I loved this book, and would have unreservedly given it five stars both for the writing and for the narration, except for the publisher's poor choice to include the author's badly written, ham-handed piano accompaniment at the beginning of each section and during the moments of greatest emotional and descriptive impact.
I understand that Carlos Ruiz Zafon wrote the music himself, and that indicates to me that it must have been included as a favor to him, but that decision does no favors for the book. At the moment when I was most engrossed in the story, the music would fade in and completely ruin my concentration and enjoyment of the story. It's poorly and tritely composed in the fashion of the worst kind of high-end department store parlor accompaniment, and completely detracts from the feeling and quality of the book.
If you can manage to ignore the music, the story is wonderful, with amazing character depth and a wonderfully circuitous plot, and Jonathan Davis's narration is beautiful, utilizing the characteristic Castilian lisp for the places and names and giving wonderful voice to the many characters.
I first read this book a long time ago, and decided to come back and listen through it because I have a tendency to skim when reading and I wanted to pay attention to all of the details. Wizard's First Rule was everything I remembered, if through rose-colored glasses.
The story is very good and the world he creates is extremely interesting, even if his characters are fairly one-dimensional and ham-handed. (I give him the benefit of the doubt because he has so many more books in the series with which to amend that issue.) What surprised me was the depth to which he takes the physicality of some of his scenes (torture, fighting)-- this is a man who's not afraid to paint a story in vivid detail.
This is a pretty good read (and far, FAR better than the TV series that has been brutally carved from it) and a good start to a series that gets more interesting as it moves forward.
When I started to read this series, I had great expectations from Terry Goodkind.
The first five books of the series were excellent, the sixth a little long-winded, yet still a pretty masterful work, but by the time he wrote Naked Empire, Goodkind had devolved into shameless preaching that takes up a good 95% of this installment. Not only is it annoying, it's insulting: he repeats the same philosophical material over and over and over, while the reader (listener) starts to feel like they're being beat to death with a blunt object. While he has a few good nuggets and zings, most of the dogma could have been summed up in a paragraph or less, making the story about fifty pages (and an hour) long. I'm extremely disappointed that such a talented writer doesn't know better or have editors who know better than to publish this kind of self-indulgent rant. It's like being in purgatory for a reader or listener.
As much as I've liked Jim Bond's narration, the whiny condescending tone he lapses into during the dogmatic sections gets extremely annoying really quickly.
Lobby for an abridged version and hope those editors had better judgment-- avoid this one.
Maybe I'm missing out on what's so "enchanting" or "enthralling" about this book, but I simply didn't find it very entertaining. At 32 hours of listening time, I didn't expect every moment to be a completely enrapturing experience, but there were times that I honestly felt like it was a chore to tune my iPod to this book to finish it.
The storyline was very interesting, and at times Clarke has moments of real magic in her wordcraft (i.e. the madness of Mrs. Delgado) but the "historical" information inserted between the action made this book read much more like a textbook than a work of fiction, which I'm sure is what Ms. Clarke had in mind.
As a fictional textbook, Ms. Clarke's writing is right on the money-- her stylistic execution is perfect at convincing the reader they are studying a Victorian history of the magical lives of the two characters. (I'd like to reiterate what a genius she is at creating this illusion- it's flawless.) This, unfortuantely, is the work's main downfall: the perfection Clarke achieves in Victorian textbook style makes for dry and often downright boring reading.
As a fan of writers such as Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen and the Brontes, the style of this book was very familiar, and the choice of narrator was excellent to convey this style. However, this book seemed more suited to the readers contemporary with the above authors, used to dry commentary and analysis and slowly-paced action.
I usually listen to audio books as a means of passing the time on my 45-minute commute, and I found myself falling asleep at the wheel a few times during this one, not to mention having my mind wander off constantly because I couldn't keep my concentration on the book-- a problem I have honestly never had before.
My recommendation: if you live for Victorian literature, you will enjoy this book, but if you're looking for a well-paced storyline that will keep you from falling asleep at the wheel, skip it until an abriged version is released.
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