Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Retribution Falls

Chris Wooding

I didn't like this one. Yes, it's low-ambition adventure story, and it benefits from a fascinating setting, but the actual layout of the narrative never did it for me. In part it's my inability to really connect with the characters--far from being a lovable rogue I found the main crew fairly despicable from first to last, a collection of overly archetypes without many redeeming characteristics. Frey was the worst, a stock petty outlaw that's also unforgivably stupid and selfish while being convincing of his cunning. The basic plot is decent enough, but seems too easy at key points--when point A in the conspiracy is worked it easily rolls over on point B, who after a moment's work is eavesdropped on to implication point C. There is the requisite number of shoot-outs and capture of the protagonists, but no enough sustained difficulty at any point for real drama.

Across this work I was reminded again and again of Firefly, but the comparisons did no favor to the book. Additionally there's a major troubling element in its use of gender, particularly the relegation of female adventure to sexuality and the scorn poured within the narrative on denigrating women Frey has used and thrown aside in the past. There are the elements in here to push for a major redemption, but the story just doesn't carry Frey far enough to make this effective. It wasn't entirely a waste, but I don't view it as any stronger than Boneshaker. So, I'd say I'm significantly harsher than the general reaction to it, seeing the book as a weak piece that didn't belong on the Clarke or other shortlists and it does drag down the quality of that set somewhat. Although it is better than Wake, Flesh and Fire or The Love We Share, and overall the Clarke emerges as easily the strongest genre shortlist of the year.

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