Rating scale: 5=Loved it, 4=Liked it, 3=Ok, 2=Disappointed, 1=Hated it. I look for well developed characters, compelling stories.
The first thing I want to say is that the performance of this book by the author elevates the story to heights that could not have been achieved by reading the text alone. Neil Gaiman is a true actor, creating a world and its inhabitants so vividly, you feel you are walking the Underside with Richard, Door and all the rest. There were a couple of spots early on when the sound effects drowned out the voices, and I was worried that these production problems would kill the enjoyment of the story. It was a temporary problem however, and overall the performance score is an enthusiastic 5.
The story is a strange one - Mr. Gaiman's fans may be prepared for this, but this was my first of his titles. It's almost like a grungy underground Wizard of Oz meets Lord of the Rings. Because it is so grungy - really, the atmosphere and characters are very dark, dirty, dangerous and cynical - I found myself wishing for at least a touch of the magic of those other two classics (is there a Good Witch in the house?). Richard was a mostly engaging hero, but did seem kind of slow to catch on that it was not only useless, but probably not smart to argue with the Underside creatures about what their world is all about. (You're not in Kansas anymore). This stole away one star (honestly, more like just half a star) from the story quality, and may not even be a problem to many other readers. I did enjoy the journey - had some of it figured out in advance, not all of it. I'm encouraged to try other titles from this author, especially if he reads his own words.
This was a wonderfully creative interweaving of mythology, fantasy, immigrant history, and cultural understanding with some danger and romance thrown in. The relationship between Jinni and Golem is complex because they are so different in their natures (hot and cold, impulsive and reserved, selfish and serving) and yet also alike in their bafflement of the human race and the stress of needing to suppress their true natures. Their divergent viewpoints lead to very insightful debates on matters of ethics, morals, religion and free will, challenging each other’s actions and motivations. They embodied both the best and the worst of the humans they were trying to figure out and this adds depth to what is essentially a stranger-in-a-strange-land tale. As is true with the best of mythology or folk tales, there is a lot to be learned by humans from the dilemmas threatening the Jinni and the Golem. Their struggles make you think about just what does it mean to be human.
While the tone is often dark and dangerous, there is also plenty of humor found in the recognition of small moments of everyday living, lending the supernatural a reassuringly grounded feeling. The supporting characters, good, bad or in between, are all wonderfully written. There wasn't one I felt was a misstep. Helene Wecker’s writing is straightforward and assured, George Guidall’s reading is perfection. I loved every minute of this book.
I have been putting off reading this book primarily because the narrator is not Neil Gaiman, and I have not listened to any of his books not read by him. But because it has been strongly recommended to me by a dear friend, and the reviews rate Lenny Henry’s reading very highly, I jumped in. And so glad I did.
None of my previous experience with Gaiman prepared me for this story. (Have not read American Gods yet.) While still magical, the tone is vastly different from Neverwhere, Stardust, and (my new favorite) The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Tapping into African folk tales, Gaiman has woven a mythical mash-up of the living and the afterworld, humans and animals, reality and perception, and does it with huge splashes of humor that will have you laughing out loud in spite of yourself. (I may even consider giving Kareoke a try.) I loved that the lightness of tone survives and overcomes the dark goings-on as ancient mythical grudges seep into the present day lives of the Anansi brothers.
My reservations about Lenny Henry as the reader were totally unfounded. His vocal agility successfully tackles every accent, age, gender, and even the animal kingdom. Since the source fables have been passed down through oral tradition, it is very appropriate to listen to this book rather than to read it. In print I suspect the impact would have been reduced by at least half.
I'll read anything good. I'm easy that way.
Listening to this book is the most fun I've had in a long, long time! I was a little worried when it started out with two 19 year old school girls at an academy, but it quickly veered off from there and took on a very different aspect. To say I was up all night listening is not, I repeat, NOT an exaggeration!
There are great reviews at Amazon that give the gist of the plot, but I don't want to spoil a second of this book. If you love fantasy you will love this.
The best part is the rest of the trilogy is already written (and I'm assuming being prepared for audio right now), and a sequel set of books is already available on Amazon, so, yippee!
I'm now a fan of Kate Elliott's. A big one.
P.S. I'm not a big fan of YA (with very, very few exceptions), but I had been assured by the reviews at Amazon that this was not YA -- but even if it is, it's still the best book I've listened to this year!