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Rowan W. Smith

Swinging between cynical optimism and optimistic cynicism

Member Since 2012

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44
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  • The Digging Leviathan: Narbondo, Book 1

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 28 mins)
    • By James P Blaylock
    • Narrated By Christopher Ragland
    Overall
    (12)
    Performance
    (11)
    Story
    (11)

    Southern California - sunny days, blue skies, neighbours on flying bicycles ... ghostly submarines ... mermen off the Catalina coast ... and a vast underground sea stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the Inland Empire where Chinese junks ply an illicit trade and enormous creatures from ages past still survive. It is a place of wonder... and dark conspiracies. A place rife with adventure - if one knows where to look for it. Two such seekers are the teenagers Jim Hastings and his friend, Giles Peach.

    Rowan W. Smith says: "Blaylock is a marvel"
    "Blaylock is a marvel"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    There is something wonderful, and wonderfully refreshing, about Blaylock's stories. I've read them since I first discovered The Elfin Ship, and always feel this innate sense of happiness when I find another.

    He may not be for everyone; few authors are. But try him with an open mind and a sense of humor. There are people, events ideas, and things in his stories that are completely absurd (part of the charm), but they are fit for their tasks within the context of the tale.

    Blaylock is himself and no one else, but like a good wine there are hints of this and that story-telling forebear. Hope Mirrlees (Lud-in-the-Mist and things that float down river), John Bellairs (especially The Face in the Frost), James Thurber (his stories about his life more than his fairy tales), and Bradbury (for the child in every adult, and the adult growing in every child); and then there's Beagle, Grahame, some Twain. But his voice is unique. If you taste memories of another author, it springs from his being immersed, and reveling, in the experiences and memories that shaped him. His voice reminds me also of different honeys, that have shades of this or that flower from the neighborhood.

    The reason I haven't described the story itself is that it would be a pointless endeavor. The plot is good, the characters charming, the stakes high. But reading too many plot descriptions is like watching too many trailers for a movie. After a while, you lose the ability to be surprised and carried along by unfolding events. So stop reading descriptions and pick up the genuine article itself.

    As for those who had difficulty listening to the story, don't approach it with preconceived expectations of one more Steampunk clone (although this is one of the originals). He uses (invented) the genre tropes, but uses them in service of the characters, not as gosh-wow ends in themselves.

    And you can't read him with your nose in the air and an ego inflated with pretense . He'll just deflate the latter and use it as a whoopee-cushion in a daring scheme sure to confound Dr. Frosticos or one of the Narbondos.



    What other book might you compare The Digging Leviathan to and why?

    Lud-In-the-Mist, The Face in the Frost, The Thurber Carnival, Dandelion Wine, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Wind in the Willows, A Fine and Private Place, among others


    What about Chris Ragland’s performance did you like?

    he gives each character an original flavor, with not just a distinctive voice, but their rhythms.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Homunculus: Narbondo, Book 2

    • UNABRIDGED (9 hrs and 45 mins)
    • By James P Blaylock
    • Narrated By Nigel Carrington
    Overall
    (16)
    Performance
    (14)
    Story
    (14)

    In 1870s London, a city of contradictions and improbabilities, a dead man pilots an airship and living men are willing to risk all to steal a carp. Here, a night of bangers and ale at the local pub can result in an eternity at the Blood Pudding with the rest of the reanimated dead.... A comic science-fiction novel first published in 1986. It took the Philip K Dick award that year, and was the second book in Blaylock's loose steampunk trilogy, following The Digging Leviathan (1984) and preceding Lord Kelvin's Machine (1992).

    Katherine says: "Over the top in the right kind of way"
    "Juggling chain saws and custard pies"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    What did you love best about Homunculus?

    Blaylock is one of the few writers I've read who can effectively combine so many contrasting effects, making the whole much greater than any one part. His scenes use horror and slapstick, (sometime together; for example, the resurrection scene with the peafowl and the piano), disappointment, joy, excitement, tenderness, mystery (with and without a capital M), wonder. There are moments where grotesque evil triumphs, moments where the outcome of choices are morally ambiguous, there are scenes filled with adventure, despair and, finally, a satisfying resolution that leaves the door open for new adventures. As I said in the headline, his writing is like watching someone juggling chainsaws and custard pies. You never know if the next page will bring tragedy or helpless laughter. As to plot, well, it's unusual, to say the least, and part of the pleasure is trying to determine exactly what it is. Blaylock does not write typical fantasy stories with simple words drawing clear lines from simple beginning A to simple ending B, with the obligatory 1000 pages in-between filled with vampire love, magic swords, bloody battles, and black-or-white choices. He includes lots of conflict, defeats and victories. Just not what you are expecting if your usual reading consists of Tolkien-knockoffs and 5000 page "epics." Try Blaylock, and keep a very open mind. Heed Coleridge, and employ "the willing suspension of disbelief" and so awaken " the mind's attention from the lethargy of custom, and directing it to the loveliness and the wonders of the world before us." Fits Mr. Blaylock's stories to a T.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Two that stand out for me are Shiloh, the messiah, and Bill Kraken, sometime grave robber and squid monger. Blaylock writes great characters, if you approach him without preconceptions. His secondary characters are terrific; and they are all woven inextricably into the fabric of the tale. Blaylock writes very unique, large-than-life characters, such as Narbondo, the evil genius. But even better, he writes Everyman characters who, through their actions, show that greatness has always been within; that each person is unique and not a stock actor. Yet Blaylock never moralizes; he let's action and dialogue take their course without telling the reader "look how noble this person is."


    What does Nigel Carrington bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    He had the right feel for the story and the characters. He gave each character a clearly identifiable voice, but more than that, he incorporated the emotions and thoughts of each one into the narration. His voice trembles when someone feels strong emotion, sounding outraged, afraid, uncertain, or enlightened, as the situation requires. When people are bored, they sound bored. Carrington adds pauses, varies the tones and changes the pace to fit the action and situation. This was the first time I have heard him, and it will not be the last. A fine talent.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    Again, it's hard to pick out just one moment. His scenes move from the informative to the horrifying to the comic to the thrilling. I don't want to describe any in detail, as I dislike spoilers.


    Any additional comments?

    Blaylock is under-appreciated. I would really like it if Audible offered his non-Narbondo/St. Ives books, such as "The Land of Dreams", "The Paper Grail", "The Elfin Ship" or "Night Relics."Finally, try his short stories. Many are wonderful. "Paper Dragons," which won a World Fantasy Award, is a good starting place to see how you like his style.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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