I'm going to review the entire Austrailian Trilogy here because the storyline continues throughout the three books, and the first two end in cliff hangers, making it impossible to stop after either of them. Nevertheless, the writing style and tone changes quite a bit from the first to the third and, unfortunately, goes downhill.
The Potato Factory is wonderful. It is very Dickensian, and although I don't really like the grittiness of Dickens, I loved the story and characters Courtenay creates. Tommo and Hawk starts out very character driven as well, but gets bogged down in endless descriptions of the Maori struggles. It also contains several cringe-inducing sex scenes, which are made all the more embarrassing by Humphrey Bower's explicit narration (leaving no moan or groan to the imagination). I was mortified when my son walked into the room to see what was going on. And, then comes Solomon's Song, which can only be explained by an assumption that Courtenay was worn out. I know it wore me out. Hours were devoted to details of battle tactics at Gallipoli and later France, including readings of very long letters to and from the front. Although dozens of new characters were introduced, for the most part they were merely vehicles to get across the author's views on the horrors of war. I was eager for the book to end, but then the conclsion was so abrubt and unsatisfying, I spent the rest of the evening annoyed.
I'm giving the trilogy a 4 because the Potato Factory was so excellent and Tommo and Hawk quite good. Also, notwithstanding Bower's sex-scene renderings, his narration was great.
The parts of the novel about the Pearl family are pretty good, but the rest of it just consists of snatches of stories. People come and go, relationships happen and then (maybe) end, and the book just turns into a kind of depressing mess.
The Pearl storyline was wrapped up way too conveniently, but the story of Rachel/Rose was left up in the air. I could not figure that one out from the beginning - there's a different narrator reading the Rachel/Rose parts, but to whom is she talking? I think there was one fleeting moment where the person questioning Rachel/Rose makes clear he's her dad ("Did you miss me?"), but it went by too fast and I didn't think it was worth rewinding at the time. And, no 14-year old talks like that. Actually, no one talks like that. So, the use of first person just comes across as clumsy and pretentious.
On the plus side, I think Smith Henderson captures small-town life in the 1980s really well, and he does a stellar job of describing various types of disfunction caused by childhood neglect and abuse. But, who really wants a book about that?
I was so excited to listen after reading the reviews. What a letdown! First off, The Minstrel cannot be described as fantasy in any way, shape or form. Perhaps it's historical fiction loosely based on Irish history during the beginning of Christianity, but that's just being nice. Mostly it's a banal romance with a story that goes nowhere. The dialogue is cringe-inducing and I should have known to stop listening the first time the female protagonist was described as "an adorable redhead." "Adorable", which should never be used in serious fiction, appears time and again on these pages. Why did I listen to the end?? Only excuse is that I had a bad cold and was too tired to shut it off.
I made it to the final four hours of this very long book with the hope that the glowing reviews would turn out to be right. Then I just couldn't stand it anymore. It's a simple-minded, Disney-like story involving a prince, princess, demons, and a dark forest. Oh, and a unicorn, a dragon, a mage, and goblins. They are all silly and the story plods. After the first couple hours, the characters do become slightly more complex, but that's only because they started out as one-dimensional cartoon figures. It might be a bit gory for 5-6 year olds, but otherwise it's at their level.
In terms of writing style alone, Carol Berg is probably the best fantasy author out there. Her stories are very good too. The only problem I have with all her novels is that the magic appears to be based on the New Testament, meaning there's always a death/reborn theme and lots of internal conflict about needing to sacrifice oneself to save the world. As a consequence, the plots can get draggy and humorless in parts, and it's hard to get to know some of the main characters (the weight of the world on their shoulders is so large that they become caricatures instead of real people). But, as I'm about to start Book 4 in this series, this issue clearly doesn't bother me enough to stop reading/listening.
What does bother me is the narration in this series. Book 1 only had one reader, and she was pretty good. But, then they started with multiple readers as the point of view changed from character to character. That can work, but it doesn't here because the narrators obviously didn't talk or listen to each other before reading. Hence, each reader uses his/her own pronunciations and accents, which can be quite different from the others. For example, one narrator says "jeed", another says "ji-heed", and another says "zeed" to refer to same group of people. Prince D'Natheil is pronounced De-Nathael or Danthial depending on reader. And the stable boy, Paulo, sounds like a southern US country gentleman in some of the chapters. It's really grating and inexcusable.
I agree with other reviewers that the story started out strong and then went downhill, but it still kept me engaged. I expect the series will get stronger as it goes along. I did not like Suzanne Toren as the narrator - her voice for Troy was tolerable, but for the other female characters is was downright jarring. I'm glad she's not reading the next one.
I've never read any Goddard books before, but I will definitely put them on my wish list. This is a fun, well-written, historical thriller. Sort of Dickens, Bronte, and du Maurier combined. Michael Kitchen's narration was fantastic.
The one thing I hate most in books and movies is gratuitous torture. I'm OK with run of the mill violence, but long descriptions of pulling out teeth, smashing hands on anvils, burning, and castration - just not for me. Given that, I'm not sure why I chose to listen to a series in which one of the main characters is a torturer, and from the very beginning, I knew that Abercrombie was not going to hold back anything. But, listen I did, and I got hooked on the characters, including the torturer. They are complex and funny and sad and it's hard not to get attached to even the worst of them.
Like some of the other reviewers, I think the ending was disappointing. I was ready for things to be left unresolved, but I don't think it was necessary to leave us in such a dark place.
I'm done with Abercrombie for now. While he's arguably the best fantasy writer out there, I can't get myself psyched for more gore and torture.
I have not listened to other Pacey books, but I will definitely look for him now. He's great.
No, I can only take so much gore in one sitting.
Ken Follett knows how to tell a good story, but the characters are stock and there's nothing really surprising about what happens. While his books are a good way to learn history, Follett spends way too much time explaining things that are obvious to anyone above 3rd grade. And, his sex scenes are adolescent and cringe-inducing (come on Ken, the word "ejaculation" should never be used except in a sex-ed textbook). But, I managed to get through this book and the one before it, and I might even listen to the third when it comes out. They are embarrassingly addictive.
Almost anyone. Surprisingly, her female voices were much worse than the male ones. I turned it off about a quarter way through and bought the Kindle version. It's a very good book.
Read the book yourself unless Audible decides to re-record this one with a different narrator based on the reviews.
Although this novel provides fascinating background on the beginning of official apartheid in South Africa, it is first and foremost a murder mystery with great character development and storytelling. I was worried it would be preachy or depressing, but it's not. Definitely worth a listen.
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