Between Two Fires is a well written 14th century period piece that expertly intermingles vivid scenes of plague ravaged France with Christian mythos to provide a fantastical horror story that reads like historical fiction. I am not a great horror fan so to say I "liked" this book wouldn't be quite right, but I was completely captivated by it. Christopher Buehlman is masterful in his writing - his characters are so genuine, the settings so sharply etched, the plot so intricate and imaginative that I was engrossed throughout the book. I felt a bit dazed at the end of the book coming back to the 21st century after this total immersion experience in 1348.
I have to thank Audible and Troy's review for giving me a nudge to look at this book. I'm don't normally read books in the horror genre, but I am a huge fan of good writing and this book ranks right up there with the best. And, it paints such a clear picture of this period of medieval history that it is likely to be appealing to those who like historical fiction as well as those who enjoy a good scary story.
It's not a book for everyone - the book covers a dark period of history when the Black Death rampaged through Europe and many of the characters are rough, vulgar people so it is not surprising that there are graphic scenes of violence and a fair amount of cursing and crude language in the book. I did not think the violence or bad language was gratuitous, but I know I like to know before hand when a book is one I want to listen to in private. (One oddity in regard to the vulgar language, Buehlman seems to have no difficult referring to various parts of female anatomy in very coarse terms, but male anatomy was demurely referred to as "the groin" and "his verge" which struck me as a little strange.)
Steve West does a terrific job with the narration. He pitches his voice just right to maintain the growing tension through the plot progression and does a good job with voices as well. One tiny criticism - scythe, a word used many times in the novel, does not have a K sound in it. Not a big deal, but I do think audio production people could do a better job picking up that sort of thing.
This is not a book for the faint of heart or those with delicate sensibilities, but it is a fascinating and well-written story.
Sixty-One Nails is a nice introduction to a new series, The Courts of Feyre. This opening book is set primarily in modern-day London with a likable everyman protagonist who suffers through the world's toughest midlife crisis. Sixty-One Nails blends the tropes of urban fantasy with old-school folklore about the Fey and Feyre (how many ways can you spell Fairy - let me count the authors) and mixes in some fascinating English history to create a unique fantasy adventure. The plot is fast paced with a lot of action, but not a lot of violence. The city of London, the surrounding countryside, and the rich English history are all used quite effectively to set the tone and to drive the plot. The writing is strong with a lot of evocative language to build great mental pictures to enhance the story.
Much of this first book is really about Niall Petersen (Rabbit), a middle-aged Joe Blow coming to terms with who he really is and what he will really do with the rest of his longer than expected life wrapped up in a truly engaging plot and the evolution of this central character is interesting and believable within the fantasy context. There is a romantic thread in this first book which does not factor much until the end of the book, but unfortunately, I think it may be a bigger part of the rest of the series. I say unfortunately because I really enjoyed listening to Rabbit's evolving relationship with his mysterious mentor much more than I enjoyed the more trite romantic relationship with the less mysterious and less powerful girlfriend.
Nigel Carrington is very pleasant to listen to and his voice seems to be a good fit for both the style and setting of the book.
With some reservations about the romance introduced at the end of Sixty-One Nails, I intend to continue with this adventure now that Audible has added two more in the series. Most readers of Urban Fantasy will like this new twist to the genre - recommended.
I have only one negative thing to say about this new Stroud series - Book 2, The Whispering Skull, is not due for release until September 2014 and I want it now! The Screaming Staircase is a wonderful beginning to the new Lockwood & Co series and shows promise of being every bit as engaging and well-written as the oh-so-funny Bartimaeus series. Once again, Stroud gives us a classy "young adult" book that you can comfortably share with a younger audience that is still very entertaining for a seasoned fantasy reader. In Bartimaeus, the young male main character is challenged by demons while the young protagonists of The Screaming Staircase are both male and female with Lucy Carlyle taking the lead role and ghosts are their paranormal challenge. While the Lockwood kids are not as cleverly snarky as the characters in Bartimaeus, they are witty and charming in their own right and have a nice balance of kid type flaws (willfulness, egotism, etc.) mixed with compassion and a good internal moral compass that you didn't see as much in Bartimaeus. Lucy Carlyle is as well-written a young heroine as I have met in fantasy since Garth Nix's Sabriel and Lirael - she's smart and vulnerable and very easy to identify with and root for.
Miranda Raison is a great choice as narrator. Her rather melodic voice and pleasant English accent fit perfectly with the setting, ghost-laden London, and she capture the essence of Lucy quite well. Raison does nice character voices and I really enjoyed her performance.
Whether or not you have young listeners to share with, anyone who enjoys paranormal fantasy will have fun with The Screaming Staircase.
I hesitated on Daughter of the Blood because it sounded like a fantasy romance which I really don't enjoy. A love story as one of the plot lines can be great, but I tend to get bored with books when sex/romance are major plot drivers. However, Anne Bishop has been compared to one of my favorites, Anne Rice, so I decided to check it out. I have now listened all of the Black Jewels trilogy and this review is applicable to all three books.
Happily, I found that although there are sexual components and a sort of romantic thread through the books, this trilogy is really all about POWER - the ultimate plot driver for human nature and most good fantasy novels. The comparison of Bishop to Rice works only on a superficial level, but Bishop's trilogy does have some of the flavor of Rice's fantasy work and definitely treads some of the same dark perversions with heavy sadistic tones. If you are looking for the truly lush, almost poetic style of Anne Rice, you won't find it here; Bishop is a much more prosaic writer. But like Rice, these characters are emotionally over the top, but quite engaging - you can't really identify with the characters because they are not like people you know, but then they aren't totally human and they are fascinating. Bishop is truly talented at world building (always a huge asset in fantasy) and I think she far exceeds Rice and many authors at creating an intricate, internally consistent magical system that she primarily brings the listener into by showing rather than just telling. This complex magical system, the engaging characters, and the grand world building keep the whole trilogy really entertaining in spite of some rather lame dialog and a few elementary writing flaws (constant reminders of Daemon's cold, cruel smile and Jaenelle's sapphire eyes, etc. that elicit the "yeah, yeah, I got it already" feeling as you listen).
I got used to John Sharian and he's not bad as a narrator, but he gets a bit too melodramatic in his reading than I like.
Overall, I recommend the trilogy if you are looking for a good entertainment value since these books just don't have boring sections, but they are definitely for mature audiences. There is a great deal of graphic violence, some graphic sexual content, and hardest for me, some sections that deal with child molestation so go in prepared!
I picked this book up on sale primarily because I love Luke Daniels as a narrator and from the plot summary and reviews I expected a light fantasy parody along the lines of The Princess Bride. Luke Daniels did not disappoint and his narration kept me listening to the end of this book, but I wasn't very excited about much else in The Spirit Thief. The book starts with tongue firmly in cheek and for the first few pages I was enjoying the tale. Unfortunately, the plot becomes something more serious than first indicated with a fair amount of violence and death, although the author continues with a rather breezy tone which started to rub me the wrong way. The plot is formulaic and the magic system is not well-developed, but the worst part of this tale is the central character, Eli Monpress. Monpress is supposed to be a talented, charming, thief. He is talented, he is a thief, he is NOT charming. The author does not give us any explanation for why a talented wizard is not only stealing, but is actually indifferent to who gets hurt by his exploits and is sometimes standing in the way of the forces of good. He has a few clever lines, but his tone came off more wise-acre than charming. Perhaps Rachel Aaron develops both the characters and the magic system more in the sequels, but I am not interested enough to find out.
Miserere is another name for Psalm 51 or literally it means "have pity or mercy" and when you hear Miserere, you will see that this is a Perfect Title for this book. I would not have noticed this debut novel from Theresa Frohock, but saw that it was recommended by both Ilona Andrews and Martha Wells so I decided to check it out. This might be the darkest fantasy I have ever loved. With chillingly evocative language, Frohock creates a tale that is part horror, part fantasy, and completely engrossing. Frohock bases much of the plot/setting structure on Christian mythos, but also uses angel references from the Kaballah and pieces of other religions and that lends some weird and scary "authenticity" to the story. Yet, Miserere is unlikely to offend the religious sensibilities of most of the faithful and it most certainly is not a proselytizing vehicle. It is very difficult to describe this debut novel because it is so different from any fantasy I've read. It probably most reminded me of the horror novel, Between Two Fires (Christopher Buehlman), because of the adept use of Christian iconography and the frightening depictions of pure evil. The angels of Miserere are not the sweet Valentine cherubs - these are the Fallen in all their evil glory and the Seraphim (literally "burning ones") who fight in Woerld to hold back the minions of Hell from the Earth. As good as Frohock is at presenting evil in its purest, scariest form, her "good guys" are not so pure and most are terribly flawed and also quite engaging. Frohock starts the reader in the middle of the story and fills in the pieces as the narrative progresses. If you read the Publisher's Summary, you'll have a good feel for where you are as you start out and this tale pulls the listener in very quickly. Caveats: There is some graphic violence, a little graphic sexual content, and the tone is Very Dark until the ending so this is not a book to listen to if you are having a bad day. On the brighter side, this is a redemption tale and it has a very satisfying ending.
Eileen Stevens' narration is not bad, but not as good as I think this book deserved. Stevens is really skilled with character voices so all of the dialog is quite good. However, she uses sort of a "sotto voce" tone for the the narrative sections like she's telling you a secret or something that I don't care for and she mispronounces some common words (like banal and derisive) which always bothers me.
Miserere has an interesting plot, intriguing characters, wildly imaginative world building, and nice prose - I highly recommend Miserere for anyone who has a strong constitution and can handle this dark fantasy. This is the first in a planned series so I'm looking forward to what else will emerge from the twisted imagination of Theresa Frohock.
If you listen to the audio clip for Divine Misfortune, you will not only get a good sample of the nice narration work of Fred Berman, but you will be immediately clued in to the zany tone that carries through this whole book. A. Lee Martinez includes a whole pantheon of Norse, Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and more gods in this farce and the story is presented strictly for comedy; no deep thoughts or religious commentary here. It won't bring new insights, but it will probably make you laugh out loud. The tone of the book reminded me of the Iron Druid fantasy series with gods behaving in ways that would make atheism very attractive. Great listen for some good laughs.
Somehow I have overlooked Martha Wells in my years of reading fantasy, but as Audible started adding some of her books, I checked this author out and realized she's not only a fellow Texan, but a fellow Aggie (Wells has an anthropology degree from Texas A&M) so I knew I wanted to give her work a listen. Although The Element of Fire was her debut novel, it has been recently revised by the author. I don't know what revisions she made, but this version is wonderful. This is high fantasy set in the country of Ile-Rien which is a little like 18th century France (so not your typical medieval high fantasy setting), with the plot driven as much by political intrigue as it by standard battles, and multi-faceted characters that a listener can really relate to. The beginning of the book is a bit challenging because Wells sets you down right in the middle of the action and then slowly unveils all the workings of Ile-Rien and its people as you move through the narrative. This makes for a fast-paced plot, but it takes a little while (about 2 hours into the story for me) to really connect with the characters. However, once I really got to know Kade, I was totally hooked. Suspenseful plot, engaging characters, a touch of romance (nothing sappy or hokey), some fun wry humor and snappy dialog - what's not to like?
Derek Perkins is a superb narrator and good fit for this book. He has a cultured English accent with a warm, nicely modulated voice and he does good character voices - especially for the Fae. This is a male narrator who doesn't make the women characters sound wimpy or goofy.
I will definitely be listening to more from Martha Wells.
This is the last Alastair Reynolds book on Audible I had to listen to and now I find I feel like the AI on the BBC comedy sci-fi, Red Dwarf, who asked for all his Agatha Christie files to be deleted so he could enjoy reading her books again - I can't wait to forget these stories so I can enjoy them again. The big problem for me is that Alastair Reynolds stories are not so easy to forget! Blue Remembered Earth is a rather sweet book to end my Reynolds run. It doesn't have the grandeur of big concepts against a huge universal backdrop that you find in House of Suns or the Revelation Space Trilogy nor does it have the tight plotting and perfect pacing of Chasm City or The Prefect. However, it does have a lot of heart and conveys a message that doesn't show up often enough in science fiction - we have the stars and a huge universe to explore, but we should never forget how absolutely amazing, special, and intricate are the workings of our own beautiful planet. Sometimes we have to look at our world from the heavens to appreciate its stunning beauty and fragility and Blue Remembered Earth is a story that lets you do that. This near future sci-fi is not as grand as many Reynolds stories, but he does a great job of projecting out what climate change (independent of whether it is man-made or natural) will do to change our planet - such a major change in our environment will not only change the geography of the planet, but its flora and fauna, the world economic and political systems, and even theologies and cultures will be impacted or adapted.
A couple of audible reviewers have provided some great plot summaries (thank you Michael G. Kurilla and Wendy) which I can't do any better so I won't, but I will say that although the pacing of this tale is a little slower than some of Reynolds other books, I found the plot quite engaging and the settings are vivid and imaginative as well. These aren't Reynolds' strongest characters, but they are very nicely rendered by the narration of Kobna Holdbrook-Smith. It was odd at first to listen to Reynolds as narrated by someone other than Jon Lee, but Holdbrook-Smith is more fitting for this Africa based story and this actor-narrator is talented. He has a warm, pleasant voice, provides distinct character voices, and does good accents. I heard him on the Peter Grant paranormal detective series and he was terrific at doing something rather comedic and fast-paced, but now I see he is equally good at reading a book intended to be more serious and dramatic. If you care about the prose, Blue Remembered Earth scores high. This is Reynolds describing giraffes running across the African plain, "They were loping, crossing the ground in great scissoring strides like pairs of draftsman's compasses being walked across the map." Reynolds prose tends to be rather elegant with exquisite metaphors sprinkled through it and Blue Remembered Earth is full of great examples of his style.
Short and to the point - a pretty great story buried under ridiculous layers of tedious police procedural, a wild array of cartoonish characters, and long winded development of meaningless plot points and inconsequential players.
If you boiled out the real plot from this giant doorstop of a book, it is exciting and suspenseful. The story starts with the investigation of a murder that expands into a threat against all humanity from a powerful and mysterious alien presence. The sections that deal with the hunt for the alien are tightly plotted and full of delicious apprehension. Unfortunately, that is only a small part of the book and those sections suffer from frequent flashbacks and cuts to the extremely slow murder investigation.
In addition to the erratic pacing and lack of editing, this book suffers from a few other disagreeable faults:
1. The central female character, Angela Tramelo, is a total caricature of a woman. Seriously, the woman is beyond beautiful, super brilliant, athletic and tough, has powerful connections, and has been genetically altered to stay young for hundreds of years. So, of course, the only way she can resolve a challenge is to prostitute herself. Note to Peter: Selling one's body is really NOT the "go-to" solution for most women especially those who have as many other resources as Angela Tramelo. Some of the men are just a hokey, but at least police detective, Sidney Hurst, is portrayed as a "regular Joe" which does help the slower police sections of the book.
2. The ending is way too neat and tidy and after this VERY long trek on The Great North Road, it wraps up so fast that it feels rushed.
3. A really threatening and incomprehensible Alien suddenly becomes just "one of the guys" at the end and loses credibility and any power he once had to frighten.
Toby Longworth is not my favorite narrator, but he is not bad. He is rather dramatic in his delivery of the narrative sections of the book which I don't usually like, but it was good for this book that often wanders far "off the road".
With some severe editing (half of this book could go) and a little reworking of the character of Angela and the Alien, this could be a great book. As it is, I don't recommend it unless you are an avid Peter F. Hamilton fan.
I really enjoyed listening to Terminal World and would rate this book much higher if it were the beginning of a series. But Reynolds has written Terminal World as a standalone novel which ends just as a great story is beginning so I found the book a real let down.
Reynolds sets up a great adventure tale that includes a nice mash-up of hard science and fantasy seasoned with steampunk elements. (I really liked the scientific explanations for the variations in technology. Steampunk often just seems to be about cool gadgets and doesn't incorporate enough logic to make me happy and that's not the case in Terminal World.) As we follow the main protagonist, Quillon, and his cohort, Meroka, in their flight to escape assassination attempts on Quillon, we get pieces of the puzzle to explain how their strange world functions, how it came to be, why it is "broken", and how it can be repaired and the great escape slowly evolves into more of a quest. However, just at the point you start to understand the constructs and have an inkling of how this happened, the story ends. It really feels like reading the first of a series and then having no second book available.
These are interesting characters with potential for a lot more development and a totally fascinating world whose history/evolution is only hinted at. There is a universe of room to expand and progress this story and I can only hope that Reynolds considers a sequel to "bring this story home".
Jon Lee does a good turn on narration and the voice he uses for the tough and sassy Meroka is perfect.
On its own, Terminal World is entertaining and, like all of Reynolds work, the story will expand your mind to some very cool new concepts, but it ends on the cusp of something great and may leave you wanting much more.
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