Houston, TX, United States | Member Since 2008
A third of the way through this book I thought I was listening to a very well written caper story. Crafty con-man, always equal to the challenge, always one step ahead. It was fun, very well crafted, and predictable. Then the bottom fell out gloriously and Locke's world became much more complex, dark and dangerous. And infinitely more interesting!
One warning to add to those offered by other reviewers. I have always thought that one of the hallmarks of a great fantasy writer is the resolute willingness to kill off beloved characters in ways which force us to tread lightly and honestly in the worlds they create. Scott Lynch is a great fantasy writer!
For me this read like exactly what it is--a first book by a very talented writer. It seemed to me that Courtenay loved his material--the historical character at the center of his novel and the extraordinary age of Dickens, so colorful that only a florid and artfully circumlocuted literary style could manage to describe it. On the other hand, he never really took control of his story the way Dickens would have. The plot wanders, held hostage perhaps by the historical record which inspired it, and we wait overlong for story lines to converge and come to a head. As a result, I became impatient at times, not because the book was long but because it was diffuse.
Along the way, however, the author delivers several wonderful, tightly constructed episodes which could hardly be improved upon for building tension and powerful effect. Mary's sea voyage as a convict, her one woman mission to find her lost son in the wilderness, and Ikey's escape from the authorities were all riveting and a joy to listen to. And Courtenay's evocation of the period and its own particular glories and cruelties is, by turns, delightful, chilling and enraging. It would be difficult to read this book without having a strong emotional response.
Humphrey Bower's voice is simply gorgeous, (as an actor I am jealous) and he creates marvelous characters with it. He does clearly miss the occasional inflection, delivering a meaning contrary to the text in some minor way, and his unaccountable pronunciation of "boatswain" with all the letters present and accounted for was jarring, but seeing him listed as narrator for another book would make it more likely that I would buy it.
I tell my acting students that they pass people on the street every day who are as extraordinary and unbelievable as anyone they will play on stage--they just can't see behind the masks. M.C.Smith's books, as carefully plotted as they are, are not about plot. They are, rather, about revealing the desperation, the depravity, the courage and sometimes even the nobility lurking behind the banal masks worn by everyone in a uniformly grey society. Often the worst and the best even co-exist, unsuspected, in the same person. His characters act in ways we never expect, and when they do, our eyes go wide with recognition as their hidden purposes and obsessions become apparent. Not plot but a rich stew of competing and sometimes deadly motives gives his tales their extraordinary power, and at the center is Renko whose only uncompromising motive is the simplist and most dangerous of all--to find the truth.
Smith's other great strength is the evocation of locale. The white domain of deadly cold which he gives us in Polar Star provides constant intersections of breathtaking beauty and unforgiving peril which the author uses to spine chilling effect during Renko's frequent brushes with death. In almost every instance, numbing cold or intense fire or both play their part in vivid detail.
Happily, the author's mastery of character and locale are matched by Frank Muller's marvelous voice which brings it all into audible presence, understating but never neglecting a nuance, creating the white world and the grey cast of characters and the suppressed desperation with a bone true reading.
This book gains momentum slowly but rewards the reader with extaordinary tension and some action sequences which you will likely not forget. I recommend it very highly.
The thing you should probably know before using a credit on this book is that the title is a bit misleading. While substantial portions of this very long survey of the Allied air war against Germany are devoted to telling the stories of individuals and the missions they flew (and even of their experiences as POW's), Miller's dominant objective seems to be the parsing of the air campaign from every possible viewpoint: economic, strategic, moral, political, social, strategic and tactical. Also, it is principally the story of the 8th Air Force operating out of England, so while it's treatment of that unit is comprehensive, it has little to say about other U.S. bomber commands in the European theatre.
Miller writes clearly and the book is read very competently, but I found my interest sagging as the narrative followed a kind of oscillating formula: detailing political maneuverings, analyzing matters of strategy, describing the planning and execution of a particular operation, and then zooming in for closeups of the action as it affected individual units and crews. Then the process would begin all over again with the next phase of the campaign.
That said, I certainly know a GREAT deal more about the air war in Europe than I did when I began the book. At times Miller also succeeds in powerfully communicating the emotional landscape of the struggle. While the flyers periodically take a back seat to the generals and the politicians, there is enough here to engrave their exploits in every reader's mind. And the questions he raises about the choices the U.S. and England made in regard to "civilian" vs. "military" targets are unsettling and painfully timely in today's world. I guess I just think all of it would have been more effective if it were not presented in a single omelet which was trying to use up all the tasty things in the fridge in one dish.
I recently listened to Fuzzy Nation by Scalzi. The subject matter is much the same--first contact with a lovable, sapient species faced with the potential predations of the sleazier elements in humankind. Scalzi managed to overcome my initial, strong resistance to the Ewok syndrome. He was scupulously careful about not violating his own descriptions of the problem of communicating with the new species. His dialogue was witty, entertaining, and believable. And even his villains had a certain amount of human ambiguity built into them. This book, on the other hand, had none of these strengths. Add to that the fact that a great deal of it is devoted to the very predictable and unimaginative preteen angst of a gifted, pristinely "good" 11-14 year old girl, and I was ready for the end long before the end.
I have read one of the Honor Harrington books and found it much better than this effort. This book might be great for a preteen girl (though I think either of my daughters would have been nearly as bored as I was), but unless you are adicted to cute or to re-examining the struggles of pre-adolescence, I would advise you to look elsewhere. Obviously I am in a distinct minority here, so you should probably take my opinion with a grain of salt.
Abercrombie is brilliant and "Heroes" is Abercrombie distilled.
This book does not have the wonderful epic sweep of the previous stories Abercrombie has set in The First Law world. There is none of the complexity of plot, and the setting is entirely circumscribed within the environs of a single, meaningless battle. In many ways it reminds one of "Matterhorn," the superb glimpse of the Vietnam war penned by Karl Mariantes. Dark and deeply cynical about the romantic ideals of combat even as it celebrates courage, comradeship and a kind of mad endurance. There is glory here, but it is not the glory of triumph or even of nobility in defeat. It consists, rather, in the persistence of humanity in the midst of the most inhumane of all our enterprises, killing for a piece of useless ground.
There is also dark laughter, insanity, shards of the ridiculous, a great deal of blood, a few unexpected shafts of light and an extraordinary menagerie of characters. All the pungent ingredients of the absurd stew of war. Abercrombie fills our gob to bursting with it as few writers can and still makes us believe him when he shows us a soul weary veteran forsaking his quiet seat by his own hearth to trudge off again into the madness.
Clearly some listeners have a problem with Michael Page's delivery and much prefer Steven Pacey. I have loved the work that each of them has done on Abercrombie's books, and this was certainly no exception.
After having been pleasantly surprised by the second book in this series, I found this last installment to be thin and uninspired. I always respect a fantasy writer for having the audacity to eliminate characters we care about, thereby preventing us from becoming complacent about the survival of the rest. Unfortunately, after starting out with an impressively diverse and entertaining party, Pehov killed off enough of my favorites to cause me to start distancing myself from those who were left. In the end the party was too thin to sustain any cohesion, and I just did not care much anymore.
In addition, a major part of Shadow Blizzard is a dungeon crawl involving only the thief. As much as I liked Shadow Harold, the narrative suffered a lot when he did not have his companions to play off since the dynamics of the group, and especially the interplay between Harold and Klee Klee (spelling?) the goblin, were a major reason for the success of Shadow Chaser. Even the revelation which Pehov sets up and triggers halfway through the book was not enough to re-energize it sufficiently to satisfy.
Pehov handles action sequences extremely well, and he delivers some delightful character interplay. MacLeod Andrews makes the most of this with a fine reading, and I was not sorry to have ordered this one. In the end, however, it was disappointing, especially since I found the conclusion somewhat confusing and unsatisfying.
I enjoyed Ivan's adventure well enough, but I found myself missing Miles, the nonpareil. Bujold is never less than satisfactory, but Miles on his best days is nearly impossible to match, so it was inevitable that this story would suffer by comparison.
Then, happily, I immediately followed this book with Barrayar and found that the connections between the two stories, the one set before Miles' birth and the other transpiring with no appreciable reference to him, are very strong and very satisfying. Many seeds planted in Barrayar provide the rich context for Ivan's long delayed arrival into maturity in Capt. Vorpatril's Alliance. Two courtships and weddings (or wedding and courtship in the latter case) provide wonderful bookends for the series (at least so far), and seeing MIles' parents, once more in their prime and struggling with the events surrounding his arrival on the scene, was an absolute delight for one who has reveled in his adventures through the years, his and mine.
So I recommend that you skip back to Barrayar and read or reread it before you begin this book. By tying the current narrative in with the entire sweep of the series and revisiting events which bear fruit here, you may greatly heighten your enjoyment. If, on the other hand, you have not read many or any of the Vorkosigan books, this is definitely not a good place to start. But DO get started. This is one of the premier series in all of F&SF. Just save this book for later.
Luther is the most riveting crime novel I have read in a couple years. Listening to the narrative is very much like witnessing a gruesome accident from which we find we cannot avert our eyes. Neil Cross has created a compelling character in John Luther and to a purpose. A highly experienced and intuitive police officer, Luther is convinced that he is uniquely suited to stand opposite the most twisted and depraved individuals in society and, in effect, interpose himself between them and the innocents upon whom they seek to prey. What sets him apart is that he also comes to realize that there is a price which must be paid by those who choose to come to grips with undiluted evil. In a kind of increasingly chilling zero sum game, we watch him gradually sacrifice in his own life all the things which he is working to preserve for others. His ability to believe in himself as a "good" person; his capacity for joy; his vital connection with a wife whom he adores.
It is one thing, and a very good thing, when an author presents us with realistic characters who are never paragons of unadulterated virtue nor irredeemable ciphers for evil. It is quite a different and somewhat less common thing that Cross is doing here. After providing us with a convincing portrait of evil in its most distilled and irreversible form, he forces us to acknowledge the profound personal and spiritual sacrifices which may be necessary if we are to confront and defeat it. The result is Luther, a scapegoat who is forced into the wilderness bearing the excruciating marks of the guilty action which preserves us. In the end you may decide that Cross has created a false choice, but at the very least you will have to wrestle with the question seriously.
This is not pleasant material. Listeners who cannot abide portrayals of abhorrent crimes or who have problems with realistic language or sexual situations should look elsewhere. On the other hand, if you are interested in a gripping and convincing story which challenges some of your fundamental assumptions, you could hardly do better. The book is read superbly, and you may continue to hear it whispering in your mind long after Audible has hoped "you enjoyed this book."
Lyndsay Faye does a lot of things right in Gods of Gotham.
Characters, though not fully three dimensional, are colorful and consistent while retaining the ability to surprise us. The central mystery is gruesome and fascinating, and if the solution does not come as a stunning surprise, we don't really mind since the process of knitting together all the loose threads is so satisfying. A host of minor characters create a rich mixture of the comic, bizarre and chilling in a progression of events which moves along at a very nice pace.
Finally, the historic NYC setting is vividly rendered, an unsavory feast for the senses with a wealth of telling detail. This is crime fiction in an historical setting done to a fare-thee-well. I was sorry to come to the end, and I look forward to more from this author. When it comes, I hope it is narrated by Steven Boyer. He did a nice job of establishing the right energy for a story which demands a kind of fresh naivete in its presentation in order to capture us completely. Nice work!
Ruth Downie does a great job of involving us in the lives of her characters, and her evocation of life in Roman Britannia is sure handed and masterful. If you have read previous books in this series, you will already be invested in Russo's life with his British wife, Tilla, and if you have not, it will not take you long to develop real affection for them.
Unfortunately, I found the plot for this book to be a bit plodding. It did not engage me consistently as I expect a murder mystery to do whatever its setting may be. In addition, the book fairly limps to its ending with very little in the way of satisfaction. As a result, despite the author's deft touch when it comes to creating very human characters, I found this a dreary listen at times and was ready for it to end.
As usual, Simon Vance's narration was superb.
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