I picked up Sandman Slim on sale and found it entertaining enough to justify the sale price, but not engaging enough to continue this series. James Stark (Sandman Slim) as the raging anti-hero is driven solely by revenge and seems unable to feel much beyond anger and petulance; I kept wanting to shake him and say, "Oh, grow up, buddy". Although there is an attempt at sardonic wit in Richard Kadrey's writing, the book actually comes across as snarky at best and vulgar or flat at worst and there is little of the wry humor or chuckles of some other urban noir fantasies. The plot is convoluted, the dialog is stilted, and the magic system doesn't quite hang together. MacLeod Andrews as the narrator does a good job of assuming and conveying the persona of Sandman Slim and I think his performance would be even better if these characters were more fleshed out.
There are hints of potential in Sandman Slim - the occasional great descriptive line, interesting plot turn, and some level of maturing for Stark at the end - that make me suspect that the series could get better with following books. However, I just don't like this main character - more wiseacre than avenging angel - enough to give him more time. Listeners who really enjoy a lot of comic-book type action sequences may find this book more appealing than I did (there are a lot of graphic fight scenes), but for great characters, better writing, more engaging plot lines, more consistent magic systems, and true wit, I'd recommend Felix Castor, Harry Dresden, or Peter Grant over Sandman Slim.
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.
The Greyfriar is supposed to be a kind of mash up of alternate history, steampunk, and vampire mythology, but is really just a big mish-mash of multiple genres that never gels into anything coherent. The characters are straight out of a Harlequin romance and not the slightest bit believable, the dialog is stilted and boring, and the plot is downright nonsensical. The steampunk aspects appear to just be thrown in so the book can be labeled "Steam Punk" rather than actually being woven into the storyline and the alternate history doesn't make any sense. A political marriage between the head of a republic and the heir apparent of an empire??? Yeah, that would happen...in a world where there is no political sense whatsoever. (Can you imagine Barak Obama trying to marry off Malia to the king of Spain to make a political alliance??) Nice new take on the vampire origin story totally ruined by harebrained biology. Supposedly vampires are a separate species from people, but like humans and other mammals, they reproduce via sexual intercourse and the females bear children. Unlike every other mammal ever known (including VAMPIRE BATS), the young don't drink mother's milk, but instead drink their mother's blood and babies may even kill their mothers in the process. Sorry, but that is just stupid!
I read a lot of fantasy and I totally understand that you have to suspend disbelief to enjoy the genre, but good fantasy has internal logic that Greyfriar totally lacks. That said, there is one stellar thing about this audio book - James Marsters is totally wonderful and his lovely narration is the only thing that got me through the entire story. PS: Kudos to Dave (Whittier, CA) for a well-written, detailed review I wish I had read before I got the book.
Just coincidentally, I have recently listened to three sci-fi novels that all begin as police procedurals with law-enforcement agents investigating a localized crime that expands into a much more cosmic, universal mystery - The Prefect, The Great North Road, and Leviathan Wakes. The Prefect was by far the best of the three. Not only does The Prefect benefit from Reynold's elegant, evocative writing which is a cut above most other sci-fi writers, these are some of Reynold's best characters (primary protagonists and antagonists fleshed out with great back stories), the tightly woven plot is riveting with multiple twists, and the setting, The Glitter Band, is one of the coolest concepts from Revelation Space. Jon Lee does a bang-up job on this book - this is one where the Reynolds-Lee combo makes for a terrific audiobook. The Prefect will be an enjoyable listen for anyone who loves hard sci-fi even if you haven't read any of the Revelation Space trilogy, but if you have read the trilogy, the new stories of Philip Lascaille and Dan Sylveste in The Prefect will be extra fun.
I have been disappointed in many over-hyped best sellers so I am not quick to pick them up most of the time. However, when Audible made this book available on The Deal of the Day, I was curious to see what the fuss was about. As a debut novel, Slumdog Millionaire, is quite an achievement for Vikas Swarup. Ram Mohammad Thomas is arrested for cheating on a game show in which he won 1 billion rupees and what follows then is his first person account of his life story detailing how this poor, unsophisticated boy came to know all the answers for the game show without cheating. Much like Forrest Gump, Thomas is naive, even stupid at times, and has no financial resources, yet through strange twists of fate, a good and mostly honest heart, and dumb luck, he encounters people from all walks of life and repeatedly falls into excrement yet comes up smelling like a rose.
In telling the tale Swarup gives us thumbnail sketches of the sadder side of the lives of the 1.2 billion people that populate India especially many of the children - hunger, prostitution, thievery, gangs, and physical and sexual abuse. I have read several novels about modern day India before (the best being A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry) so I didn't find the stories shocking, but did find many of them quite poignant. However, Swarup has given his protagonist an almost indefatigable sense of optimism and has woven some nice ironic humor into most of the narrative so the book is touching without being overwhelmingly depressing.
There are some common minor problems of the debut novel - Slumdog sometimes seems to "cram in" so much that it loses focus, and although the narrative is not intended to be totally linear, there are some mis-steps in the timeline that can be confusing to the listener.
Christopher Simpson's narration is first class. His acting talent is useful in bringing the listener "up close and personal" with this First Person account and he does amazingly good accents - Indian, Irish, Australian. (The voice he uses for the game show host is so perfectly smarmy - I loved it!)
This book wasn't over-hyped - it really is a very good debut novel.
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