Rating scale: 5=Loved it, 4=Liked it, 3=Ok, 2=Disappointed, 1=Hated it. I look for well developed characters, compelling stories.
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.
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 is a dark short story told in first person by an un-named man going on a quest to the Black Mountains. He hires a guide to take him there, disclosing little of himself or his reason for the journey. His tale unfolds slowly, bit by bit as the two travelors encounter challenges along the way, not fully trusting each other, but needing to rely on each other anyway. This slow buildup initially felt like nothing was really going on, but have patience. As pieces of each man's stories are revealed, the tension begins to mount right up to the opening of the mountain cave which is their destination. And then, as the title suggests, there is the truth.
It pains me to give anyting less than 5 stars to a Gaiman recording, but in this case it's not because of his narration, which is perfection as always. There is a musical score that plays throughout the story that often becomes more than just background. The listener's sample gives you some idea of the music. There are some parts that are more intrusive, but also many parts where the music benefits the atmosphere. But the fact that the score made itself so obvious lost one star.