I said – maybe not here but to myself – that I was going to post about a book every Monday and then I went and missed last Monday. Forgive me, I was preparing for my first interview in eight years and wasn’t really in a book mood, plus I had to go and visit the local Brownies to encourage them on to Guides.
This week’s book is Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding. I read Black Lung Captain, second in the series, a good few years ago and I enjoyed it but apparently not enough to seek out the first in the series.
Spoilers, because I didn’t feel like making the effort to be vague and non-spoilery:
It’s impossible to talk about the Tales of the Ketty Jay without mentioning Firefly – this is Firefly-flavoured scifi/fantasy/steampunk where I’m unable to picture the Ketty Jay as anything other than Serenity’s identical twin sister. But in the Ketty Jay world, things are all happening on the same planet – this isn’t space travel, this is merely sky travel. And Captain Darian Frey has all Mal Reynolds’ bad points and none of his good. To put it simply, Frey is just about the most unlikeable hero I’ve ever read. Sure, he’s a small-scale criminal, I’m fine with that, but he’s selfish and has no loyalty to his crew at all – doesn’t even regard them as crew. To be fair, the character arc of Retribution Falls is Frey developing that regard and loyalty but the first half is pretty hard to read when you’re half-expecting him to just leave them all to be killed and run away himself.
Not that the other characters are necessarily likeable either. Harkins and Pinn, the outfliers, could be removed from the book and I for one would be delighted – Harkins is terrified of everything except the cockpit of his fighter plane and Pinn is an absolute moron. Malvery, the doctor (spitting image of Hugh Bonneville in my mind for some reason) is a genial alcoholic who can no longer do any surgery and is therefore somewhat limited in his doctoring abilities. Silo’s total on-page appearance probably adds to less than a whole page throughout the entire book. Grayther Crake, the passenger and daemonist, has a whiff of Simon Tam about him – he’s done terrible things but he’s not entirely hateable. His golem, Bess, a daemonic spirit animating a thing that’s halfway between a steampunk spacesuit and a steampunk suit of armour, is actually pretty adorable. She’s literally the soul of an eight-year-old girl but even before we find that out, you can see it. Bess is a huge superpowered child who can destroy you with one thump of her enormous fist. And finally we have newest crew member, Jez. Quietish, very competent and thus mysterious. She’s sort of technically dead and just waiting to be shunned for it.
These books are fun. That’s their raison d’etre. Just steampunk-style dogfights between roguish pirates and the authorities, stealing treasure, playing cards, drinking too much. And yet I really struggled to get into this one. But then, my mind’s been all over the place in recent weeks. There’s been a lot going on. The Tales of the Ketty Jay are good harmless daft fun for people who like things like Firefly.