Hmmm... History as a travelogue.
The format works extremely well here. While the actual history is well, pedestrian, that's not the point.
By framing the exposition as "Here is what you'll find..." or "this might surprise you..." the reader is engaged with the culture on an intuitive level seldom experienced outside the trappings of historical fiction.
but when you died and went to audiobook heaven, you'd find this on your ipod.
Let's face it, this is pure escapism. A pulpy alternate history set in the 1930's, where magic entered the world in the mid 19th Century and humanity is still trying to come to grips with it. The trilogy pits the forces that would exploit those with magic against a shadowy secret society that would protect those with magic. In each book, you find a deeper, more sinister "big bad", and the plucky Grimnoire rise to challenge.
Cheesy ploy aside, the writing is exceptionally strong. Two of the pivotal characters, Jake Sullivan and especially Faye Vierra among the most memorable and fully realized you'll encounter in a long, long time. There is a lot of action, which can get graphic, though it stays short of indulgent. Good guys and bad guys and guys you aren't sure about will all get punched, kicked, shot, stabbed, burned, frozen, squashed, drowned, dropped from high places, etc - often repeatedly. Many chapters start with an epigram that is a "modified" version of a quote from a well known historical figure. The history buffs will get some chuckles out of these.
On paper, this would be a fun read. On audio, you need a narrator. Bronson Pinchot's performance is absolutely astonishing. Each main character as a distinctive tone, pitch, cadence, and accent which are spot on. The third person narration is equally as lively and nuanced.
Net-net, you get an endearing book performed by a master narrator at the peak of his game.
Here's the Publisher summary:
A German soldier during World War II offers an inside look at the Nazi war machine, using his wartime diaries to describe how a ruthless psychopath motivated an entire generation of ordinary Germans to carry out his monstrous schemes.
This book contains the memoirs of a rising German officer and his experiences. He had access to the Fuerherbunker in the last days of Hitler's life. This much is true.
There is very little "discription of how a ruthless psychopath motivated and entire generation....".
Knappe had a remarkable story to share, and well worth reading. Like all memoires, what you get is "how I would like others to remember my life", and you have to take the unverifiable with a grain of salt - especially after his boasts of having told is Russian interrogators precisely what would paint himself in the best possible light.
However, the publisher evidently thought that a simple narrative would not suffice. Note the summary. I'm surprised every third word was not in boldface with multiple exclamation points.
Cheesy marketing copy would have just ellicited an eyeroll, however it's clear that the publishers interference went far deeper. The book opens with the section covering a couple of months in 1945. Granted, the action was the Battle of Berlin which would probably draw the most readers, but it was clear that this exerpt was simply plucked from the back half of the book and inserted at the front. There is no introduction, people who you would "later" meet in are mentioned by surname only, etc. There is no transition to the next section, which was obviously intended to be the first. Finally, there is also the gap, without transition, from the story leading to the Battle of Berlin across the chasm to Knappe's imprisonment by the Russians following his capture.
I found the later the most interesting, as Knappe's description of life as a Russian prisoner was much more compelling than his tangential connection with Hitler. Knappe lashes out against the collaborators among the other prisoners, their motivations, etc. He's also doesn't shy away from naming names.
FInally, there is a continuing thread in which Knappe's disenchantment with Hitler and the high command grows and periodically recalls the prophetic words of the ski resort owner he encountered in 1936 - that Hitler would lead German to ruin. It is up to other readers to sort out how much of that is fact, Knappe's revisionism, or a ham-fisted publisher's demand that it would tie everything together. I couldn't manage it.
My family has generally enjoyed the listening to this series on car trips, etc. The dialogue can be shaky and the plot often has some glaring holes, but the story and characters are usually more than enough to compensate.
However, I was shocked when Will casually sold an inconvenient adversary into slavery. This is something a hero does not do. I haven't finished the book yet, so I do not know there will be significant consequences. I can only hope.
This book as a screenplay, which may have been at the back of the author's mind. There are a couple of themes you could work with - the continuum of loyalism, especially after the death of Hitler is one, how to best arrange for one's personal destiny if you know you're going to be on the losing side is another.
Ironically, the author spends much more time fleshing out the portrayal of the detainees and various German/Austrian notables. It could be he couldn't resist the thought of forcing the swashbuckling tank commander into a yankee stereotype, best introduced in a headlong rush of action.
There are the makings of a much better narrative than that which was told. Ultimately disappointing. A popular history written by someone hoping the screenplay gets picked up.
and when I do, you will see that the review is as I have foretold, so that afterward you will agree that the review was indeed the review to which I alluded.
Can we have just a little less breathless foreshadowing?
I was looking for a book to play during family car trips. I thought this fantasy coming-of-age book would fit the bill.
There is a gem of a story in here, and paced nicely enough to keep you interested. This isn't the work of a polished author, yet there is real promise. The language can be a little stilted. There are more than a few holes, and some holes which the author evidently could not bridge without resorting to "here a miracle occurs". These are a mild distraction.
The narrator could use a lesson or two from Simon Vance or Bronson Pinchot... It doesn't seem to matter which character is speaking, you can never seem to picture anything but a British university student desperately trying to land a role in the summer stock production.
Distractions aside, I was pleased to see a story where the kid (hero) couldn't quite measure up to his own unrealistic expectations, and yet finds he is ideally suited to be a hero in his own right. I was also pleased to see interesting and engaging secondary characters whose aspiration was NOT to storm castles or slay the dragon.
I'm a history buff chose titles based on what I find interesting at the time. I hadn't spent a lot of time on the naval war in the Pacific, after Coral Sea/Midway. From a distance, everything just looks inevitable. This title was chosen by my book club, and they found a real winner.
Inevitable is clearly in the eye of the beholder. Hornfischer makes a compelling case that the Imperial Navy still had a lot of arrows to loose, and the USN was still had a lot of catching up to do in its forced transition from a peacetime navy to the dominant force on the water it would become.
This would make a fine history on its own, but Hornfischer's writing is a real treat as well. I'd read his writing if the history of 1960's macrame were the topic.
I downloaded this for a road trip with my 12 yr old budding geologist daughter. The characters are the strongest part of this story, along with Pierce's vision of stone magic. The storyline is good as a whole, but can be a little shaky. (dodging spoilers) The party seems to take an inordinately long time to figure out what is going on, and as the climax is approaching we are treated to two or three chapters of pointless argument.
I guess I'd differ from the rave reviews of the narration - I found it pedestrian at best. The narrators could have brought so much more to the table with some well-chosen emphasis now and again. To be fair, they were hobbled by Pierce's dialog which may have passed on the page, but become labored aloud.
Sweeping generalization laced with unsupportable assertions, tied together with the theory that if it had something in common with the Second Punic War, it must be a direct result of Cannae.
Cannae was a very dark day for the Roman Republic to be sure, but many of the trends O'Connell declares were a direct result were already well under way before Hannibal left Iberia.
Some of data regarding the organization and tactics of the Roman and Carthegean warriors is presented well, but it felt a little like digging through knee-deep mud in search of agates. I eventually gave up.
I've listened to several Cornwell books on Audible. Usually they're compelling, tense and with superb narration. While this one held my interest, the tension was a little forced, the narrator simply "acceptable" and the audio quality suspect in places (at least places other than a school gymnasium).
I'm not clear on why the characters are a little more shallow than the typical Cornwell - perhaps he's trying to stick closer to the written record of the Penobscot expidition. I'd have to add that I really appreciate the "Author's Notes" Cornwell includes at the end of his novels, wherein he expands somewhat on the historical context and his departures for the purposes of narrative. That was sadly absent in this edition.
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