Another rousing series by epic fantasy writer, Robin Hobb. And when I say epic, I mean epic. She crafts a fully-integrated world, with not one, but two fully-realized peoples, cultures, histories, magics, and mythologies, and touches briefly enough on a third to give readers a glimpse into the swirling depths of the mind of a creative genius. She takes the reader/listener on a terrific and, occasionally, terrifying journey, and the intensity of it will take your breath away. Occasionally a bit of a slow read, it nevertheless is a rich piece of storytelling. The narration is beautifully done, with a few exceptions - places where the voices are inconsistent with the emotions described, etc. Nevertheless, John Keating does a magnificent job with giving each character a distinct voice, his own voice melodic in the telling of this fantastic tale.
Just as a caution: Read/listen to these books in order. It is a trilogy, and while it is, in theory, possible to read and understand them as separate entities, you would lose the massive arching story and many of the subplots and foreshadowings that are present right from the first page through the last (yes, quite literally. Mz. Hobb is, in fact, a genius when it comes to wrapping stories back around to their beginnings). Shaman's Crossing/Forest Mage/Renegade Magic, for those curious. Happy reading!
Written in the passive voice, read in the passive voice, the writer never lets the reader forget the premise that this book is a narrative supposedly written by the main character years after the events being described. He apologizes for various side-tracks, and describes future events that "the reader is already no doubt aware of" - which, of course, the reader hasn't the slightest clue about. This robs the book of the power to make the reader gasp and fear for the life of the main character, as, of course, he has clearly survived. Additionally, into this admittedly otherwise-rich world building, clear references to technology and history that seems to hint that this world is merely a decayed and fallen earth are constant jarring-notes. I couldn't lose myself in the fantasy, because this tentative probing at both science-fiction and steam-punk constantly intruded, without having the decency to become either.
Yes, there are curiosities, loose ends, that I would like to see wrapped up. Who is Vodalus? What makes him so bloody important? Who is Dorcas, and where did she come from? What the heck is so important about Sevarian's being a torturer - since for all the importance the author gives it, the main character could have been a member of any guild that did work found distasteful by others. Will I waste more credits on the rest of the tetralogy to find out?
I resisted buying any of the Leviathan books for years. Steampunk always seemed just too kitschy for my tastes. Then I saw that one of my all-time favourite narrators, Alan Cumming, had voiced the audiobook. I thought, 'okay, well, one can't hurt.' Ha. I forked over the cash for additional credits because I didn't have the patience to wait for a month to listen to the next two books in the series.
Alan Cumming, as always, puts in an incredible performance. His natural Scots brogue gives life to Deryn Sharp, a girl disguised as a boy serving on the Darwinist air beast Leviathan, pride of the British Air Service. Just as easily, however, Mr Cumming switches to a German accent for the other main narrator, Alek, the Austro-Hungarian prince-in-exile. I'm not in a position to call it flawless (lacking the necessary ear for the language), but I certainly found it entirely believable. He even manages (in later books) to pull off a passable American accent, without going too far overboard, as is the wont of most Brits. But I digress. It is Mr Cumming's amazing vocal talents that truly bring this series to life. So much so that I couldn't imagine reading to books myself, not without his voice to waft me along in the telling. It is a rare narrator that can do that; I can't think of another one with that sort of compelling performance.
Now, I DID say that I avoided the books on principle due to the genre, right? Yes, I will likely get hate mail for saying this, but steampunk, to me, always seemed to be trying too hard - 'what can I make even more complicated by tossing in a few gears?' Mr Westerfeld, I am pleased to say, mostly skirts all that, instead devising two amazing forms of 'technology' - Darwinist (which is to say, biological) and clanker (technological) - and then goes on to examine the natural divisions and strange unifications of these technologies, and applies geopolitical and historical understanding of the WWI era to the examination. It's not a book about the _technology_ (though it features prominently enough that some might be excused for thinking so), it's a book about history and humanity, seen through a radically different lens. If Mr Westerfeld should ever decide to write another book (or series!) set in this same world, my name will be at the top of the waiting list. I only regret that I waited so long to read it.
Really, terrifying is the only word for it. Super-bugs resurrected from the past, weaponized, and potentially in the hands of anybody?
Other than that chill-factor, it's a spectacular read, interesting and informative, with enough of a mystery to keep one interested. As a medical professional, the description of the diseases were fascinating, though perhaps a bit grotesque. Definitely one that I'll be re-reading!
I admit, I suspected that there was someone out there manipulating things, changing perceptions. What I hadn't realized was that that someone had a name, and that it occurs so pervasively. What little trust I had in media has been jaded, and any blind trust I had in the internet is gone for good. This book is a real eye-opener to the truths behind the curtain, so to speak. I'll definitely be looking at the news I get with a different eye: who benefits, how, and how did this story make it to the front page in the first place? I emerge from the book a cannier, hopefully wiser, and definitely changed reader.
Nothing like the movie, but then, you will have gotten that from all of the other reviews. Nevertheless, very cute and a good way to entertain the kiddies in the car - not necessarily in public, as the directions for how to train one's dragon is to "shout really loudly." Needless to say, some kids may take the directions a bit too literally.
The team of Orson Scott Card and Stephan Rudnicki blasts another one out of the park with _The Gate Thief_. A richly layered world, an even richer background of history/myth/legend, and a tie-in with the real world that left my spine shivering. Card's ability to create realistic, believable characters is surpassed only by his ability to craft an exquisite story and world into which his characters can come to life and thrive. In this second installment into his Mithermages series, we learn more about the incredibly detailed mythos he has populated his story with: gate mages, man mages, demons, gods, and the one person who stands between them all: a sixteen year old boy who strives to be a good man, but faces the trials of any other adolescent kid, along with having to save two worlds AND deal with an overbearing family. Poor guy really can't catch a break. Let me also take a moment to say, I really like Danny's adherence to a moral code, despite the pressures of society, his own hormones, and several willing and attractive young women. Such strength is rarely found in fiction, and ought to be applauded.
Also surprisingly, for me, one of the best parts of the book was the afterword, read by the author. He speaks of the difficulties inherent in crafting stories, especially stories with broad, sweeping arcs to them, and in speaking of his own troubles with this book (written and released late due to his need to extensively revise it), it gives amateur writers several key hints as to how to go about making the best novel possible. I'm looking forward with great anticipation to his next release.
With the writing of Terry Pratchett and the narration of Stephen Briggs, how can this audiobook be anything less than stellar? Not a Discworld novel, but those familiar with the world will spot old friends among the cast, among them a smell that nearly has its own sentience, a river that may or may not actually be _water_, and a copper that has more in his head than just muscle. It was fascinating to be let into this world of Victorian England, with such faithfuls among the protagonists as Queen Victoria, Charlie Dickens, and Sweeney Todd... I will admit, the book has struck up in me a desire to refamiliarize myself with Dickens' work, as so many of the names, characters, circumstances, and turns of phrase tugged at my memory. Pratchett's talent for satire is muted here, but nevertheless shines through in his homage to one of the greatest writers of them all. A truly brilliant book, and well worth the credit, or the cash if you haven't one to spare.
Science fiction is one of those genres that can be good, bad, or horrible. This book rockets beyond all others into the realm of straight-up excellent, as thought-provoking as the original pioneers of the genre. _Unwind_ takes a premise - the conflict between proponents of pro-life and the proponents of pro-choice - and explodes it outwards into a possible future - and, in some narrow aspects, a probable one. It mixes in the issue of today's current desperate need for organ donors, the eternal debate on when life begins and what constitutes a soul, the meaning of life and death, and anything-but-philosophical pondering of what might drive someone to death... or to life. And all of this wrapped up in a story that had me by the throat and wouldn't let me put it down until the last words were spoken. As a story, it was excellent, gripping, with characters that I felt for, felt that I knew, and a plot that keeps the reader on her toes (preferably her own, and not someone else's). I do not normally cry over books, but this one had tears streaming down my face.
One might be tempted to dismiss _Unwind_ as just another post-Apocalyptic teen drama. One would be wrong. One can read it that way, but all of the massive undergirdings of the story would be lost. _Unwind_ forces one to think, to consider and reconsider all old opinions. What would happen if...? What COULD happen if...? What happens when life becomes so sacred that it becomes common enough to trash on a whim? What if? What if? What then?
Thoroughly enjoyable, I absolutely recommend this book. Well performed, well executed, and with a final twist that will blow your socks off. I do caution, it reads more like a short serial rather than a complete novel, with what feels like story climaxes sprinkled regularly throughout. I would love to see it as a graphic novel; I bet it would do well.
Well performed, and a good listen overall. With all the confusion of babies switched at birth, the question of royalty and identity, magic and intrigue, I quite enjoyed the story... right up until the end, when the plot twist that I'd been anticipating failed to materialize. The twists and turns provided - quite regularly, and appropriately, given the subject material - were all thrilling, but the final twists had all been laid out by 2/3 of the way through the book with nothing to follow at the ultimate climax. I kept listening thinking, 'How is this going to end? With three hours left to go, there's bound to be SOME twist; I bet it's ____. She can't have laid out the final bit ALREADY, there's too much story left to go!' The story had me completely involved until the very end, which tells you how good it is, but the ending fell somewhat flat, the apogee having been attained far too soon. Still, worth a listen.
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