I've been an Audie Awards judge since 2008. I have enjoyed audiobooks since the days when they were called "Books on Tape".
Great story, told in a descriptive and pensive manner that lended itself to the overall mood of the whole piece. There are some points in the story that are so well described, that I feel as though I could paint them in freeze frame. This book is different from any other fantasy novel I've ever read.
This book, unlike most other fantasy novels, is not your typical "quest" novel. There's no quest in this story at all. It's about a Kingdom ruled by a king who tries to control magic through a school that teaches government accepted "politically correct" magic, giving the story a moral. The characters are deep and well developed. The parts are played perfectly by Gabrielle de Cuir. It is by no means a "heavy" novel and sort of parallels "Much A Do About Nothing" in some ways. Nobody dies. There are no battles, only the battles of wits... and the deep emotions of Brendon Vetch, the castle gardener, who talks to plants using magic. If you can't see the mood in the piece, it won't hold much for you, but it's mood is what makes it different from other books. If moods could be painted, this author would be a master!
This wonderful fantasy novel makes for excellent listening. McKillip's use of language and fine characterizations carry the story, and makes the world she invents believable and interesting. Gabrielle de Cuir's nuanced narration is clear without being distracting. Highly recommended.
Like other commenters have written, this is not her best book. Here are the good aspects of this book:
-Unique writing style
-Unique plot(kept me guessing)
-Unexpected(which was good), but abrupt, ending
-Interwoven story lines were very well done, not forced like other book's I've read recently
-Fairy tale fantasy, not D&D/Tolkien based fantasy
-Lighter subject matter (no one dies, battles), but like all of this author's work, this is pulled off exceedingly well. Makes for easy reading while still feeling the tension.
-Cool and different magic and just enough history to feel like a complete world.
-Many fully realized characters: everyone mentioned had a full story behind them.
Bad parts include:
-Narrator when she tries to be a male character, she sometimes changed her voice too much. She was a good narrator overall.
-Abrupt ending, no truly fullfilling 'moral of the story is' moment as you would expect from a Fairy tale
-Valoren being a idiot(Really?! Your that blind to everyone around you?! Really?!!). Same goes for the king. They were never really fleshed out as characters. We never really learned their motives for being so ruthless.
-No real battles or deaths. Lots of threatening of them by one party or another, but we never get the chance to believe them. A threat without a weapon is not a threat
This gets 4/5 because, despite its flaws, it's still awesome to listen too. Go in expecting lighter fare, non-Tolkien based stuff. As a one shot, non-series, story it's great.