Wow. This book was bad. Hilariously bad. Let me see if I can stop laughing and crying long enough to explain why:
1. The writing is atrocious. The author seems to have a severely limited vocabulary and describes most things with words like "big" and "pretty important", except for an occasional passage where he suddenly decides he's a poet and spits out such gems as "the crystal formations winked back at him, their flame the only sound in the darkness." Wow. Just, wow.
2. The characters are completely one-dimensional. The main characters are pretty lacking in personality, but the secondary characters are painfully obvious. You can tell who's good and who's bad, which people are supposed to be sympathetic and which ones you're supposed to hate because THEIR EVERY WORD AND ACTION SCREAMS IT AT YOU. Good people always agree with the main characters, bad people oppose them in every petty way imaginable. Good characters always act kindly and are nice to children, bad characters are unfailingly mean, selfish, and usually scowling. No subltety here, no shades of grey or complexity. It's really easy to spot the false friends and the traitors really early on in the book, which spoils what I guess are supposed to be shocking plot twists in the last few chapters.
3. Repetition ad nauseum. Both the characters and author seem to have this obsessive-compulsive need to repeat the same thoughts, ideas, phrases, and pieces of plot exposition over and over, just in case they didn't get their point across the first 50 times. Really, I understand that the heroes need to STOP DARKEN RAHL, it's not necessary to keep repeating it. After sitting through all 24+ hours of this audiobook, I'm pretty sure that a good 80% of the words in this book are completely unnecessary. All in all, the level of this writing is so juvenile that it makes the next point extra-disturbing...
4. This book is REALLY sadistic. The author really seems to delight in the torture scenes, spending pages and pages on them, during which every sentence contains at least one occurrence of the word "pain". Some of the things the heroes do are downright disturbing, too. But it's supposed to be okay, because they're the heroes and hey, they emasculated that man and forced him to eat his own genitals in the name of Justice. Yeah, that really happened.
5. Melodrama. Seriously, everything that happens is a crisis situation. Somebody drops something and suddenly hearts are pounding, rage is flaring, and someone is sobbing uncontrollably with wracking sobs. It gets exhausting after a while, especially since none of the characters are really developed enough to pull off convincing emotion.
In conclusion, I gave this book 2 stars because the constant stream of awful writing, one-dimentional characters, and ridiculously contrived situations was oddly entertaining, though not remotely in the way the author intended. Part of me wonders if the author wasn't somehow being intentionally ironic; surely writing that comically bad doesn't happen by accident. In any case, unless "comically bad" sounds appealing to you, I'd highly recommend that you avoid this book; it really doesn't have much else to offer, and certainly nothing rewarding enough to justify that much time spent listening to it.
By the way, in case you were wondering about the "wizard's first rule" in the title, the highest and most secret rule of the wizard order, it consists of the following earth-shattering revelation:
"People are stupid."
Somehow, that seems fitting.
I can't help but love the gentlemanly, impudent, and ultimately always triumphant Captain Blood, but the character that stands out to me just as much is the heroine Arabella Bishop. She is an extraordinary heroine for this genre of fiction, where you usually expect to see all the women swooning and being generally helpless. Arabella is self-posessed, intelligent, and more than a match in wits for the pirate captain. They play off of each other brilliantly, and Blood's respect and admiration for her drives many of his actions. She never straps on a sword or dives into the action, but she doesn't really need to. She manages to be a strong and intriguing female character (a rare enough occurance in fiction of all kinds) simply by virtue of being herself.
Robert Whitfield provides a colorful range of character voices, including an impressive array of accents, which helps to bring many of the characters to life. His narration is both dryly historical and wry in just the right amounts to express Sabatini's writing to its best effect.
I have listened to this audiobook multiple times since buying it, and it has yet to get old. Definitely one of my favorites.
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