Academ's Fury picks up about two years after the conclusion of the previous book, Furies of Calderon. Our hero, Tavi, is now a student at Hogw--oops! Um--at the Academy in Alera Imperia. Along with his new position as the High Lord's page, Tavi is making new friends and new enemies right and left. There's treason in the air and assassins around every corner. Meanwhile, back in Calderon Valley, the nastiest enemy of all is taking root. Not the strongest book in the series but not the weakest either. I love Jim Butcher and I enjoy his style--warts and all--and this book certainly does nothing to change that. It introduces some great characters who will play important roles in the books to come, so it is a must-read for that reason alone. Some events feel a bit contrived, and there are plenty of Harry Potter parallels; don't let any of that dissuade you. Lot's of fun to be had here, so I suggest you ignore the minor bumps in the road and just enjoy the ride.
I'm a Stephen King fan from way, way back, when I used to read everything the man wrote. Honestly, most of King's recent work just isn't up to the standard he set with Christine, Carrie, The Shining, etc. Mr. Mercedes seems to be a big departure from the traditional horror genre that King has always dominated. I describe the book as more of a crime thriller with plenty of Stephen King flavor and flare; it has more in common with Misery than anything else of his I've read.
You can read about the plot in the Publisher's Summary, so I'm not getting into that here. Suffice it to say that the story is well told, with solid characterizations (particularly of the more twisted players). In anyone else's hands, these people would be stock characters, thinly drawn and not compelling. The psychopath from the messed up family and a murderous streak; the retired copy with a messed up life and suicidal thoughts; the trusted teen sidekick ... etc. But King is able to make all of that work by giving us believable relationships and scattered moments of genuine emotion and personal insight.
There is nothing supernatural going on here. This is about evil and psychological pathology. The central focus is on the way certain relationships can push us well over the edge or, in other cases, pull us away from the brink.
As a straight forward crime drama, Mr. Mercedes would fall short. As a true horror novel, it doesn't come close. As a psychological thriller, it's a little thin. But as a hybrid of all the above, Mr. Mercedes works and works quite well.
A final remark on the work of Will Patton as the narrator. His performance is simply the best thing about this audiobook. While I recognized Patton's name, it wasn't until I heard his voice that I was able to place him. The man always does good work, mostly in film. But here, he does great work, nailing every single detail to near perfection. Hyperbole? Maybe. But damn, Patton knocks this right out of the park.
If you're going to throw in the kind of twist that David Weber does in this novel, you better do it well. I'll be honest ... I think Weber could have done it a little better this time. This novel has all the Weber trademarks, so expect expansive detail ... on weapons, socio-political dynamics, and the very nature of man. If you're paying attention (to various reviews and the novel's description), and you're more of the "hard sci-fi" reader, you might want to steer clear. On the other hand, if a bit of supernatural fits comfortably enough in your own sci-fi world view, I say go for it. I get the impression (from various sci-fi sites) that this was intended as the jump-off point for a new series; given Weber's history, it's what I would expect. I hope so ... it would be an intriguing premise and certainly worth exploring. If not, the novel works well enough as a stand-alone tale. If you like Weber's previous work (particular some of his non-Honorverse novels)--and you can handle the supernatural twist--Out of the Dark is a pretty good read.
Thirteen ... It's hard to know even where to begin here. I sincerely want to recommend this book ... but I will do so with a note of caution. It's not an easy read/listen. It is dense and uneven. It is often preachy to the point of distraction. It is violent and explicit. But it is also quite intriguing. It left me wanting to know a lot more about this world and the future as envisioned by Richard K. Morgan. It also left me feeling pretty exhausted. While there is certainly no lack of creativity here, there is also a lot of information overload that goes with it. I had to push a bit to make it through to the end. I'll likely read more of Morgan ... just maybe not right away. In the end, I'll say this: If your sensitive about religion, sex, and violence, keep your distance. But if you can handle those topics, if you like your sci-fi with plenty of technological pop and political chaos, and if you feel lucky, give Thirteen a shot. You could do worse.
Those who have read Butcher (The Dresden Files) are already familiar with some of the author's narrative conventions. You'll find them all here. Maybe that's bad. But once you immerse yourself in the world of Alera, you'll easily overlook those minor issues. Where Butcher excels is in the development of characters you love with motivations you can actually understand. He has also created an unusual and compelling world for those characters to inhabit. Sure, it is not difficult to find parallels with other fantasy epics. I like to characterize this series as Lloyd Alexander meets Anne Mccaffrey ... and that works for me. The narration is about as good as it gets; as others have noted, the production feels a little off sometimes ... but not to the point where it's a problem. Kate Reading (aka Jennifer Mendenhall) is more than up to the task of handling dozens of voices. Furies of Calderon is far from perfect and sometimes predictable. Still, it is a solid, entertaining read/listen that should draw you in if are willing to let it.
Maybe I just expected something more ... but I had real trouble getting all the way through this book. Interesting premise, juvenile execution. Someone said the characters were "comicbook" like ... that's too much like a compliment. Comicbooks are more interesting. I really wanted to like this book, but the whole thing was just too disjointed and painful to plod through. I'm not one to worry too much about the audio stylings, effects, etc., but low marks there as well.
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