A bit unsatisfying
If would probably recommend this book to anyone who enjoys the fantasy genre. It is well-written - great characters, good foreshadowing, excellent plot twists - but I would be more likely to recommend it as an audiobook than as a novel to read. The battles in the book would have gotten quite tedious for me if I were reading, but I think I could enjoy Pacey reading the phone book to me. He is amazing.
I've only heard Steven Pacey on the 3 First Law novels, but he's got to be one of the best and I will look for other books he narrates.
Pacey is perfection and the novel is well-written. However, I found the ending disappointing. Abercrombie wrote the First Law series as 3 books although none stands alone. And, then this last one leaves you hanging. That seems a bit unfair and sort of manipulative on the author's part. If I have spent the time and money to go through three entire books which constitute the whole series and some of the central characters are left hanging still...not quite right if you ask me.
If I could choose one phrase to summarize this masterpiece, I couldn't do better than the title of Jan's review - "Not written - crafted...exquisitely" (nicely said, Jan!). Although APFOM has an interesting plot and a shattering ending, if you read this book just for the story, you will miss the best part; APFOM is truly a modern classic with some of the best and most engaging use of literary devices and provocative thought I've ever seen. To list a few:
1. Enveloping and evocative use of setting - both historical and geographic - to set the tone and pacing
2. Masterful use of the first person form. First person is challenging when you want to portray detail for many characters. A Prayer not only provides detail characterization for a great cast of eccentrics, its primary protagonist is not the POV character. In lesser hands, the reader would not be able to relate to Owen Meany with all his strangeness when portrayed only from the POV of his friend, John Wheelwright, but Irving not only slowly makes you understand Owen, but truly love him.
3. Foreshadowing, allusion, and symbolism so subtle and finely woven into the narrative that you will not realize until the ending that you have been told repeatedly what is going to happen and still the ending is gut-wrenching and shocking and inevitable.
4. Some of the most insightful commentary on religion and faith that I have ever read in fiction. The beautiful, tragic, and repulsive aspects of religion are all woven into this narrative with little jewels of wisdom scattered throughout. One of my favorite quotes, "My belief in God disturbs and unsettles me much more than not believing ever did. Unbelief seems vastly harder to me now than belief does, but belief poses so many unanswerable questions." In the end, A Prayer is a real tribute to active Faith.
I read the book many years ago when it was first published and I think it can be advantageous to see this book in print to understand how Irving wrote it (Owen's dialog is in all caps and Irving often throws a word said in Owen's voice into the middle of John's sentences) so you will appreciate the phenomenal narrative interpretation of the book by Joe Barrett - truly an outstanding performance of a challenging book. I have had a permanent place on my bookshelves for APFOM for years, but not re-read it just because the ending is hard. However, I couldn't resist the audiobook when it was on sale and now I realize I should have picked it up long ago because it is more than worth full price. If you have read the book, I strongly encourage you to listen to the audiobook - you will not be disappointed. And, Irving packs so much beautiful prose and food for thought in this book, it is one that really should be read or heard more than once.
Steampunk that works on every level with alternate technology woven seamlessly into the plot (not just tossed in for effect) with a mash up of genres (melodrama, alternate history, paranormal, horror, romance) and flavored with a bit of everything (romantic comedies of the 40's, Dr. Frankenstein, Regency tales, etc.). The plot sizzles and steams until all these bits and pieces gel into a wonderfully fun and cohesive story that will have a permanent home in My Library. It would be a spoiler to detail anymore of the plot than provided in the Publisher's Summary, but the premise of a disease that causes gender change in a person during a era when genteel people would never mention the word gender much less sex and in a time when men held most of the property and power and women were not guaranteed basic human liberties obviously provides a setup for some interesting conflict. T. Aaron Payton (pseudonym for Tim Pratt) has used this terrific premise to lay out a very engaging story that is fun and funny while still providing some food for thought. I have liked some of Tim Pratt's previous books, but I'm glad I didn't realize Payton and Pratt are the same person before I read the book because The Constantine Affliction is a major cut above and I'm really glad this book is a "Book 1" because I want much more of this. The characters are well developed (I could so picture Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell or Katherine Hepburn playing the leads in this), the plot is crazy but coherent, the biological bent of the alternate technology is a nice new twist on steampunk, and John Lee's narration is truly great. Even if you have given up on steampunk (because, hey, there is a lot of it that isn't very good), I'd urge you to try this one - first rate entertainment!
I picked up this volume of short stories in a sale. I didn't have high expectations because I am not a huge fan of the short form, but there were several writers included that I liked so I gave it a try. And, most of the stories are pretty good, especially Ilona Andrews' and Jim Butcher's. But I got a total shock from Rachel Caine. I have read some of Caine's books, but have never been overly impressed. However, her short story, Even a Rabbit Will Bite, is just about as good a short story as I have ever read - right up there with some of my favorites of Edgar Allen Poe and that is saying something. She builds and destroys a whole world in one brief story, makes the reader care deeply about some very odd characters, and left me with a tale I will never forget. It is especially nice that this great story is perfectly narrated by Suzanne Toren (bravo, Ms. Toren!). This is such a great short story, it makes the whole collection totally worth a credit.
I am not sure why this nice turn on time travel is listed in Mystery/Suspense because I think it would much better fit in Science Fiction since time travel isn't just a device in this book, it is central to the plot. And, although this couldn't qualify as hard science sci-fi, the scientific explanation of the time shifting methodology and paradoxes is handled with some decent logic. Since I don't read a lot of mystery, I am glad this book showed up on a Daily Deal or might not have seen it and I really enjoyed the book. Almost any specifics about this largely plot driven novel would be a spoiler so I will just say this story totally grabbed me. Cristin Terrill does a wonderful job of weaving together parallel past/future story lines and through most of the book she kept the shifting time lines in logical order and explained the time paradoxes well. Only two small criticisms: 1. After keeping the threads straight through the many plot convolutions, there was a glaring error in the ending, 2. There are at least 3 scenes in which a character could have taken immediate action to get the desired result, but paused (like a bad movie) to explain and then missed his/her opportunity. Meredith Mitchell's narration was well done and added to my enjoyment of the story.
All Our Yesterdays was an engaging read and I'd like to try more from Cristin Terrill.
I have heard about The Haunting of Hill House for years, but never read it. But it is on Charlaine Harris' list of favorite books so when Audible had it on sale, I picked it up. Since it is a bit of classic, I'm not sorry I listened to it and Bernadette Dunne's narration is so very good I can't consider it a total loss, but I am glad I didn't pay full price. There is very little action and I didn't find it very suspenseful either. The characters are reasonably interesting, but the only backstory you get in detail is for Eleanor who seems to be psychologically damaged and absolutely drowning in self pity. The more I knew about her, the less I wanted to know. There is some superb spooky mood setting, but any real suspense is undermined by an unbalanced central character who steals the show from anything paranormal or horrific.
Reviews are just opinions and I appreciate anyone who takes time to write one. With all due respect though I have to disagree with the comparison of this series with the Dresden Files. Both series are urban fantasy with a magic-wielding male protagonist and that is about all they have in common. If you are looking for the multi-layered characters, intricate plots, fascinating magical system, snappy dialog, and interesting settings that have developed in the Dresden Files, you won't find it here. Hellequin may interest you if you like the graphic novel format - it reads much like a graphic novel translated to book form with a whole series of action scenes strung together, cartoonish characters (voluptuous women, violent men), and very little use of setting. (The story uses multiple periods in history and multiple geographical locations and yet is never evocative.) I am all for an action-packed novel, but the action sequences in Hellequin are all the same - someone is kidnapped and tortured, some woman throws herself at Nate (our "hero") and they have sex, Nate beats up the bad guy. There is some graphic sex, but no sexual tension in the story. There is a lot of action, but no suspense because Nate wins hands down against every "critter". The magical system is inconsistent and Nate seems to find a new power around every corner.
I usually really like James Langton's narration, but I agree with another reviewer that he was the wrong choice for this book. His posh British accent doesn't work with an anti-hero who is long on violence and short on finesse.
I got the first two books in an Audible 2-for sale and they were OK for the price. I won't get anymore in the series. If you love Dresden, you won't necessarily love Hellequin. (You won't even know what Hellequin is until book 2.)
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.
Note: Although this is supposed to be a standalone novel, I don't believe anyone would be able to follow the story without reading the Black Jewels trilogy first. And, if you read this book first, you may never read another Anne Bishop book so don't start Black Jewels here.
I really enjoyed the original Black Jewels trilogy so I didn't worry much that there were no reviews of this prequel and picked it up with high expectations. What a disappointment - absolutely pathetic. I would normally return a book this bad, but I wanted to post a review just to warn others. I now realize why there were no reviews even though there are many people who have read it. Any time you post a critical review of a beloved author, you get slings and arrows, but just in case anyone is interested before listening to this dud, I will brave it and advise you to SAVE YOUR CREDIT for something better.
Everything I liked about the original trilogy - engaging characters, intricate magical system, grand world building - is gone. Everything I was afraid might be in the original trilogy and was happy to find it wasn't there, has made it into this book. Women who behave like naughty 3-year-olds sulking and pouting and men who find that idiocy attractive and "handle" women like they were children even though the male characters are written to be just as immature and stupid as the female characters. Jared's big romance is the driver for the whole book and even if I liked Romance as a genre (which I don't), this is a REALLY lame romance with two of the most boring characters of all time. The only male character in this novel with the kind of fascination factor of the original is a "walk-on" appearance of Daemon and there is not a single female character that comes anywhere close to being as engaging as Jaenelle, Surreal, or Tersa. In addition, Bishop's writing, that I found rather pedestrian in the trilogy becomes truly lame in the Invisible Ring. Some cringe-worthy samples that will give you a flavor of this rather painful listening experience:
"He'd said goodnight to Lady Cuddles and woke up to Lady Grumpy." (ugh)
"I should take you over my knee and wallop some consideration into you." (Said by a grown man to an unrelated grown woman - I do not have words for how much I despise this kind of interaction between male and female characters in novels.)
""It knocked me down", she said, pouting. She sounded like a little girl whose best friend has snatched her favorite toy." (This is Bishop's description of a grown woman, gray-jeweled witch after using her magic. I'm betting Surreal would have called up her stiletto to use on this girl!)
Like the other Black Jewels books, this one is heavy on the sadism, but unlike the original trilogy, the sexual perversions and tortures are almost totally gratuitous and do nothing to further the plot or character development. And the constant discussion of "Moon Blood" and "Virgin Nights" was it's own kind of torture for me. The book is 400+ pages and I'm guessing the word "bitch" must be used an average of 2 times per page. Throw in a generous helping of "slut" and "whore" and you can probably tell that the misogyny quotient for this novel is huge and it's just a lazy, tedious, manipulative way to make you hate the bad guys.
The Invisible Ring not only doesn't measure up to the original Black Jewels trilogy, it is just plain bad.
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!
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