Buda, TX, United States | Member Since 2012
I would never have listened to this book had I not heard the sample of Kate Winslet's reading. Just those few minutes gave a sense of the depth of her talents and so I decided to take a chance. I had feared that I would be hearing Madame Bovary all over again, a book that I appreciated but did not actually enjoy when I read it. This was far from that. Yes the details Zola uses to describe his characters and their world brought them to life in my mind, and Winslet's reading make such pleasure of it all. Still, it would have been merely a delightful read had not the story taken such a wildly perverse turn.
The consequences of bad choices made out of love are taken to depths that caught me by surprise. I thought I was reading a tragic romance at first and only gradually realized I was caught up in a nightmare, and a fantastic one at that. The characters by the end of the story bear no resemblance whatsoever to those at the beginning and little in common with any decent human being, but the transition played out so smoothly for me that I marveled at it. I became both utterly repulsed by them as I was simultaneously drawn more into the story. To enjoy this story I think it takes sheer interest in literature of this period, in stories of love gone wrong, or just fascination with the twisted lengths to which the human condition can be pushed. The first two maybe still require the later. I can only say this story deeply appealed to my darker side.
In case you hadn't noticed this series revolves around a love story, but a bit of an odd one. No surprise there for a YA book. The friendship between Deryn and Alek that began in Leviathan has unleashed feelings of a more complicated nature... at least for one of them. Deryn still manages to keep her gender a secret from Alek, but not from all others. And despite the obvious direction her feelings are leading her she continues her ability to conceal that particular secret from even herself.
Oh, and the world is still at war too providing an opportunity for further excitement. This time around the Clankers and Darwinists vie for the allegiance of the Ottoman empire. Our intrepid heroes find themselves separated for a time pursuing their own paths as they try to find their own place in the world as anyone their age longs to. Inevitably their paths reunite them in Istanbul. Here Westerfeld decides to take a further detour from history and throw Deryn and Alek into a hotbed of revolution that just may lead the Ottomans down a different path from the one we read about in our history books. Ever the loyal midshipman, Deryn focuses on finding a way to use the events to fulfill her duty to king and country while staying loyal to her friends. Alek seeks an opportunity to use what resources are left to him to aid a cause he can believe in.
Their enterprises are exuberantly related yet again by Alan Cumming, still one of the best readers I have had the pleasure to listen to.
Robert Harris brings Rome to life. I am familiar with the more well known names are associated with the time of the end of the Roman republic and the birth of the empire. Others were just names I occasionally heard about. They are all portrayed vividly here, and I think the success of the book is due largely to Harris selection for the story's narrator, Marcus Tullius Tiro, slave and personal secretary to Cicero.
Harris is clear that this is a novel. It is a not a historical narration. It is the story of a man as told by an admirer. Many years after Cicero's death, Tiro relates the story of his master as he witnessed it. Tiro is an entirely sympathetic character; skilled in his craft, indispensible confidant to his master, as close to a member of Cicero's family as his station will allow, dreaming of the day of his own promised freedom; it is through his eyes that we become eavesdroppers on the events of this era with which his master becomes embroiled.
The story delves into politics and legal matters of the time and drips with intrigue, but it is not quite a mystery or a thriller. After all, we are dealing here with well known historical figures in events that are well documented. The outcomes are not unknown. The question is not so much what will happen, but how it will unfold for us in this story. The story Tiro relates is that of a socially awkward but brilliant Cicero who learns the skills of rhetoric, establishes himself as a lawyer, marries his way into the senate, and doggedly embarks on a journey to make a name for himself. Cicero comes across as a man as unabashed in his quest for power and prestige (specifically what the Romans called imperium) as he is sincere in championing the highest of Roman ideals. It is inevitable that he is faced with choosing between the two at times or else finding creative ways to marry them. But if that were not the case, we would not have nearly as compelling a story.
As for the novel's historical offerings, it is replete with details of senate procedures, legal maneuvers, and campaigns and elections that political junkies will like. I have no particular interest in Roman legal matters, but I found these to be juicy ornaments that made the story more colorful. The main historical value I found in the novel was the way it presented the conflict among the factions of aristocracy and between the aristocratic and the plebian interests. Knowing what is to follow, I can appreciate how what characters in the story do to manipulate these to their own interest plays into the events that ultimately lead to the fall of the republic.
First things first. It took quite a bit to get past the change in reader from the first book. I was merely disappointed in the beginning, since he didn't seem bad, just not as good a Stefan Rudnicki. However, I gradually became angry as he butchered the pronunciations of some names. He seemed to think that that the last syllable of certain names had to be dragged out for an extra beat or two and end in a snarl. What was more perplexing was that he didn't do this consistently. Thankfully, I think someone must have intervened since this habit diminished as the book went on. What still remained was the reader's insistence on portraying many characters in either a sniveling or raspy voice or some combination of the two.
I am glad I plodded through. I was quite satisfied with the story Iggulden weaves. He has a skillful way of portraying epic events through the eyes of a few compelling participants. In this second book, he has chosen to expand the collection of protagonists. Characters who previously mattered only in their relation to Genghis, such as his bothers, now come into their own. We are also introduced to new heroes and villains. The interactions between people around Genghis, especially his immediate family, become more complex as does Genghis' own relations with them. I do regret, though, that Borte and Hoelun, who played important roles in the first book, diminished in prominence in this book. The effect of all this is that the story seems to be evolving from the story of Genghis to the story of the burgeoning Mongol empire itself. In that sense, the title seems a bit of a misnomer, but I have no complaint. Anyone who expected this book to be the story about Genghis in his middle years will still find some of that; he is still central to the arc of the story after all, but the book aims to be much more. For me, it succeeds.
Stefan Rudnicki is one of my favorite narrators. I chose this book for a listen primarily for that reason. He drew me into the story as he always does. No surprise there. The Mongol names and terms especially seem to flow naturally from his tongue. And I always admire how he can alter his mesmerizingly deep voice as required for different characters.
Having recently listened to a number of young adult stories (including Ender's Game, also narrated by Rudnicki), this book seemed almost to be a continuation of the trend. As the title suggests, this book begins like a coming of age story about the boy Temujin and ends with his metamorphosis into Ghengis, khan of several tribes.
Temujin is truly a captivating character. I was quite taken aback by the mountain of obstacles put against him and the ferocious courage, vision and key allies it required merely to survive at all. In fact I was so skeptical I did a little research on my own afterward to settle the truth of it in my mind. Satisfied that the facts were essentially true (in afterward the author also explains what he altered for purposes of the story), in retrospect I then found the story to be an even more captivating depiction of what the life must have been like in the family and tribes of Temujin and not just an enthralling story. It is a portrait of a people who value loyalty, honor and courage but who must also reconcile this with the ambition of the strong and the harsh necessities of an utterly unforgiving world.
I love a good mystery as much as anyone although I don't often read strict mystery stories. I am a fan of historical fiction, however, so this book appealed to me as a convenient way to get back into mystery reading. I have to say I was a bit disappointed. The murder of a king's emissary in a monastery considered for dissolution is plausible enough to get things going, but as the story unfolded I did not find very many sympathetic characters to keep me interested. Our sleuth, Matthew Shardlake, is fairly cast as a complex character, with realistic strengths and foibles, but I found I never really developed much sympathy for him. I found the monastery's infirmist to be the most fascinating character. He had the most exotic and mysterious background of all the characters and was the only one I cared to keep guessing about his role in the whole affair. The other characters seemed a despicable lot I lost all interest in. Their only value seemed to be to cast Shardlake in a better light by contrast.
I didn't care for the narrator, but honestly that seems due more to my taste than his ability. The narration came across as quite proper and formal, only it never seemed to excite me or draw me into the story. The only real fault I can find is with the women's dialog, which seemed to me to be downright comical at times.
As for the historical elements, the story did convey a good sense of the conflict King Henry's reformist policies might have created among his subjects at the time. There was not much in the way of specific historic details about this. It came out mainly in the way the fictional characters thought and behaved. Beyond the basics set out in the beginning of the story, what specific historic details that did come to light came mainly in the second half as Shardlake pursued one avenue of investigation relating to actual figures caught up in recent royal intrigue. That seemed to offer a sweet blend of real facts and literary liberties, and it was the part I found most worthwhile. But in the end I only finished the story to put it behind me. I can't say that it was truly a bad book, but it left me unsatisfied and uninterested in reading any more of the series.
I long enjoyed the type of science fiction that eventually came to fall under the umbrella called Steampunk, but I have not always been satisfied with those newer books explicitly written as Steampunk after the genre gained popularity. Leviathan is a happy exception. It features some classic Steampunk icons (airships, mechanical contraptions, alternate history, etc.) but it also features a fascinating concept unusual for Steampunk, technology based on biological engineering. That concept has been explored before in science fiction, but in Leviathan it becomes the central organizing principle of entire societies, the "Darwinist" nations, in opposition to societies built around mechanical technology, the "Clanker" nations. The difference in the choice of technologies is not just superficial. They are based on and also perpetuate fundamentally different world views of the two types of societies. Those perspectives inform the character development and character interactions throughout story.
At its heart Leviathan is the story Deryn/Dylan, the teenage Darwinist commoner who conceals her gender to pursue a dream of serving in the British Air Service, and Alek, the young Clanker aristocrat shunned by a family that rules an empire but who is caught up in their machinations that have brought the world to war. It is through the compelling story of these two and their foes and allies that we are introduced to the imaginative world that Scott Westerfeld has created. The world he has fashioned is an historical alternate of ours that diverged in the mid 1800s and continued to evolve until his story introduces us to it on the eve of World War I. The story and the world he imagines could have very well been set instead in some entirely fictional place. I still would have found it enjoyable. The element of alternate history only added to the story's interest for me. It was made more vivid by the pepperings of details drawn from Westerfeld's historical research.
And if all this wasn't enough, I found Alan Cumming's narration absolutely riveting and delightful. He breathes life into the dialog and narrates like a master story teller.
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