Nyx Book Reviews

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Review: Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding

Title: Retribution Falls
Author: Chris Wooding
Series: Tales of the Ketty Jay #1
Rating: 4/5 Stars

384 pages
Published June 18th 2009 by Gollancz

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When I was still a little girl, I took the book Poison from the library, by some guy named Chris Wooding. Its metaphysical awareness completely blew my childish mind. Poison immediately became one of my favourite books of all time, and I rented the library book over and over.

Fast-forward ten years, and I find a Chris Wooding book in a London Waterstone’s. Will Retribution Falls be just as good as Poison was?

It’s safe to say that Retribution Falls didn’t blow my mind or completely changed the way I look at the world, as Poison did. Retribution Falls is the story of an airship full of society cast-offs that get into a whole bunch of trouble and go through many adventures.

For me the book had a slightly steampunkish feel, with all the grimy airships and old-school appliances. It’s set in a fantasy reality where there is “aerium”, something that makes all of the airships float. The world is barely habitable, and by air is the only way to reach many cities.

Maybe it’s because I associate Chris Wooding with children’s books, but when I first started reading Retribution Falls I had to keep reminding myself that I was reading an adult book. It’s clearly meant for adults – there is some swearing and graphic situations, but maybe because of the theme (airship pirates) I felt like I was reading something much younger. It doesn’t help that the captain, Fray, has major commitment issues and generally doesn’t feel like an actual grown up person.

The crew of the Ketty Jay is a collection of war veterans, someone as smart as a spoon, and multiple people trying to outrun their past, the law, or both. I quite liked some of the main characters, especially Jez, a woman that’s not quite as human as she’d like to be, and Crake, a daemonist. They’re also the two least stereotyped characters, apart from Fray – the rest of the crew consists mostly of one-trick ponies, that act the same throughout the book and don’t have any development. The secondary characters mostly acted as comic relief, which was pretty well done, but I was hoping to have just that little bit more meat to the characters.

Retribution Falls cuts right to the chase, not bothering with any intermittent-dialogue or “after two weeks of flying we were at this and this town…”. In almost sixteenth-century fashion, the trying to string chapters together is completely absent. Everything in the book is story, nothing more and nothing less. On one hand this means that you don’t feel like you’re reading a hundred pages of nothing – on the other hand shit gets confusing. Some times I’d have liked an indication where we are now and what’s happening, because I had to stop to think about this which takes away from the reading flow.

Although not as innovative and life-changing as Poison was for me, Retribution Falls is a very enjoyable fantasy read. If you like the sound of “airship pirates”, this is the book for you.


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.

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