Cambridge, MA | Member Since 2000
I have listened to a lot of audible history books, including many on the Middle East. This one is a standout. Justly praised by experts on the subject, this book manages to walk a lot of tightropes: it is a biography of a place, but manages to include many engaging characters. It covers vast amounts of time, but still gives you a deep and vivid feeling for periods of history. It draws on many scholarly sources, but manages to remain compulsively interesting to non-experts while still acknowledging the many disagreements and debates over various time periods. It offers great sweep, but avoids moralizing or lessons.
And, in perhaps the greatest tightrope of all, it covers the entire history of Judaism, and much of Christianity and Islam, in a way that is both historically based and respectful. While the author does not take any religious claim seriously (mentioning how many religiously important tombs or shrines are actually known to have different origins than those ascribed to them, discussing the historical evidence for David and Jesus, and so on), the book sticks to historical facts in a way that is likely to enlighten more than it will offend.
Really impressive overall, and very well-read. I would suggest it to anyone with an interest in world history, the middle east, or the history of religion - really, just about anyone.
It took me awhile to put together the review for this novel. The plot can be summed up relatively quickly, for what it is worth: it is a story of a group of traveling companions heading to a marshal arts tournament, and the story of a group of mage/astronauts trying to appease an angry god. This doesn't help explain the book much, however, and the best way to give a sense of what the book really is involves comparison with other important works in SF and fantasy. This is, in part, because the audiobook manages to invoke many tropes and touchpoints in the best science fiction and fantasy novels while remaining entirely its own entity.
With its picaresque wanderings and mingling of science fiction elements (robots, space travel, orbiting weapons) and fantasy (gods, magic, potions) it invokes Vance's Dying Earth, Harrison's Virconium, and Wolfe's Book of the New Sun. There are lots of amazing wonders, an immense land full of history, and the sense of an ancient and tired world with its own rules. The book is more playful than these grim (but excellent) comparisons, though it does suffer a bit from their flaws: if the world is odd and the book involves travel, many of the events that happen seem random. There are moments in the book where things happen suddenly, and it is hard to know what to expect, or anticipate the consequences of the characters choices. At its best, this is wonderful; but it can also be tiring, as the characters wander from event to event.
On the other hand, the attention to the inner lives of the flawed characters, along with their sharply observed interactions and the visceral attention to the physical nature of the characters (lots of blood, sex, and sweat here) invoke Joe Abercrombie, Richard Morgan, and the rest of the recent grimdark fantasy writers. There is plenty of fighting, coupling, lust and revenge to go around, and the novel also delves deeply into the motivations and histories of the main characters. This, too, can occasionally be over the top, and the reader seems to over-enunciate every body part being caressed or crushed, making the reading, which is mostly fine, seem a little awkward and even embarrassing at times.
So, there is a lot of brilliance here, and lots of novelty. It doesn't always feel like the parts of the novel fully connect, though there are potential sequels for that, but it is rarely less than interesting. The sheer intensity of the interactions, combined with the repeated unexpected plot twists, can make it hard to deeply engage the novel for too long at a time, but that might be me. Certainly, don't let these issues (and the mediocre reading) scare you away from an original, exciting debut.
This is a science fiction/post-apocalyptic/kung fu/romance/war novel/comedy/drama/horror/adventure story written by John le Carré's son. If the description is a bit exhausting, so is the book. It feels like Harkaway threw in the kitchen sink into the book, and then the remaining sinks in the house, and other plumbing, for good measure.
The book is often entertaining and exciting, with wry comments and some laugh-out lines. But it is also very discursive: wandering through flashbacks and asides, switching tone between satirical and emotional. It isn't hard to follow, exactly, but rather tiring. The plot is interrupted so frequently that you sometimes want to shout "Get on with it!" at your audio player.
For example, the story is framed in a fascinating post-apocalyptic setting. Within that story, there are flashbacks to the vaguely absurdist Gone Away War that led to the apocalypse. Part of the story of that war involves an epic escape. In the middle of the escape, a secondary character dies, and the author decides to tell you what is going through the mind of the character during its death, which includes a flashback of the character's entire life, for a full 10+ minutes. It was a funny flashback, but I really wanted to just keep the main plot going.
This problem is exacerbated by the fact that it is an audio book, so, suddenly realizing that you are now going to spend 10-30 minutes listening to a discursive discussion can be really annoying.
On the other hand, the book is really interesting, very imaginative, and well-read. If you are okay with the meandering plot and willful switches of tone, this is a good choice.
Wow, I hated this. And I feel bad for hating it, because The Return of King Lillian is trying very, very hard for you to like it. The language tries for charming, and, at its best, achieves it but much more often collapses into overwrought as adjective is piled upon adjective, . Take for example, this portion(!!) of a sentence from the prologue: "Fields upon fields upon fields of blinking, winking stars shooting, falling, twinkling, breathing beauty..." It is trying for mythic wonderfulness, and mostly ends up being painful - and the occasional rhyming verse just makes it more awkward.
The story feels similarly desperate to please (I couldn't finish it, so maybe it gets better), with lots of obvious parables, mythic elements, and cute touches combining to create a tale that is disjointed and not particularly compelling. The author/narrator reads with great verve, but to continue the theme, it all feels remarkably overwrought - the main character is read like she was Annie Oakley, every word is imbued with emotion, and it gets exhausting quickly.
But, you say, perhaps this book isn't for adults? Maybe it is for children? It is possible, though I think my daughter would be equally bored and confused by this tale. And I couldn't help compare this to the Graveyard Book by Neil Gamain - books of similar length, read by the author, aimed (perhaps) at the young as well as the old - which just makes the failings of this novel even clearer.
I hate to harshly review a book that is such an obvious labor of love, but I couldn't find any of the redeeming features of other reviewers who seemed quite uniform in their praise of the novel. Given that every other reviewer on Amazon and Audible gives the book five stars, I am not sure whether I am missing something obvious, or whether some other factor is driving positive reviews. I, for one, feel like this purchase was a complete waste; your view may vary.
As must be true for so many others listening to this book, it is the conclusion of a series I started two decades ago. Fantasy was a bit of a different place then, and the WoT series was, to my teenage sensibilities, amazing. Giant fantasy novels featuring prophecy and magic and hidden identities. It was like reading Tolkein again! Or the Belgariad! Awesome!
A lot has changed in those decades, however, and much of what defined WoT (including lots of "borrowing" from Tolkein and other sources) in epic fantasy is now either completely out of fashion (think the grimdark worlds of George RR Martin), or else has been reconfigured by other writers (JK Rowling's take on prophecy and evil). So, in some ways, it is nice to get back to the intricate world-building, humble farmboys-turned-saviors, hideous Trollocs, and other fantasy staples. Besides, I have invested so much time over the years, including in some of the truly awful books in the middle of the series, that I had to finish this.
Given this context, this is a very satisfying book. After reading various Wikis to get up to speed, I found myself thrilled to see the old characters again, and to see most (if not all) of the many threads of the immense plot brought to a reasonably satisfying conclusion. Sanderson deserves credit for somehow managing to deal with the thousands of plots, viewings, and minor characters that Robert Jordan introduced, and he does it impressively, switching between nearly 100 points of view in various chapters. He also manages to slightly tone down Jordan's somewhat upsetting take on gender politics. Both of these are no mean feat, and I have to admit that I got somewhat emotional as some of the characters I had known for 20+ years met their various fates.
All of this (plus excellent reading) makes this a really worthwhile conclusion to an epic fantasy series. Not the best series, mind you, but one that deserves praise for both its ambition and its satisfying ending. I wouldn't start WoT from scratch, at this stage, but I am happy I experienced it.
The first 2/3 of this novel are pure fun. There are mysteries in an strange apartment complex to be unraveled, a winning cast of characters to do so, and a great reader to narrate the whole thing. The pacing is such that you are always listening for a few more minutes, just to see what the tenants will learn next about their mysterious building. There is lots of original ideas, and some old science fiction and horror concepts reused in fun ways.
Sadly, as the mysteries are finally revealed, much of the fun drains away, and the last 1/3 of the book, while by no means bad, just can't keep up the excitement and pace. The twists are more cliched, and the revelations surprisingly unsatisfying.
Despite that, this is still a fun novel, and a solid read, especially those into modern Lovecraftian horror (Atrocity Archives, for example)
This is, in essence, a very detailed history of science in the period between Newton and the dawn of modern science in the mid-1800s, with a particular focus on excitement of discovery and the lives of a few scientists. The book opens with Captain Cook's trip to Tahiti, and then swings through the discovery of Uranus, the birth of air travel (by balloon), and the rapid evolution of chemistry, among other topics. The biographies are quite detailed, covering the work, personal, and professional lives of the scientists involved. To that end, I would agree with the other reviewer - the title is misleading to the extent that the classic Romantics (Byron, Keats, Shelly, etc.) are covered only in passing, and art and literature is not the clear focus.
On the other hand, this book covers a fascinating period in science, one that is rarely written about, since it is less sexy than either the time of Newton or the birth of modern physics. In the stories in this book, you can see how science transitions from a period of pure discovery to an attempt to follow a scientific method. And this is told through engaging stories of life in Tahiti, the early experiments with electricity by genuine mad scientists, and the early days of flight (the President of the Royal Society's first thought when he heard about balloons was to tie them to carriages in order to make the load lighter for horses!) Additionally, for someone like me who doesn't usually like biographies, I found the coverage of the lives of the scientists compelling and the storytelling to be top notch.
A couple of things weigh the experience down. First, the book is a bit long, but there is a lot to keep you listening, though the detail does pile up. Also, the reader is mostly average, except when he tries to do American accents, which is outside his range.
Overall, though, if you like the history of science and want something different, or you are interested in the late 18th/early 19th century, this is a really great listen. For others, it may be a less compelling subject, but it is well written and full of new information.
I am a huge fan of Peter Hamilton, and, if you like the kind of epic hard-ish space opera that he tends to write, this is yet another amazing novel. It moves from the far future of his recent books to a single-volume near future adventure, but all of things that make Pandora's Star or the Void Trilogy great are here. But, for new readers, you should know that Hamilton tends to write a very specific sort of novel, and this is no exception.
So, here is what you should expect: As in all of his novels, it starts a bit slow, as Hamilton throws you into the world with little explanation, while the viewpoint switches often between many well-rounded characters, most of whom have obvious mysteries in their backstories that will only be slowly revealed. The book therefore takes a bit of patience as a result (though it is never boring) and Hamilton takes his time filling in the details of his plot. As a reader, I find the journey from confusion about the world to eventual understanding to be a huge amount of fun, and it is a pretty standard approach among the best epic space operas (think Alastair Reynolds or Iain M. Banks). If you don't like the same progression, you may wish the novel had more info-dumps, and fewer characters.
There are lots of other standard Hamiltonian elements as well. There are gateways to other worlds and hardboiled detectives who won't give up the case. There is detailed technology (especially military technology) and top-notch worldbuilding, including governmental and economic elements left out of most other science fiction. There are the usual (very) slowly revealed mysteries and complex wheels-within-wheels plot elements. There are lots of high-powered action and adventure sequences. And, at the heart of the (really long) novel, are some fundamental mysteries that keep you listening late into the night.
In short, this is Hamilton at the top of his game, and is much tighter than a lot of his previous work. If you love epic near-future science fiction, this should be an instant buy. Your patience in figuring out the details of the world will be well-rewarded, and the reading is superb.
This is book 14, so no introduction to the plot or summary of the series so far will either make sense to new readers or be interesting to series regulars. So, instead, it is worth asking, is Cold Days worth reading if you are already a Dresden fan? And, perhaps more importantly, does it give you hope for the continued adventures of Dresden in the future? The answers are both "hell, yes!"
Remember, we are 14 books into a series, one in which hundreds of characters have been introduced, where each book reveals bigger secrets than the last about the universe, and where every potential proverbial shark has been jumped, including the resurrection of the main character. And yet Butcher somehow, against all reason and expectation, keeps writing books that feel as if there is an overarching plot that makes sense, with real character progression, internal consistency, and a vibrant but changing world.
It is worth noting this achievement, since, to my knowledge, no fantasy or science fiction series of this length has ever pulled off a series of such consistent highs, and on a nearly yearly basis! Robert Jordan and George R. R. Martin lost steam along the way, Bujold makes each story fairly self-contained, Pratchett switches characters, and most other epic series feel a bit like the TV shows Lost or Twin Peaks - spinning out of the creators control with needless complication and wandering attention. Not the Dresden files! The action is still exciting, the humor still solid, and the characters still engaging. And, as per usual, the stakes get ever higher, while still leaving room for both mystery and future books.
The short version: the book is excellent, and the series an achievement that has managed to transcend its fantasy-noir roots. The only reason not to get it is if you haven't read the first 13.
This is the 15th(!!) book in the Vorkosigan series, and, at this point, it would be a bit of shock to have someone reading this review who hadn't already been engaged in this particular series for a long time. If you are a Vorkosigan fan, the answer is yes, Bujold's new book is very good, she hasn't lost it, Grover Gardner is still solid, and you should listen to it. Strangely, for non-readers, especially those with a bit more interest in the interpersonal than the interplanetary, this may not be the worst place to start, since many new characters are introduced, and the book serves as a gently introduction to the Vor universe. But this is an excellent series, so , of course, you probably should start at book four ("Warrior's Apprentice"), if not book one.
And the early Vorkosigan novels do seem to haunt Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, though not in a bad way. As the hero of the series, Miles, has aged and matured into a fantastically well-rounded character, the series has generally gotten a bit more grim and focused even as Miles has grown in confidence and power. By instead choosing to develop a side character, Bujold gives us a little bit of some of the old Miles fun again - surprise interventions by the Emperor, offworlders baffled by Barrayar, and so on.
It is a nice change of pace after two darker books, and, while it doesn't advance the main Miles plot, it is fun to see another Vorkosigan-style comedy of manners, with a little less action and a little lower stakes than we have seen recently. Not the highpoint of the series, but definitely recommended!
I had very fond memories of having picked up Nifft the Lean in a used book store, and quickly reading the whole work, swept away by the complex language, dark stories, and sense of place. Reality doesn't quite live up to memory, here. This book feels very much a product of its time, with the complex language (but not the elegance) of Gene Wolfe, the bizarre stories (but not the sense-of-wonder) of Jack Vance, and the anti-heroes (but not the characterization) of Fritz Leiber.
Still, there is lots to like. Though the book is 30 years old, it never feels dated. Also, the work follows the early 1980s trend of picaresque wandering through many unusual settings, some of which are really imaginative, and some of which are just plain disgusting. The main character is appealing, the language interesting, and the stories full of swash and buckling. So much fun to be had.
However, it never quite reaches the heights I was expecting, but is a (well-read) and solid listen if you are into Wolfe and Vance. If you haven't heard either of these others, they are probably better choices. In the meantime, I may try my battered paperback copy again.
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