Book Review: Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding

6285903I’ve given this book two stars because it’s the average of one and three. There were some aspects of this book that I enjoyed and would give three stars to, and some aspects of this book that I didn’t like at all and to which I’d give one star.

First off, I admit that I am a massive fan of Firefly and the reason I bought this book was because I’d seen it recommended as a story that would be enjoyed by Browncoats. So it had a lot to live up to. Perhaps it’s no surprise then that I didn’t like it as much as I’d hoped.

I’ll start with the things I liked about it:

I enjoyed the plot; I’m a sucker for the Mal Reynolds, Jack Sparrow, Han Solo types – captains of ships, who are both pirates and good men and who set off on adventures with nothing but personal gain in mind, but who, by the end of the story, realise that there’s more to life than money. Darien Frey certainly goes on that journey, although at the start of the book he’s far, far more pirate (and unpleasantly so) than any of the aforementioned captains. As plots go, it was fairly straightforward and the conspiracy wasn’t overly convoluted, but that wasn’t a bad thing. Thumbs-up for easy reading!

I thought the actions scenes were gripping – some of the best writing in the book.

I liked the world – airships that could fly like X-wing fighters, enchanted weapons and ‘technology’. It was fairly sparsely described – there was enough to give a taste of the setting without slowing down the action.

I liked Jez. She was the most interesting character, self-motivated, intelligent, strong.

On to the things I didn’t like:

Ironically, the thing I liked least about this book was its similarity to Firefly. It was too similar. Some of the plot points, characters and scenes had been transplanted straight from the TV show, for example:

  • Crake and Bess seemed to be based on Simon and River – posh bloke on the run with a girl in a box
  • Pinn was Jayne Cobb – stupid thug/bully
  • Quail was Badger – the petty criminal who sets people up with jobs. Note the animal name.
  • The Coalition was The Alliance
  • The Manes were Reavers – merciless, terrifying marauders. (Reavers ain’t men. Or they forgot how to be. Now they’re just nothing. They got out to the edge of the galaxy, to that place of nothing, and that’s what they became – Mal, Bushwacked.)

There’s a scene where two of Frey’s crew go to a ball in disguise – “Shindig”, anyone? And there’s the scene where Frey is tortured with some form of electrical muscle cramper … That’ll be from “War Stories”.

And then there’s the very last line of the book, which is almost word-for-word the same as Mal’s last line in the episode “Serenity”. I couldn’t quite believe it when I read it. Gobsmacked doesn’t cover it!

I also noted some similarities to Pirates of the Caribbean. Malvery reminded me very much of Mr. Gibbs, there’s a hidden pirate stronghold (Retribution Falls = Shipwreck Cove) and a magic compass. The Manes also reminded me of Barbossa’s undead crew in Curse of the Black Pearl. (“We are not among the living, and so we cannot die, but neither are we dead. For too long I’ve been parched with thirst and unable to quench it. Too long I’ve been starving to death and haven’t died. I feel nothing, not the wind on my face nor the spray of the sea, nor the warmth of a woman’s flesh.” Barbossa, CotBP.) Haven’t you heard the stories?

To be honest I felt cheated. I wanted something that was reminiscent of Firefly and my other favourite piratey adventures, not a complete ripoff. The sense of déjà vu was overwhelmingly disappointing at times.

Another thing I didn’t like were all the flashbacks which were used to tell the characters backstories. I felt they slowed the narrative down too much. I wasn’t entirely convinced by Frey’s change in attitude toward life and his crew either. There didn’t seem to be any particular catalyst for this and I thought his introspection had to work too hard to cover for it. And then there was the wobbly point of view and the disagreement in tenses, sometimes within the same sentence. Rookie mistakes. I also thought it was odd that we never really got to meet the real baddies of the book, the people behind the attempted coup, the Awakeners.

The final thing that really turned me off this book was its portrayal of its female characters. When I first started feeling uncomfortable with this, I shrugged it off as just being down to the characters’ attitudes (i.e. part of the plot) but by the end, I found myself googling ‘retribution falls sexism’ because I wondered if I was the only person feeling uneasy. I could write reams about this but, to my unpleasant surprise, I found lots of reviews by people who felt the same way as me. Here are a few:

http://ferretbrain.com/articles/artic…

http://thebooksmugglers.com/2010/06/b…

http://lightningtreelive.wordpress.co…

It wouldn’t have been so bad had the characters’ sexism been tempered by the presence of some balancing narrative or the presence of at least one female character who wasn’t either beautiful and therefore solely an object of male sexual desire or who wasn’t unattractive and therefore not an object of male sexual desire.

Well, that’s it. Overall ‘Retribution Falls’ was a very derivative work (I can’t believe Joss Whedon hasn’t sued Wooding!) with some redeeming features. I think that if I wasn’t so familiar with Firefly I would have enjoyed it a lot more. And let’s face it: nothing, no nothing is ever going to be as good as Firefly!

Now, I have a dilema. I’ve already borrowed the next book in the series from the library. Part of me wants to read it; I’ve got the feeling that now the crew of the ‘Ketty Jay’ is all set up, they might have some fun adventures of there own, but the other part of me thinks that the déjà vu will disappoint me all over again. Maybe I’ll give the first chapter a go. Just call me a sucker for punishment!

2/5 – It was okay.