Book Review: Retribution Falls

So, a daemonologist, a smuggler, and an Archduke’s heir walk into an airship—oh dear, you haven’t heard this one before, have you?

Retribution Falls is, like much of its steampunky brethren, strange above all else. The good sort of strange, mind you, but strange none the less. No lizard people, but airships abound (because how else would we know it was Steampunk? The goggles would make no sense!), magic and daemons are in the air, and money is the name of the game. Money is, after all, the driving focus of this novel, given that it’s a tale of a crew of smugglers.

Enter Darien Frey, captain of the Ketty Jay—a ship he loves above all else. Even his crew. Or his passengers. Even…well, alright, money would probably give it a run for it. He’s a man that would look a thief in the eye and tell him to go screw himself rather than turn over his precious ship—even if it meant getting some of the (expendable) souls around him iced. His crew? Much the same in temperament. But what do you expect? They’re a crew of bandits, smugglers, and lowlifes of the lowest rate.

No, I mean it, the lowest rate. They lack success, luck, and the money that goes with it. They barely have the money to keep flying but—you guessed it—with the dawning of the book, is the dawning of an opportunity: the job to end all jobs. Like any “job”, though, a hero (alright, anti-hero) isn’t about to get off without a hitch—and in this case, the hitch involves explosions and false charges of murder. Whoops. Welcome to fame (sans fortune) and a top spot on the number one most wanted list! Toss in a fugitive daemonologist for flavor, a desperate need to prove innocence, not to mention a seasoning of dark humor, and what you’ve got here is a real winner.

Does it have the depth you know I love? Alright, well, not in its entirety, but it strikes a decent enough balance for a book as outright fun as this one. Character development does abound, characters learn from past mistakes, and as quick as you can swallow this bit of literature, it’s rare that you actually feel left wanting over its course. No info-dumps will weigh you down, so it’s a speedy read.

Also: there is daemonism. Daemonism magic, to be exact, which is a sort of outright fantasy mixed with pseudoscience, and used just enough to tease one’s interest without giving enough away to truly pick apart. What’s more: it’s magic with a downside! Not all powerful—and that’s just the sort of magic I like.

Basically, Retribution Falls is an amusing package that fires on almost every cylinder: fast-paced action (including airship action, which is always glorious), rampant piracy, and characters with humor—and, well, character. In the words of a terrible song? I like it, I love it, I want some more of it. This is how you steampunk.

Book Review: The Great Game

So, do you…steampunk? Honestly, it’s the best (and only) way to introduce The Great Game because it is its dominant trait. Think Cheryl Priest—except whereas her works take place in Civil War era America, this one transports readers to Victorian Europe, a land where everything runs like clockwork. Or, on clockwork.

No, really. This may be alternate history, but the alternate should be in all caps—the British Empire is ruled by aliens, and not just any aliens, but alien lizards. Everyone who said the lizardman phenomenon was coming for us was apparently right—they just had the time frame off a little bit. Oh, and France? Automatons, the lot of them. Amazing, what a little steam and clockwork can pull off.

Suffice to say, the setting is pretty jarring. We’re not in Kansas anymore and all that; it does take some getting used to. Fortunately, historical and literary characters are there to help guide us through the adjustment period—though not in any real way we would be familiar with them for. Sherlock Holmes? Real and retired. Harry Houdini? Agent on the move. Yes, there’s more than one joke in there somewhere.

Would that any of these characters had the depth to bring extra life to a very colorful world, but unfortunately, no one’s really kept up with for too long. The world and the mysteries themselves are our real characters, and they drive this book forward, through a rather chaotic smattering of events.

Which brings us, in a rather roundabout way, to the plot. Agents of “the Bureau” are on the case of several murders, through shadowy intrigues and some rather colorful expositions. Despite that, erm, rather bland unveiling, though, I will note the plot’s problem is that, while it manages to stay pretty vibrant throughout, it can get a bit…shall we say…chaotic? The fact that the characters are not really at the heart of things certainly doesn’t help.

It is fun. You will be amused. But if you’re looking for more than that, you may be in for some disappointment. With all this attention dedicated to the mystery and the plot, over character, one would think the climax and resolution would be especially key, the answers to all the great exploratory questions—and yet, there is little resolution. It’s a book that can be raced through, leaving little along the way; it will entertain while it’s read, but there’s not much that will cling to the shadows of the mind in its aftermath.

Just don’t let the lizards know I told you.