Davis' concept of a wise-cracking, Raymond Chandleresque equivalent in ancient Rome, Didius Falco, was, at the time he first appeared, a new approach to the mystery novel and much praised. But Davis herself has never been an outstanding author, and there are now better authors in the genre [such as Ruth Downie]. Indeed, her later Falco novels weren't particularly good. But this novel is definitely more mediocre than her previous efforts. It is rather a "Everyday Life in Imperial Rome" with large dollops of history, social and political, and an awkward love story inserted at intervals.
Falco succeeded in large part by being in the first person; this book is in the third, and that makes the narrative sections somewhat slow going, not helped by Robin Sachs' attempt at being laconic -- which comes across as monotonous and soporific.
In short, this is overwritten, and not particularly interesting, and read rather than performed. I'd recommend Downie's "Medicus" series instead.
See my remarks below. I expected much more from this book -- or should it be "project"?
The dialogue was much too 21st century colloquial in far too many places. While I hate deliberately archaic dialogue, I really don't think anyone in the 13th century in Russia would be saying "OK".
The ending of the book seemed to be simply "we've run out of ideas for the moment, we'll publish the next one when we think of more things to write".
The narrator was adequate but not inspired. His flat, rather nasal Midwestern twang sorted oddly with the nationalities of the characters. He also mispronounced a number of fairly basic words
I guess it is if you are a youngish, male, computer gamer who likes stories which are mainly full of gore and dead people. Fights/battles rehearsed in excruciating detail; most characters fairly cardboard. Not up to Neal Stevenson's standard if compared to Cryptonomicon or the Baroque Cycle.
Books written by a committee rarely if ever seem to jell. Raised on Harold Lamb's "March of the Barbarians", which not only told the saga of the Mongolian invasions but caught the atmosphere and flavor of both the Middle Ages and the Far East, this seemed to lack purpose and direction. Could see it marketed as a "dungeons and dragons" computer game in future.
Stevenson is on record as saying that this sort of "interactive" project is the way he thinks books are going to go in the internet age. I disagree, sadly. He's better on his own [sometimes; of late he seems to just churn stuff out, alas.]
This is one of A.J. Cronin's classic early works, describing the lives of miners in northern England. Long, but deeply interesting, even though it tells of a period [1909 to mid 1930's] which seems remote to us now. Coal mining, although very changed since then, has never been without danger or poverty. Cronin tells, basically, the stories of three families: Arthur Barras and his mine-owner father; David Fenwick, whose father and brothers are all miners, and his mother; and Joe Gowlan, who's determined to stop at nothing to amass as much power and money as he can. There is a huge number of subsidiary characters as well.
The narrator does the dialect very well, but to be frank, it is so thick in places as to be difficult to understand [I think Cronin meant it this way; at the time, that was the way the people spoke]. Cronin's style is both descriptive and terse; his dialogue is very believable, and the narrator does a very good job with both.
This is a book about several topics, not about miners alone. It's about the morality of power [absolute power corrupts absolutely], about war, about social injustice. A true classic, which stands alongside Cronin's other huge book, The Citadel.
Cronin's style is terse. His "hero" has survived a poor childhood, an immense struggle to become a doctor, arriving at an early retirement extremely wealthy, with a lifestyle replete with the finest tastes in art and culture. He is nevertheless massively insecure, constantly requiring the approval of those around him, and can be easily swayed as a result, so that not once but twice betrays those dearest to him. He is one of those with good intentions but is ultimately very destructive. Since David Moray is telling the story, we accept his rationalizations until almost the end. I found the book riveting. This is not a book I had been acquainted with before; but I have since gone on something of a Cronin binge because of it.
The narrator is excellent; really brings the story to life. Highly recommended.
Deanna Raybourn hasn't disappointed in this 4th installment of Lady Julia/Nicholas Brisbane series. The story is intriguing and absorbing, set in a rather exotic setting [India] and with a cast of characters, each of whom has a motive for murder, a "White Rajah" who isn't exactly who he seems to be, and a man-eating tiger.
But Ellen Archer, who is an American actress faking a British accent, is inadequate, as she has been in the previous 3 books. She badly needs a speech coach. Her attempt at being "elegant" results in numerous mispronounced words, the wrong syllabic emphasis for no reason, strangled vowels that sometimes make it very difficult to understand her. She doesn't do regional accents very well; indeed, the only two characters who sound normal are Americans! [Ms. Archer, however, has a lovely singing voice] I think Barbara Rosenblat [Amelia Peabody novels], also American, is the exception that proves the rule: if a story is being told in the first person by a British narrator, get a Brit to do the narration. If Lady Julia hadn't sounded as if she was being choked to death a number of times, I'd have given this book 5 stars.
Story: In my opinion, this is the weakest of the "Church of England" books, because of the large paranormal element, and the somewhat unbelievable plot, but with her usual skill, Howatch carries it off. There's no doubt she is a very talented writer, and I recommend this if you've read any of the others and like the genre. It may be too "churchy" for some, and too static for others [none of the novels are action adventures, really]. The summing up at the end sounds a lot like a sermon, and I'm not fondest of Nicholas Darrow when he's preaching. For Howatch, it is an unusually clumsy ending.
Narrator: Why, oh why, when the story is told in the first person by a MAN, and most of the characters are male, is the book read by a WOMAN? Nicholas, who is 25, sounds like a 12 year old whose voice hasn't yet broken. At times different characters all have the same accent, making dialogue confusing. The narrator is a competent reader, but a man who has a range of accents would have been much better.
There are two criteria for judging an audiobook:
1] Story. In this case, Susan Howatch has ingeniously reinterpreted a classic historical episode, moving it from ancient Rome to the 1920s. With the exception of the incident of how Dinah Slade met Paul van Zale, which is a bit overdone, I found the book continually interesting and well written.
2] Narrator: Nadia May is a good reader, but limited. Since, of the six persons who tell the story, only 2 are women, it would seem that either a male reader or a group of readers would have been better. Ms. May cannot do more than a single American accent (so that all the characters except Dinah sound the same), nor can she effectively drop her voice enough to sound as if she were a man. Further, there is an annoying production fault in that certain sentences are repeated at intervals throughout the book.
In spite of the above reservations, I recommend this book very much.
Sort of a Spanish "Pillars of the Earth", but much better written. Personally, I'm not a fan of books about childhood, and I think this one spends too much time on Arnau's miserable one, but it does explain much of his character later, which seems at times to be strangely passive and rather too saintly. Also, the Jews are idealized too much, and the Inquisition is too stereotypically nasty. Falcones wants to be sure we know all the fruits of his research, with disquisitions on just about every subject. The narration is perfectly adequate, but not inspired. A good listen if you like long audiobooks, but I found myself skipping sections by the time Arnau gets entangled with the Inquisition to find out how the book ends.
This may be a book which is better read than listened to. The long excerpts from the fictional author's work [called "Ragnarok"] made my eyes glaze over. Perhaps if they had been read by a man, to distinguish them from the book's narrative, read by a woman,[why, I am not sure since it seems to be from a male POV] it might have helped. I simply could NOT finish this, no matter how much I gritted my teeth and tried to plow through. The modern story seemed to go nowhere. It short, "Possession" was boring.
Donna Cross leaves no cliche uncoined in this overlong and faintly ridiculous attempt at the legend of a medieval female pope. There are numerous anachronisms, and the turgid prose, predictable plot make it very difficult for Barbara Rosenblat to give it a convincing reading. After her exceptional reading of the Amelia Peabody novels, I had hoped for much more from her. The yawn factor was very high for me with this book. I'm being generous with 3 stars.
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