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Underground Reading: Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding

Retribution Falls (2009)Retribution Falls (2009) is a cheeky little science-fantasy adventure that earned a nomination for last year's Arthur C. Clarke Award. As shown with Malice, Wooding seems devoted to telling rollicking adventure yarns. Retribution Falls is essentially the same - a wild and wacky children's story with a thin layer of "mature" motivations over the top. 

Darien Frey is the roguish captain of a battered zeppelin. After fighting in a senseless, bloody war, he's taken to life on the fringes of society. Frey keeps a low profile to avoid both the government and bigger criminal fish, making ends meet by running dodgy cargo from one place to another - invariably getting caught up in ambitious schemes.

His crew includes his silent, menacing, right-hand lieutenant that he met during the war, a pilot with a tendency to babble inanely, a posh passenger on the run, a mysterious & silent woman with inhuman powers and a gun-crazy soldier played by Chuck's Adam Baldwin. (One of these is a lie.)

However strongly Retribution Falls might tap into its influence(s), the book is an inescapably enjoyable lark. Wooding thoughtfully skips over all the boring bits. He propels the story from one action-filled scene to the next. Blink, and the crew is trekking about in the snow-capped polar region. Blink twice, and they're avoiding aerial mines in a secret pirate cavern. Three times, and Frey is shagging nuns in a cult stronghold. The story is linear, but packed with ellipses. Fortunately, this doesn't come across as patchy - the whole tale is so fun that the episodic just becomes part of the ride.

One interesting criticism [Editor's note: Not actually my own point, but until my mate Matt gets his own blog, I'm claiming it as such] is that Wooding gets almost too enthusiastic with the characters. Every one of the characters has a dodgy past and a story of his or her own - but rather than leaving anything to the imagination, we get all the answers in book 1. From Frey's romantic entanglements to the true story of the daemonist's golem, it all comes out. Not to second-guess, but it would've been good to have something left for the sequel(s).

All in all, an exciting, action-packed throwback, with flying ships, pirates and shit-that-goes-boom. Wooding clearly enjoys building worlds, but wisely keeps that in check, and devotes himself to telling a great story. His books are made to be read aloud (possibly with funny voices), and there's always space on my shelf for that.

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