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.
First off, the story itself is good. Satire on all the conventions of the modern fantasy/Chosen One books in general, and Harry Potter in particular (though it's mostly hidden), but the story itself is solid.
It's the preachy asides that the author indulges in that drove me up the wall with this one. Every time the action started to get intense, or a scene was starting to get even slightly emotionally invested, the author broke off to speak directly to the reader, pointing out precisely what he was doing and mocking both it and the reader. It got so that every time the narrator's voice changed to adopt one of these asides, I was fumbling for my phone to hit the "fast forward by 20 seconds" button - sometimes several times in a row, the asides were that long. And this happened about three or four times per hour of listening. Unfortunately, I will not be purchasing the next audiobook in this series; it's just too annoying to have the story interrupted so constantly. If I continue the series at all, it will be in print form, so I can skip the asides more conveniently. It's too bad; the author's ego really got in the way of a good book.
What a disappointment. A fascinating premise, one worth exploration and fleshing out... and all the author can think to do with her story is have her sheltered-and-neglected Mary Sue angst over (and over and over and over) her damaged, heart-of-gold-past-of-pain Gary Stu. Long, long sections of the book are pretty much verbatim, all "I can't stay, I'll damage her," "I can't live without her," "I can't live without him," "he makes me feel normal," "poor, poor so-and-so, what a hard life they've led, let me make it better." Over and over and over. Halfway through the book - five and a half hours into a nine hour book, to be exact, finally, FINALLY some action looks to be taking place: they're thinking about (and always with the 'thinking' and the 'talking' - it's like no one ever told the author the old adage about 'show, don't tell') doing a raid on the institute...and they segue off into a date. A DATE. While they're being hunted and should be freaking out, and over more than just each other. Maybe it was a mistake to abandon the book when I did, but, honestly, my suspension of disbelief was shattered. If all you wanted to write was a teenage angst romance, leave the cool premises to someone else.
This is one of the few books I now can't imagine reading without this particular narrator. An already-swashbuckling story is only improved by the spot-on accent of a low class London girl, who gives the character voice without ever being overbearing about it. There are so many places where the voice of the narrator only enhances the words of the author, leaving me breathless with delight and unwilling to turn it off for any reason. Even more amazing (for me) is the fact that this narrator is a woman, as I usually find the female narrator high, breathy, and annoying. Not so here! Definitely worth a reread, and I'll be looking eagerly for the next series installment.
As a reader, I don't really enjoy so-called "info dumps" where the writer tells you everything you need to know in one long go. As a writer, I know how hard it is to avoid info dumps, because there is so much the reader needs to know to properly appreciate the story. As a reader of THIS story, I wish that the writer had done MORE info dumping, or found a way to do the same thing. I got to the end and still wasn't sure what was supposed to have happened in the story I'd just read.
The story is about a Woodcutter. He lives in the woods. He carries an axe. But he doesn't cut wood. Instead, he goes about interacting with a dozen-or-so different characters from different stories, tied together only by the presence of the Woodcutter. The author tries for a grand story-arc with a spectral hell hound and a dastardly plot by a one-dimensional villain who is only marginally involved with the story, but really, it reads more like a series of short stories all featuring the same protagonist. There are whole chapters where the first thrust of the book, the hell hound who sucks down people's souls, is forgotten, and the Woodcutter makes the current chapter's character's problems his one-and-only aim. Okay, I can get behind that. I enjoy fairy tales and this book had a unique spin on a couple of them, most notably Red Riding Hood and the presence of fey blood in the royal lines. What I didn't get was what happened at the end, when the author tried to take the dozen short stories and tie them up in a bow with a whizz-bang of a grand finale, that was over before it had scarcely begun. I'm still not exactly sure how the hell hound fits in, or which of the one-dimensional villains is the real villain, or even what their names are. The final exposition in which events are explained so that those of us who don't live in the Woodcutter's world can understand them is missing, which is doubly frustrating in audiobook format since one can't flip back through pages to connect the dots on one's own. And speaking of the Woodcutter's world... this is the situation in which an info dump would have been extremely helpful. There are references constantly made to 12 kingdoms (13 kingdoms by the end of the book, plus a duchy that wasn't part of the kingdoms. At least at first. Maybe it was by the end? That part was confusing). And yet, for all the many mentions of the 12 kingdoms, I still don't know anything about them, save that they have some sort of pact with the fairy realms. Why include twelve? Why not five? Or twenty? There is no logic imparted, no geography, no significance at all...save that they are mentioned often. It is frustrating in the highest degree to have a tantalizing world (and it is tantalizing, I would not be so upset with the book if the world weren't interesting enough to have whetted my appetite for it and then not followed through on the promises made), and not to get to see more of it than the tiny glimpses offered.
The narrator was a confusing choice. Sarah Coomes does a good job, but, well... she's a woman. And the main character, the character whose point of view is all we see and whose voice is the one we hear while describing his adventures... is male. You see the problem. There are many, many excellent male narrators out there. Why choose a woman to be a man's voice?
On the whole, promising, and a good read for a long road trip, one where you can listen all the way through in one go and maybe keep track of the characters that way, rather than go hours between listens and forget who each of the characters is supposed to be and why they're important.
I started listening to this book and had to double check that it was, in fact, of modern composure (modern in this case being some sixty years or so, but still, more modern than 800 AD). It has the same sweep and feel of an ancient Epic, written and sung by bards, and in fact makes good use of alliteration and various techniques so that the prose feels more like poetry at times, an effect that is subtly highlighted by the talented performer. I rewound several times to relisten to descriptive swathes because the language and performance was so beautiful that I got lost in them. (And on the way to my car. I was so engrossed that I climbed two extra flights in the parking ramp and then couldn't figure out where my vehicle was. Oops...)
But fear not, you who have not read the ancient epics! Though I have my own opinion of classics (favorable, read as many as you can, they really aren't that daunting), I know others find the prospect of an Epic a bit overwhelming. Don't. Really, don't. Things are easy to keep track of as long as you realize that troll = bad, elf = protagonist, humans = scapegoats, and gods = avoid at all costs if you hope to live a peaceful life. Not that peace is much to be had, because the bad mix it up with the protagonists, get the scapegoats involved, and the only hope of success comes with calling on the ones you hope to avoid.
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.
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