Pretty much everyone who wrote about this novel mentioned its similarity to the TV show Firefly, and it is quite obvious that this is where author Chris Wooding got a large part of his inspiration from (with the exception of some parts, like the sub-plot he lifted almost wholesale from Full Metal Alchemist); large enough that Joss Whedon might be justified in suing for royalties… if Firefly itself was not such an obvious riff on Civil War and post Civil War Westerns (most obviously probably with regard to Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly).
So, one gets a pretty good idea of what Retribution Falls is like if one imagines it as the steampunk version of a Sergio Leone Western, or Firefly with dirigibles (kind of) instead of spaceships. The plot involves a lot of greedy people with shady ethics (our protagonists among them) either chasing after loot or running away from the law and/or each other, with all the hijinks that usually ensue from such a setup, such as madcap plans gone wrong, dashing escapes and exploding stuff (lots of exploding stuff). It also has a bit of the Bildungsroman about it, both regarding the crew of the Ketty Jay (who start out as a bunch of people who don’t much care about each other but in the course of events become an actual crew that is working together as a team) and its captain Darien Frey (who starts out as an unmitigated asshole but in the course of events becomes slightly less of an asshole).
It’s a fun novel, but somewhat marred by the author’s tendency to over-explain his characters – both in the sense of explaining things that do not really need explaining, and of then explaining them over and over again – all of which seems to indicate that the author has no very high opinion of the intelligence of his readers, and while I’m not reading light entertainment like this for the intellectual challenge, there is degree of too glaringly obvious that becomes downright insulting. Still, that is a comparatively minor quibble, and overall Retribution Falls delivered on what it promised, namely being a highly entertaining adventure story. I’ll be quite likely to return to for the sequel.