved survives), and hints of greater, darker threats out in the world which could come into play in later books.

Retribution Falls (*****) is an accomplished and enjoyable novel, and hopefully the start of many adventures for this crew. The novel will be published on 18 June 2009 in the UK in hardcover and tradeback, and the tradeback will be available in the USA via Amazon after that date as well.
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on 16 November 2014
I’ve read reviews of this novel where it is compared to the TV series “Firefly”. Such comparisons are probably inevitable, given the types of characters created by Chris Wooding but they are also a little over-stated. Sure, the story involves a team of lawless, morally good misfits and their adventures aboard a ship as they travel to and from various towns and cities on an alien world. But the premise is also very different in-so-far-as it takes place in a universe where the ordinary laws of science don’t apply.

I’ve read very little cyberpunk so I cannot say how this book stands up against its peers. What I will say is that Mr Wooding has produced a well-structured, fast-paced story with well-developed characters and a mystery that unfurls nicely and comes to a satisfactory conclusion. It is part one of a four part series, under the title “Tale of the Ketty Jay”. Yes, I recommend the book to those not totally hung-up on the purity of the cyberpunk genre, and who are just looking for a good yarn to enjoy.
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on 27 February 2010
Initially, it's hard to get past how much this feels like "Firefly; the fantasy". This isn't a bad thing in that it completely captures the fun pace and "anything goes" attitude but it can be a little distracting at first. As the story progresses it is clear that Wooding hasn't created a piece of fanfic as there are hints of the "Final Fantasy" games and "Full-metal alchemist" anime/manga as well. Mixed together an intriguing and entertaining new world emerges. The central mystery is quite fun and the book never really has any lulls in terms of action or plot progression and all the characters are likeable (even the unpleasant ones).
I enjoyed how this is a self-contained story meaning we don't need another two books before we know what is going on. Despite that there are many hints to where the story can go and it is clear that there is much more to be explored in further installments. For anyone who loved "firefly" or "lies of Locke Lamorra", this is a book worth checking out as it captures the spirit of both without being derivative. The most fun I've had reading a book in a while and a great start to a new series.
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on 19 January 2013
Retribution Falls is the first in Chris Wooding's Tales of the Ketty Jay. It follows the ever charming Darian Frey and the crew of his airship, the Ketty Jay. Made up of a band of scoundrels you'd be lucky to see in a Pirates of the Caribbean movie, the Ketty Jay is a rickety old ship that Frey holds dear to his heart. When Frey is given an offer he can't refuse - involving a spot of sky-piracy, a ship full of gold and the right place at the right time - what's he to do but take up the offer? It quickly becomes apparent that not all is what it seems, and Frey and the crew find themselves on the run from almost every faction out there in Wooding's madcap world. From bounty hunters to government paid assassins, they need to keep running if they'll ever have a chance at a dishonest life again.

Early on in Retribution Falls, we're introduced to a character named Bess. She's sympathetic, terrifying, loyal and funny. She's also an enormous golem, never talks and spends most of the novel sitting in a heap on the floor. It's with characters like this that Chris Wooding manages to convey his tremendous skill as a writer. He gives each and every one of them a layered backstory, filled with internal conflict and motivations, external desire and whip-cracking dialogue. Whether they're the ship's charismatic captain, Darian Frey or the hilarious out-flyers, Pinn and Harkins, each and every one of them feels rounded and, fundamentally, real.

Although characters are at the heart of the novel, Wooding certainly doesn't skimp on plot. This book moves like a Skylance in a firefight - swift and deadly. Right from the opening moment we're thrown into a tale of sky pirates, aerium-fuelled dogfights and the occasional bit of daemonism (magic) thrown in for good measure. There are double crosses, triple crosses and colourful new characters on every other page.

If there's anything negative to say about this novel, it's that sometimes the world itself takes a backseat to all the action. It never feels entirely clear where the Ketty Jay is in relation to everything else - whether this would have been helped with a simple map at the front or some clearer explanation, I'm not sure. The book moves at such a pace, it would have been a shame to see it slowed down by extraneous detail - a map would probably be the way to go.

Retribution Falls really was one of the biggest surprises of 2012 for me - a rip-roaring belter of an action adventure story, with plenty of character depth to boot. I've heard it compared to Firefly on more than one occasion - but try Firefly crossed with Cowboy Bebop, mixed with Pirates of the Caribbean and a healthy dose of Steampunk, and we're halfway to explaining just how awesome this book is.

Now - where's the Rake table? I fancy a game.
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on 7 January 2011
Took me a good while to read this one, not because it was hard going, but I just couldn't read it consistently until Christmas where I actually had some time to myself.

Retribution Falls is best described as a steampunk, sky pirate adventure in the simplest terms. It's both a character-driven and plot-driven story of treachery, thieving, action and often poignant self-discovery. Darian Frey is te captain of the freebooter vessel the Ketty Jay, leading a ragtag bunch of crew members with their own history from one job to the next, as well as getting drunk regularly and gambling away most of the paltry sums of money he makes. One day he is offered a job he can't refuse, but suddenly he and his crew become embroiled in a dangerous political conspiracy, and he struggles to clear his name.

Everything in this story is presented with clarity and sharp humour that never ceases to entertain. The story is well-worn archetype, but it is very well played out and always interesting - each of the characters in the crew have their own story, and throughout the course of the book we learn their secrets, why they do what they do, and how they evolve as people by the end. The various plot threads are very tightly knit together, with the odd sly metaphor slipped in for good measure. The chapters are generally quite short, which is good news for someone like myself.

Wooding's steampunk-influenced future is well realised without wallowing too much in Tolkien-esque over-description, yet providing enough scientific matter to allow you to picture the technologies involved in flying the great airships of the world.

Some have said that this book is slightly misogynistic and I suppose it is to a degree, as most of the female characters are whores, or mistreated by Frey and then almost forgotten about. This is not a reflection on Wooding though, as I believe he is merely trying to portray a certain world we can identify with pirates, and by the end Frey does mention his regret for mistreating certain female people. To be fair, throughout the course of the book the men don't seem any better than the women, and often the character of Jez whips the boys into action.

Overall very readable, very fun, and very fast paced with few misgivings.

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on 5 May 2016
Simply put (and perhaps predictably from the title of my review), this book and the three equally wonderful reads that follow it are my favourite series of novels. Like, ever. Flat out. And I've read some REALLY good books, but these win.

Normally I really have to think about stuff like that, as I'm quite mercurial in my tastes and like a broad range of movies, music, literature and games. But the crew of the Ketty Jay have a special place in my heart, and always will.

So why do I love this book - and the other three in the series - so much? First and foremost, its Chris Wooding's cast of characters, and the endearing, infuriating, heart-stopping way in which he writes them. They're anti-heroes of the finest caliber, fallible, believable, consistent and perfectly nuanced. Each one of these depressingly - yet inspiringly - relateable misfits is a fascinating creation in their own right, and across the course of the novels they enjoy character arcs as rich and deep as you could wish for. They're outsiders, people who don't belong anywhere else and would probably end up accidentally (or not so much) setting fire to those places if they did. Watching them find meaning and belonging with each other (however catastrophically messy that may occasionally get) is a huge pleasure.

That's the deep bit. As for the rest? Absolute, balls to the wall, tongue in cheek and white knuckles on the throttle adventure. Diesel-punk airship dogfights? Check. Swashbuckling duels and bone-cracking brawls? Check. Gunfights, explosions and property demolition fit to make a hollywood special effects director rub his hands in glee? Check as all hell. This is a setting built for gritty adventure and witty one-liners, a rogue's gallery of wild adventure and savage frontiers with just enough civilisation and politics thrown in to really make things complicated. There's bad guys so appealing, so believable and empathetic that frankly, you'll struggle to choose whose side you're on at times. And that's ok, because so will they... There's dark magic, outrageous duplicity and every flavour of spectacular steam-driven killing machines, right there alongside genuine loving compassion, and the sort of dry humour that will have you laughing out loud on a train and making everyone think you're a little bit cracked. But that's OK, you won't care, because by then the book will have grabbed you by the throat and pulled you back in.

In short, this is a book, and a series, that demand reading, and then reading again. Not enough people have done just that, so I urge you from the bottom of my heart to make yourself one of them. And don't just read this book, read the whole damn series. Because honestly, the only way you're not going to be punching the air in triumph and biting your nails in terror for the characters by the end of proceedings is if you tried to read the book and picked up the toaster by mistake (and in that case, you may have bigger problems...)
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on 29 August 2016
Okay guys, I have a new favourite series/obsession and you're looking right at it! I have a steampunk shaped hole in my life now that there's no more Gail Carriger books in my life and this has filled it and then some! Not that it's anything like Gail Carriger's books, this is brilliantly unique in it's own right! I would have to describe it as what would happen if Pirates of the Caribbean went steampunk. I honestly got such POTC vibes when I was reading and not just from Frey!

I loved this book from the first page, it immediately throws you in to the world of the book with some action, and you start to get a feel for two of our characters, as well as it being freaking hilarious, it makes you want to know more! You get the chance to get to know the world/settings and the characters before the next piece of action kicks off and it's a rich and intriguing world, it has to be said! I really want to see more of it! It's vivid and extensive and incredibly well described, it's kind of fascinating.

The characters are an interesting bunch. They're a rag tag group and all of them have secrets and mysteries that are fun to guess at before the big reveal. I particularly loved Frey and Jez, not going to lie! Frey is the Captain, you kinda have to love him, he's a little like Jack Sparrow, and he had some brilliant character development from the start of the book, coming to care for his crew more than usual. Jez was mysterious from the start, I had so much fun trying to work out what her deal was and I was totally wrong, it's going to be interesting to see it play out but she's a complete badass, and intelligent and just brilliant. Crake was interesting, he's the Daemonist, he's kind of funny and you can't help but feel for him when his secret comes out. There's also Malvery...the drunken doctor, Silo who had a really nice history with Frey and bond, and Harkins and Pinn the two outfliers, Harkins is a little bit of a coward, and Pinn has some little fantasy going on about becoming rich and wealthy and going back to his beloved, he kinda needed a smack.

While she's not part of the crew, I have to mention Trinica because I wasn't really sure what to make of her in the beginning, but as I read more about her and her backstory, I felt for her and everything she went through, I'd be interested to see more of her because she comes across really strong. I loved the characters because they're all a bit of a flawed bunch, and it made them relatable and endearing, plus I loved watching them go from this group of people who kinda just got thrown together and weren't all that down with team work, to this group who had loyalty and camaraderie and ended up becoming a real Captain and Crew.

Retribution Falls is atmospheric, fast paced, and sprinkled with intrigue as you get hints about the characters and their pasts. It's full of originality, and it's completely action packed thanks to all the various battles. There's a cutlass with a mind of it's own, a golem, sword fights, gun fights, air battles everything you can imagine would be in a steampunk adventure. There's also plenty of magic thanks to the daemonism, and there's even a secret pirate hideaway! Retribution Falls is kind of hard to put down because it's such a brilliant combination of action, adventure, humour and steampunk. There's brilliantly fun characters, including badass females, their relatable and flawed and you end up rooting for the lot of them so badly. I cannot even begin to describe just how funny this book is, but it had me in stitches when I wasn't snorting it and trying to control myself, the world of the book really does suck you in!

It also has to be said that in the back of the book it explains the rules of Rake and how to play it, giving you a deeper understanding of some scenes, and there's a few pages featuring the log book of the Ketty Jay so you can see what happened before the book started in Frey's hilarious narrative! I honestly was kind of blown away by this book because I wasn't really sure what to expect but it's definitely become one of my new favourites, and I have a burning need to read the other books to see what mischief they're all going to get in to next.
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on 16 June 2010
Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding is a tale about Darian Frey, captain of the Ketty Jay and leader of a motley band of misfits and rogues. They survive - barely - on the proceeds from petty piracy and small-time crook jobs. But now Frey has been offered a plush job, an easy killing, and he can't resist taking the bait - even though it all seems too good to be true. Almost inevitably - given Frey's usual run of luck - the heist goes horribly wrong and Frey realises that he has been framed. On the run from contractors, pirates and the Coalition Navy, Frey has to try and discover who tried to put the crime on him and clear his name before he is taken down...

Retribution Falls is not without its issues, but the main emotion you have while reading it is pure, fist punching the air fun. Frey is a rogue in the classic sense of the word - a character you just can't help but root for, even though he is attempting to cheat and steal his way to a fortune. It is almost old-fashioned in the style of which it is written - motley band of adventurers trading insults and banter while trying to clear their names of murder. Barring the slightly sci-fi setting, this novel could fit neatly into the quest/adventure fantasy section alongside the likes of David Eddings.

Wooding writes at a breathless pace - in the most part. I have two issues with this. The first is that it leaves the world being barely fleshed out. We experience a whistle stop tour of various ports and areas within the land, but not a single one of them really stands out. I don't know if this was deliberate on Wooding's part, since I'm guessing to travellers constantly on the move most ports would blend together into one. The writing of these different locations definitely reflects the wandering life of the crew, but it does make for a breathless ride. A map might have helped, but I guess sci fi novels don't often call for maps!

The second issue with the breathless pace is that it is all the more noticeable when Wooding slows events down. In the latter part of the novel there are two occasions where I felt the pace was snail-like and it jarred me considering how events had transpired previously: these two situations were the conversation between Trinica and Frey, and the delving into the back story of Jez. In both cases, Wooding is writing about something that happened in the past, and it is done in a fairly clumsy manner.

Having said that, I really enjoyed this book. I know it has attracted comparisons to Joss Whedon's Firefly, and I can completely see why. The ensemble characters and the episodic adventures could be transferred with ease to a television show format.

I liked all of the characters, and enjoyed the ease with which they could be differentiated thanks to dialogue and mannerisms. I particularly appreciated the strong development of relationships across the course of the novel - by the end of the novel, the disparate group are very much a crew, and Wooding carefully and cleverly puts all the pieces into place to allow this to happen.

The writing is very effective, and could stand comparisons to such writers as Wilbur Smith in terms of the fact that this is very much an adventure story rather than a straight-up science fiction novel.

There are great flashes of humour, such as:

" 'You get the impression that this has all got a little out of control?' Jez screamed in Frey's ear.

Frey didn't hear what she said, so he nodded as if he agreed, and then replied, 'I think whoever's running this show, they've let things get a bit out of control!'

Jez, who also hadn't heard him, said, 'Definitely!' "

I also appreciated the warm heart to this novel and the honest writing of some very emotional scenes. In fact, I would be curious to see just how much of Frey's reaction to Trinica and how their story unfolded was semi-autobiographical - the feelings evoked were strong, and the words seemed almost personal, written with a true sense of knowing how it might feel to be so trapped by someone you loved so much.

All in all, I would definitely recommend Retribution Falls to anyone who wants a light-hearted read (with a couple of darker moments!) in the company of some truly memorable and vibrantly-written characters.

Arthur Clarke thoughts: So is this an Arthur Clarke award winner? Although my heart would like to say yes, my head is more sober and suggests no. In fact, I'm not completely sure why Retribution Falls found its way onto the short-list. The award is given for the 'best' science fiction novel published in the previous year. While Retribution Falls is a great read and a fun concept, there is little in the way of what I would deem true science in the novel. Sure, they fly in craft that are straight out of science fiction, but the aerial dog fights that take place could easily be about planes that exist right now. The presence of a daemonist in the tale puts it more into the realm of fantasy. Having now read three of the contenders for the award, I am slightly at a loss as to the reasons for this novel's inclusion. I would say this is the rank outsider.
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on 22 September 2010
Retribution Falls is set in a pseudo Victorian era world where high tech is mechanical rather than electronic, and humanity has taken to the air rather than the seas. It is a breathless tale about the adventures of a disparate crew of freebooters and buccaneers aboard a crumbly old (air)ship.

What is unusual is that character development takes place throughout the novel, the author regaling back-stories at strategic points and one begins feeling somewhat disjointed from the characters initially, which is only a minor criticism since once development occurs, the reader quickly warms to the varied rag-tag of crew. Once in gear, the book rattles along at a fierce pace. This is one of those books where you are looking forward to the next opportunity to read what is going to happen next.

Chris Wooding has clearly imagineered this whole world and society with impressive detail and I have a sense that he has carefully researched the differences in this society that would inevitably occur if human technology had taken such a different path earlier on. He writes very well in terms of prose and the coherence of the plot. I can tell that he has carefully planned the story and this gives a rounded and very satisfying conclusion, which is unlike so many contemporary horror/sci-fi/fantasy writers who seems to all be writing to a deadline and end stories with dissatisfying whimpers or cliffhangers.

So altogether, it is a hugely enjoyable, well-realised adventure that crackles with rich invention and imagination. In fact the only other criticism I would have is that the world is so rich and well-imagined that it takes time for your mind to absorb this unusual yet familiar place. 4.5 stars out of 5.
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