RetributionFallsWhat I liked

The universe doesn’t deviate too much from your typical steampunk novel, but (or because of it?) it’s still good. There are airships, pirates, alchemy, a golem, daemons, high-society balls, political intrigue and other fun elements that could make it the perfect escapade read. I appreciated that Wooding tried to give a “scientific” explanation to the elements that would normally be considered magical. Maybe that’s why there’s a divide on Goodreads on whether this is fantasy or sci-fi. I’m on the sci-fi side.

The Firefly link. At points I could pin-point exactly the episode that inspired a particular scene. For instance, the opening, when Mal and Wash Frey and Crake are being held hostages, clearly came from War Stories. This worked for me and I was thankful for the nostalgic moments.

Also: that cover!

What disappointed me

Too much telling going on and not enough showing (you need to trust us more Mr. Wooding!). For instance, Frey, the ship’s captain, goes through a dramatic change when it came to his loyalty towards his crew. Through heavy-handed inner monologues, we get all his feelings spelled out: what changed, why it changed, how does if feel to have changed, his regrets, his hopes, etc, etc, etc.

And then there are the female characters. *sigh* Where to start? First, I wish that in the crew of seven there was more than one woman (navigator Jey). As Dan put it so well (such a great review!):

… having one female character out of seven is the worst possible option. Zero out of seven, and you have a setting in which women don’t fly airships, which is absolutely fine. Put in exactly one, and you suddenly have a society where women are apparently perfectly accepted on the setting equivalent of the Spanish Main, but never the less you’ve only got one in your crew. Zero is a better number than one in this situation is all I’m saying.

When I first read the book I underlined the scene where Jey is first introduced to the crew, explaining why Frey decided to hire her. Looking at it now, I’m disturbingly reminded of the recent debacle with scientist Tim Hunt. Take a look (Frey’s inner monologue):

Her features were petite and appealing but she was rather plain, boyish and very pale. That was also good. An overly attractive woman was fatal on a craft full of men. They were distracting and tended to substitute charm and flirtatiousness for doing any actual work. Besides, Frey would feel obligated to sleep with her, and that never worked out well.


I also wish all other women weren’t Frey’s whinny or crazy exes. His relationship with Trinica was especially cringe-worthy. She’s the captain of a much bigger ship than Frey’s, a renowned pirate, feared and ruthless, “a dread queen of the skies“, so it means she’s just about ready to be brought down by her womanly feelings.

Once upon a time, before her pirateering begun, Trinica was just the daughter of a rich aristocrat and was engaged to Frey. But then she got too clingy and Frey abandoned her at the altar. Pregnant. In a conservative world that did not look kindly on single pregnant young women. Trinica tries to commit suicide and survives, but her unborn child doesn’t.

Many years later she and Frey meet again and that scene made my eyes roll all the way to the back on my head. Frey accuses her of murdering their child (an accusation that neither the text nor Trinica contest) and calls her a coward for attempting suicide. Trinica’s self-assured mask quickly crumbles and Fry admits to himself he’s also partially to blame for the death, because after all, he allowed her to stifle him and make him a coward, leaving him no other option but to run away.

Look, I know it’s often tricky to distinguish between the characters and the author’s own assumptions, so I might be wrong here, but my experience with Retribution Falls is that Frey’s douchebagness was something we should relate to, especially because we’re told over and over that He Changes. This apparently means he no longer hates Trinica, but now forgives her for making him abandon her, and while we’re told his attitudes towards his crew go from zero-cares to full-fledged charismatic leader, from the first to the last scene he continues to risk their lives unnecessarily.

When I first started this post I was on the fence about whether to continue the series, but the more I wrote the more I realized I had serious problems with the book. So I’m afraid the Ketty Jay series are not for me.


Other thoughts: Ferret Brain, The Book Smugglers, Asking the wrong questions, Eve’s Alexandria, Sandstorm Reviews, The Lightning Tree, Fantasy Book Critic, SFF Book Reviews, The Wertzone, Graeme’s Fantasy Reviews, Neth Space, The Mad Hatter’s (yours?)