I own both the text and audio versions of this story. Although it's a short story, it's still one of my favorite of all romances. Harper Fox is a very talented writer -- and you can see that here in her depiction of Matthew's despair and desolation, as well as in the vivid descriptions of Newcastle, the helicopter, and the oil rig in addition to the romance itself.
Unfortunately, the narrator doesn't do any justice to this great story. He is working hard to present a "Geordie" (Newcastle) accent, but it's pretty obvious that he isn't a native (I've been listening to a lot of genuine Geordie accents, and this one just doesn't cut it). And in his attempts to replicate that accent, the narrator has completely forgotten about the character of the story. Matthew, the main character and narrator, is in the final stages of complete disintegration -- he's coming apart at the seams. As another character tells him, he's "in bits". Yet the narrator here makes Matthew sound nearly cocky and bouncy. It's all wrong. And it's quite disturbing to hear a fine story being distorted in this way.
My advice is to stick with the text version on this one. If you appreciate good writing, you should check it out. Don't give up on Harper Fox just based on the bad narration here.
Stark isn't a nice guy. He isn't polite, he isn't considerate, he doesn't play by the rules. He is continually pissed off, he goes through a LOT of destroyed clothing, he hates almost everyone, and he loves to steal cars.
What's not to love?
The Sandman Slim books aren't perfect, but author Richard Kadrey has managed to create a great character in James Stark. Stark repeatedly refers to himself as a monster, and he is an efficient killing machine -- yet he is also intensely loyal to folks like his murdered lover and the few living people he trusts, and somehow he ends up saving the general populace (and the world) from various true monsters whether he really wants to or not. Kadrey can write surprisingly poetic prose -- a rough hewn sort of poetry, but still effective -- and that in combination with Stark's obnoxious attitude and frequently outrageous violence make for an engaging, humorous, and sometimes breath-taking good time.
Now, these books are not perfect. A lot of the fantasy elements are pretty off the wall to start with, and sometimes Kadrey really strains my ability to suspend disbelief. In particular in this book, at the climax he did something with the angel half of Stark that really had me waving the BS penalty flag (I won't spoil it here). Even so, the way he set up the climax and its aftermath promises to provide a lot of interesting conflict for the next book, so some good reading may come of it. And even given that this sort of believability problem does occur occasionally throughout the Sandman Slim books, they are still a lot of fun to read.
As to the narrator -- I was not all that fond of MacLeod Andrews when I listened to the first Sandman Slim book, but he has grown on me as the series progressed (and, probably, as he got more used to the role). In Aloha From Hell I think he does a fine job of voicing both the rough-edged Stark and most of the secondary characters. Occasionally some of the side characters sound too much alike, but that's a minor complaint.
I'm currently reading this book for the second time, and I'm even more impressed with it this time around than I was the first time. There's a lot going on in this book that most people don't seem to appreciate. Yes, there's a lot of violence. Yes, there's a lot of swearing. Yes, there's some graphic sex -- although not nearly as much as some folks might have you believe. BUT -- and this is a huge "but" -- this isn't just a bloody sexy action adventure. This book is ABOUT things -- it's about domination, subjugation, loss, frustration, futility. It's about a brutal world and brutal situations, and how characters cope or fail to cope with them. It's about "The Other", both within a society and outside it. It's about a lot more than body counts or sex acts.
If you read this book, don't get lost in the superficial. Look for the meaning behind the action. The Steel Remains deserves a lot of thoughtful reflection, not just the easy knee-jerk response that many seem to give it.
Oh, also -- I own this book in both audio and text formats. I love it either way, but I do enjoy the extra atmosphere brought to it by Simon Vance's excellent narration. Good job, Simon!(less)
The Steel Remains was the first Richard K. Morgan book I ever read, and it hooked me from the start. I'm happy to say that The Cold Commands has firmly cemented my new addiction.
Morgan has a gift with prose writing. I mean really, who can resist lines like "the blade tore sideways through the pliant lips of the scabbard, made a blurred arc around and down off his shoulder, was there at guard in front of him, like steel laughter in the light.". Couple that prose with fascinating characterization and intense action, and you've really got a book worth reading.
The Cold Commands is obviously a "second" book, the middle of a trilogy. It is clearly setting up action for the grand finale. Nonetheless, it also has plenty of action and plot in its own right. All three of the main characters expand and develop from their beginnings in The Steel Remains, and we especially see more of what Ringil is becoming -- whether he wants to or not. I won't post spoilers here, but I shuddered at some of the suffering Morgan inflicts on Ringil in this one -- and I can't wait to see how Morgan finishes up the series in the next book!
There is still quite a bit of explicit violence, some moderately explicit sex, and plenty of swearing in this book, so those who were offended by The Steel Remains (TSR) should probably steer clear. But anyone who appreciated TSR should love this volume as well. Also, Simon Vance does just as good as job with The Cold Commands as he did on TSR, so his narration was a joy to listen to and definitely adds to the reading experience. I own both the text and audio versions of both of these books, and each enhances the other.
Oh, finally -- for fans of the Takeshi Kovacs books -- read carefully, and you will find multiple references to Takeshi and his universe. You don't need to catch the references to enjoy the book, but they provide some fun insider entertainment if you do!
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