Montgomery, Al, USA | Listener Since 2009
This story follows military medicus (doctor) Gaius Petreius Ruso who is a Roman man living in Brittania (England). He's escaped to the Brittania to heal from a disaster of a marriage that ended in divorce and the death of his father that left the family with many undue debts to pay. Brittania is considered a backwater town but important nonetheless. It's too small to be considered grand, but too large to be ignored by the Romans. As if going from everything to having nothing wasn't bad enough, women continue to bring trouble for Ruso after he examines a dead woman found in the river and rescues a slave from her callous owner.
This story takes place during a time when modern medicine was just beginning to emerge. Doctors were regarded as suspicious conmen and "healers" still ruled surpreme. I loved how Downie weaved that into the story, showing how doctors began to record treatment and discover new ways to deal with various medical ailments and conditions. One of my favorite scenes in the book is when Ruso ushered around the new doctors in training and reveled in their naïveté after one fainted (and the others just barely made it out) when Ruso showed them a particular gruesome case. The description made me chuckle because it was just so Ruso-like.
Ruso is a bit cynical and serious, but he does have a little bit of a dry comedic side. He's very sure of his abilities as a medicus almost to the point of cockiness, but unlike his friend and fellow medicus, Valens, he keeps to himself in a world where knowing the right people means everything. He often feels awkward in social situations and almost always says the wrong things in his mind, so he tends to keep to himself. His bedside manners are cool because he's a man of logic, even by his own admission, but Ruso cares more about people more than he shows. This care extends beyond mere medical interest, but he's not sure how to "fix" people beyond what physically ails them.
Ruso complains that he shouldn't get involved in certain matters, but still he finds that his underlying compassion and concern causes him to do the exact opposite, which is how he ends up "investigating" a murder that he insists he's not investigating. He's also terrible at being a hard ass as shown when he became Tilla's "master." Tilla is just one of a group of ragtag friends he picks up during the course of the story which includes the charming Valens who thinks that Ruso needs a new wife, an overenthusiastic scribe named Albanus, and a dog he claims not to care for. He complains about them, of course, but I don't think he'd know what to do without them.
Despite all the elements that could make this a complicated story to listen to, it was very easy to follow. Nothing really went beyond my grasp or caused me to pause and rewind just to make sure I was understanding what I'd heard. Downie didn't use language that was too complicated, and the things that seemed a little unfamiliar she was able to explain in the simplest terms, even when it didn't really seem necessary. However, this was a surprisingly light listen. I was afraid that I would get partway in and decide that I need to read the book rather than listen to the audiobook.
One of the chief complaints I'd heard about this book was that the language was "too modern," but that's the usual complaint of many historical fiction settings ranging from books to television. I wasn't surprised to hear the complaint, but it just seems like old news now since many shows and books take this approach. I think that's because it makes it easier on the reader and the writer. How many people would really be interested in reading this if written in the style of that time? What writer would stick to writing a story in such a style? It would be tedious for both the reader and the writer. I agree that maybe some word choices absolutely were too modern, but that's such a nitpicky thing. However, I can only say that it doesn't bother me. Your mileage may vary.
My chief complaint is that, while I liked Ruso, he could be a bit annoying at times. I'd get mad at him for how he tried to treat Tilla, calling her property and trying to force her to call him master, even though he was terrible at being bossy--at least to Tilla. He does show a surprising amount of sexism that can be a bit annoying, too. Not because it's sexism, however. This is ancient Rome era we're talking about. It's annoying because it's obvious that he's not as sexist as most, but has defaulted to sexism because of his general disillusionment due to a bad marriage, which is understandable but so frustrating. Some of his actions were so obtuse to the point that I had to wonder if Ruso was okay mentally at times. An example being how he wanted the rumors about him investigating the murder to stop since he "wasn't investigating," but he made it his business to ask every person around if they'd heard he was investigating the murders. Really, Ruso?
As far as the narration goes, Simon Vance is quickly becoming one of my favorite narrators. He has a voice that is perfect for reading. This will be the third book I've listened to with him as the narrator and he never fails to impress me with his read. He's remarkable; his narration is always so impeccable. I have never encountered a narrator with such clean narration skills. Also, he understands that timbre not pitch determines how realistically a female voice will come across when reading, and even when faced with multiple female speakers in one scene, he gives them all their own personality that makes them easily discernible one from another.
The only real complaint I have is that he's a fast talker. I tend to speed up my audiobooks between 1.25 to 2.0 times faster than normal. With him, I have to get used to the pace he's keeping before I can speed it up, but that's really a trivial complaint when compared to how extraordinary he is as a narrator.
This was a great opening for the series, and I look forward to following more of Ruso's misadventures as narrated by Simon Vance.
I originally bought the book as an impulse buy from Audible because they kept taunting me with a deal on certain books. This was one of those books whose description was written in a way to capture the reader's attention while still managing to be vaguely suspicious. I wasn't sure if I liked the cover (recovering cover snob that I am), but I decided to give this a try, even if my brain did try to tell me that this was probably going to be Space Rambo. However, since this was my science fiction month and I wanted to round out my selection and adding to the fact that the reviews were mostly favorable, I decided to give it a chance. Surprisingly, it was an interesting listen.
Twenty three year old Jazen Parker agrees to go to a planet known colloquially as "Dead End" with a rich tycoon to hunt one of the deadliest animals in the universe. The payout from this job will help Parker to get a new identity and start his life anew without the threat of the former mercenary group he worked for since he was a teen or the bounty hunters who want to take him back to his home planet to answer for his "crime." He was born illegally on his home planet, and even though that wasn't his fault, he can still be punished for his parents' crime.
It's really hard to talk about this book without spoiling most of it. You think you're going into the book just getting a straightforward sci-fi military story with lots of action, and you do get that. However, you also get a well crafted sci-fi story that won't allow itself to be shoehorned into just another shoot-em-up story. This story explores human nature and the similarities and differences that could exist between two intelligent races by giving us chapters from the alien's point of view. He finds much of human behavior complex and needless. His own race is at an apex where they are absolutely on top of the food chain on their home planet and don't need many of the behaviors that humans possess. The longer he travels with his human companions the more he learns about things such as empathy and sacrifice, notions he doesn't have in his own culture because individuals in his race live solitary lives. They're firm believers in allowing an individual to meet his destiny alone.
We also learn more about this other race in the process. We learn about their loose society structure and how they've managed to thwart genocide by humans by pretending to be dumb creatures. As stated in the book: "Overall the human species tolerated dangers in nature. What they did not tolerate were rivals." Even though they know they are more intelligent and capable than humans. Humans possess knowledge and skills that make them very dangerous, especially to a territorial, solitary species like his where teamwork is downright disrespectful because it means encroaching on each other’s boundaries. However solitary they are, there is a thread of unity between them, a way they exchange knowledge, history, and ideas among themselves. They're stubborn about their worldview being the only view and humans are obviously delusional in their opinion until circumstances causes one of them to embark on a pivotal journey.
Humans in this book have conquered most of the known galaxy, becoming so numerous on some planets that it's a crime to reproduce without consent. (And I don't really understand why Parkers parent traveled to a planet where it's a criminal offense to have Parker, but maybe they had no other choice.) It's even mentioned that they have destroyed other intelligent species after being given resources they needed and have turned back to warring against each other, but with more dire consequences (such as slavery, even though it's supposedly humane, is a fate for the conquered). Humans are detached from earth, most having never seen earth and know little of its history.
Humans not knowing about their history, even if they've never laid eyes on earth, pains me. Parker will sometimes gripe about how trueborns think earth is the cultural apex of the universe and how names like George Washington mean nothing to him. While I can understand the sentiment, there are no other cultures present since it seems that humans have wiped out any other intelligent species, and the culture Parker complains about is the same culture who opened up the universe to humans. Just as Parker’s home world should be just as important to trueborns because it the collective history of humanity. Why wouldn't the history of earth and humans be some kind of required reading? I'm over thinking this thing.
I didn't know if I was going to enjoy the narrator at first, but he did very well and I think his characterization of Parker is what really stood out to me. He really made him feel distinct and alive for me. He managed to capture the youth and battle weary aspects of Parker's personality. Parker is young and naive about many things outside of battle like women, but he's seen so much war and death as a legionnaire. And MacCleod Andrews did a great job of capturing that.
This was an excellent story. There were a few parts that seemed kind of mystifying (Parker's parents' decision on where to have him) and parts that seemed to be quickly cobbled to the story as it neared its end. However, Buettner is knowledgeable about military and made it work in a way that isn't overwhelming for readers. He also knows how to make characters engaging, and I thought more than once he'd probably be a great writer for the Mass Effect series. I'll be moving on to book two in this series soon, hopeful that some mysteries remaining are solved.
The second book in The Dresden Files takes place a bit after the events in Storm Front. After business slows down resulting in Harry taking some odd magical jobs here and there, Karrin Murphy contacts Harry for his help on a murder case. She takes him to a crime scene where one of Marcone's men has been brutally murdered and strange paw prints are left at the scene. Add the fact similar murders have been taking place during and around the full moon for a few months, and you have a formula.
I've read the first book twice now, and even though I liked it, I hadn't ventured any further in the series until now. I just get so bogged down with other books I want to read. I had to work out of town for two days, and I figured this would be the perfect read for my trip since I wouldn't be able to do much book reading. I try not to listen to anything too heavy and this was the perfect audio book with it's fast, easy pace. I found myself quickly caught up in the story.
I thought Butcher's take on werewolves was refreshing, especially how he used "lycanthropes," who aren't really werewolves, but people born with the ability to tap into the spirit of rage. When they are under the power of the spirit, they are more aggressive, stronger, and they heal quickly. His four definitions of werewolves in the story gives them real weaknesses and strengths (other than the silver bullet bit, but it comes into play as well) with the werewolves we typically think of, called loup-garou, not being as common in Harry's world as the other three types.
And Harry, good ol' self-deprecating Harry. He had me arguing with him so much in this book. His sense of heroic honor seems to make him do the dumbest things and aptly illustrates the point in one of my favorite quotes about just how much dumb luck the good guys have. I'm sure I would've been much more annoyed with him if I'd been reading this instead of listening to it because I would've spent a ridiculous amount of time rereading and trying to make sense out of the Harry's madness.
Regardless, I can't help but like the guy, even when I wish I could reach my hands into the book and throttle him while screaming, "Why would you do that?" That means I care about the character. It's only the characters I don't want to suffer so much that I argue with. But I do have to give him credit for the really ingenious things he did do during the course of this story. Also, he half quoted Spider-Man when he went on his "Knowledge is Power. And Power comes with responsibility!" rant. How can I hate a man like that?
Also, I'm glad that Harry was able to understand that he shouldn't withhold information about the supernatural from people like Murphy. They need that information to have a fighting chance. It's not enough to say, "It's dangerous," and leave it at that, especially when Murphy's job is to deal with the unknown. They may not use this information as intended, but he would be giving them the knowledge they need to try to stay alive. I'm not saying that he should spill everything he knows. He knows what's pertinent and what's not. How can he expect anyone, such as Murphy, to truly understand the gravity of the supernatural when he is only giving them half-information?
James Marsters is a wonderful narrator. True, I did balk a little at first, and I'm sorry for that. I was one of those people who got into the series because of the old Syfy show, and it's pretty much branded into my mind that Harry is Paul Blackthorne. Marsters really brought the characters to life for me after we crossed that Blackthorne hurdle. He did his best to give each character a distinct personality and a distinct sound, even the women. I loved the voice, the clipped, immaculate pronunciation, he used for Tera. It was like someone who learned English as a second language and still doesn't understand all the nuances of the English, which I guess that would describe Tera to a "T." I love his Murphy as well.
I heard one glaring mistake, though. When the lycanthropes captured Harry, during that moment when he was goading Parker, he called Parker by Marcone's name. It wasn't dialogue, just Harry's narrating/thinking part. He said, "Instead Marcone spun in his heel, picked up a tire iron, and turned back to me..." He meant Parker spun on his heel. Marcone hadn't even showed up yet at this point. But overall, Marsters' narrating pretty much made this story for me. I've already decided that I'll listen to the rest of the series, except for the book he didn't narrate.
Perrin knows how to start a good story. She just seems to have some problems actually seeing her stories through to the end. This is the second book I've read by her where it just seemed the ending fell flat for me.
Also, I had a hard time caring about Sophie. She came off as brat-ish, and her brat-ish behavior followed her to the end. I did sympathize with her, cheer her on, and feet her pain, but she made it hard sometimes to do so. When I was finally at that point where I thought I could really like her, her shallow behavior ruined that. There seemed to be no real character growth for her. She seemed to think that love was gauged by who bought her the better tennis bracelet. (But I loved all of Perrin's characters in Getting Even, so I know she can write more compelling characters than Sophie.)
I'll continue to read Perrin's works because she can create an intriguing storyline. She just needs to work on her weak endings.
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