When I was a teen, I would plow through Star Trek and Star Wars novels, and loved them. Now in my 30's, I shy away from novelizations of established film and game series, because looking back honestly, a lot of them tended to be embarrassingly "fan fiction-ish". I gave this a shot though, since I had a credit to burn and was genuinely curious about humanity's first contact with the Covenant.
That said, I am actually very glad I got this book. It was well written, and served as a good prologue to the coming tragedies of the human-Covenant war. Kind of sad how the whole war could have been avoided but for a dash of random chance, coupled with an overly ambitious Brute and a couple power-hungry Prophets.
While I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the story, I was a let down by the narration. Jen Taylor voices Cortana in the games, how on earth is she such a terrible narrator? She over-enunciates and over-sells nearly every word and line. Think of a first grade teacher reading aloud to her class, and you'll have the idea.
Holter Graham was a little better, but still not a great performance. I loved his over-the-top brogue for SSGT Byrne, and his SSGT Johnson was good enough. Problem is, he only had one other voice for all other humans, and one voice for every Covie, regardless of character or species. Made conversations between Covenant characters harder to follow than necessary. The nasally, halting, unsure tone is fine for Grunts - they are supposed to be morons. Makes a lot less sense coming from a Brute or an Engineer.
One last comment. Johnson seems like a capable leader - how the heck is he still a Staff Sergeant for 20+ years. This book takes place just after the year 2500 rollover. He's a SSGT. Halo 1 takes place in, I believe, 2525. You're telling me he hasn't had a single promotion in over 20 years?!
I'll be brief, for what else remains to be said about Beowolf? There is a reason this tale is so long enduring and considered a defining example of early literature. In addition to this audiobook I also have the full print version of Seamus Heaney's translation. I am a huge fan of this translation. It is particularly easy to follow, but uses strong imagery and hard, masculine language to maintain a suitably macho and epic tone throughout.
Heaney narrates his own work here, and while his delivery is a little on the dry side, I still appreciate being able to hear the artist himself. It's a shame this was abridged - and heavily at that.
I've never heard any other narrations by Sean Kenin, but he is stellar here. He uses an array of different voices, accents, and speech patterns so you always know which character is speaking. His natural reading voice is clear and pleasant. I will have to look for more of his work. Strong audio design continues beyond the narration, with licensed Star Wars music and sound effects used throughout for great ambiance.
Unfortunately, the story itself is uneven. While truly good at some points, it is often goofy and always predictable. In addition to being predictable, the author errs, in my opinion, by not providing enough survivors. The initial outbreak claims all but six characters, and two of them are protected by Hero Death Immunity - two canonical characters in a very questionable cameo. No matter how grim things seem for our survivors, there is very little dramatic tension since we know that, at worst, only four of them can possibly suffer any permanent consequences. A larger cast with no "untouchables" would have helped the story considerably.
I would recommend this book to a friend, but only on the condition they were a huge fan of both Star Wars AND zombies.
This has to be the most poorly produced audiobook of all time. With a work of this length - roughly 35 hours - I understand there are several challenges in putting everything together, but here it's like whoever was doing the recording wasn't even trying. Consider. 1) Starting sometime between the 90 minute and 2 hour mark, a number of obvious and jarring cuts, with the narrator dropping out suddenly, and then resuming speech in the middle of a different sentence. This issue seems to settle down after roughly the 5 hour mark. 2) Different audio levels for different recording sessions. After a cut, the narrator returns notably louder or quieter, and with a different level of white noise in the background. 3) At the 5 hour and 46 minute mark, the narrator says "hold on", and then engages in a conversation with the recording engineer, and this was never edited out of the final product. This means the publishers didn't listen to this audiobook even one time for quality control before putting it out in the wild. Shameful, and this is a product of unacceptably low quality. 2 stars for the wealth of content and Jeff Zinn's effort in recording well over 30 hours of speech, but minus 3 stars for a final product that could have been put together better by a motivated middle schooler.
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