What other reviewers said is true; Ruby Red is not a novel, just the beginning of one. It's not that it ends in a cliffhanger--it doesn't--or that it sets up a sequel too obviously. It's that nothing happens, there's no arc, just a slow build-up and then a prologue. Imagine the Hunger Games ending before Katniss stepped in the arena or when she's in but only just begun. Imagine Pride and Prejudice ending with Jane's sickness.
The time travel mystery seems overwrought so far. Gwyneth, a 16-year old time traveler, somes some spirit and intelligence, but needs the assistance and is therefore apparently bound to an organization of a bunch of sinister old men, a few women, and her fellow time-traveller, an older boy. At this point it doesn't seem like she's making many choices. This is not pure time travel. Visions, ghosts, telepathy, and apparently alchemy and magic all play parts in this world.
The reader's voice and style were metallic and mechanical to my ears, a little grating and not a great choice for a dramatic narration in the voice of a teenaged girl.
I love the series, but Throne of Jade is pretty skippable, one of the weaker entries; I skipped it earlier and came back to it, and honestly, it could have stayed skipped. From the events in the subsequent books, I'd have thought what happened to get them to China and their discoveries there would be monumental, but this is not the case. The Chinese experience is much more movingly felt as Laurence and Temeraire come back to the West and interact with Europeans again.
Throne of Jade does set up or foreshadow some events later in the series, which might have made it more interesting if read in order.
Simon Vance has a lovely voice, but he bores me to the point I never want to finish a book he's reading. That's never been more clear than here, with a series I know I love on paper. While not being literally monotonous, he somehow manages to actively repel me. I suspect a cadence thing - he just keeps going at the same pace, doing voices but not adding beats or speeding up or letting speeches and events have their own meaning and rhythm. In this book, I also dislike his character voicings.
Laurence is always an unreasonably gentlemanly officer, with a stick up his backside, but when I read him he seems passionate and caring, and occasionally deeply torn on a point of honor. And he's being slowly, insinuatingly, hopelessly corrupted by his dragon. In Vance's reading all I hear is the stick; he sounds old and red-faced and blustery, like a naval officer in an Austen novel.
Vance's Temeraire is a little breathy and snakelike, which is not a bad interpretation, as dragons are kind of serpentish, but he doesn't capture the dragon's charm and humor -- all the wheedling, the naivete, the unabashed battle-lust and materialism and the earnest efforts to follow Laurence's very high mores.
Many people seem to really love Vance; this is just a minority report and a dissent with his choices for this book.
I'd rather have spent the time to read it myself. Often narration adds to a book that might be weak, but in this case, the narrator's take on characters I already loved came between me and the book.
To be fair, I expected southern comfort food. This is more like southern gothic. The mystery is unmemorable, but savagely bloody, just inexplicably brutal. The retired sisters were not comfort-food type southern ladies, more like Scarlett O'Hara all grown up, the sort of infuriating person who gets the vapors at the thought of blood, but is otherwise completely unaffected by a gruesome murder of an acquaintance. The second they're over the vapors they start playing power games with the sheriff because they don't like him. They carry on planning the renovation and re-opening of the bar, playing matchmaker, and shopping for clothes. The ostensibly more level-headed one gets all gooey over a handsome politician.
The mystery is bizarre. The murders are so violent as to imply something really horrible behind them. There's foreshadowing or the appearance of clues that are never followed up on, and the secrets at the bottom of it all, which our detectives never really figure out, but have to be told in two long narrations, hardly merit the crime at all. I still don't understand the whos and whys of some of the deaths.
I thought this was a historical romance series, but it must be the least romantic one ever. Is it supposed to be literary BDSM fare, some sort of better-written Fifty Shades? I only made it about halfway through before giving up in disgust. The style is not terrible, but the characters, especially the heroine, are awful.
Our heroine is a mostly-unconcerned bigamist, marrying after six weeks of time travel. Her chief antagonist and a sadistic tormentor in the past is the double of her 1940s husband. Her new 1740s husband gets a kick out of beating her with his belt, and she essentially acquiesces to his wisdom in doing so. He then basically says he'll rape her, except she gives in, so - not sure how we tally that one. Claire hadn't made much effort to get back to her time by the time I gave up, but she had been nearly-raped 3 or 4 times and there's been the one beating of her and several beatings or stories of beatings or other abuse of Jamie or other characters. It feels like she's a feckless wimp and our author is getting a kick out of brutalizing Claire a little and Jamie a lot.
I don't know what other people get out of this, but I didn't want to subject myself to 16 more hours. From what I've read since, it sounds like it just gets uglier.
Claire. And 1740s Randall.
I know it's a series about an assassin. Gin's retired now, and winds up involved in the lives of a family who are beset by a bad guy. I hope it's not a surprise that she ends up killing someone. I just really don't like how she immediately leaps to assassination as the only solution. She tries to explain how nothing else would work, and it's just incredibly weak and nobody calls her on it, not even the straight-arrow cop she's throwing herself at who has the disapproving hots for her. We live in a world where tough things are happening all the time, and a lot of problems are tough, and-we don't just decide to kill people. It was too close to a real-world problem to require this fantasy solution. This weakness together with Gin's ill-placed affections make her hard to respect. Is this a step on a path from amoral killer-for-hire to some sort of defender of the innocent, or is this all Estep has for us? I just didn't like this time with Gin enough to find out.
Estep uses a few repetitive phrases that grate pretty quickly. The goth dwarf and gin joint really need to be retired or used more sparingly. Find some other way to describe Sophia, for the love of all your readers.
It's hard to say why, but Fated felt long and never gripped me. Alex Verus doesn't have much personality and I really don't care about him. In a book full of characters, Verus seems to have no friends and no life and no feelings about what's happening. His divination gift is thought of as weak relative to other types of mages, but together with some tools and associates he ends up seeming overpowered, especially with the rules bounding his divination very fuzzily drawn. He sees multiple futures in some probabilistic spectrum, but he can't see past pure chance events or decisions other people haven't made yet. That description is hard to make sense of as he constantly looks at how antagonists will react to different revelations or conversational gambits.
At one point certain characters are in a trap that's supposed to be very unpleasant and, I think, deadly. We don't care about these characters, anyway. It's not clear how they got in there, and why one person escaped already, and why nobody is dead yet. It's the least threatening trap ever, especially once you hear how they get out. It takes a while, far too long for the minor amount of plot set up and character revealed here.
A different narrator may have been able to elevate or change the tone of the middling material. Jackson reads Alex in a clipped, didactic, flat voice, not adding much dimension even when there's humor. The youngish, nonconformist protagonist comes off as some serious bureacratic council wizard. Voices of different characters may blend together and start sounding the same even when they started off distinct; you can hear this in the dialog in the sample.
Fated might be more interesting written from Luna's point of view. It's really her story. The problem lands in her lap in the first place, and she holds a big chunk of the solution. She experiences multiple challenges, including a noncommital mentor who keeps calling her "good girl" and may also see her as a romantic interest. Luna has the more interesting revelation at the end of the book, and greater growth.
I hoped for a techno-thriller that was clever in its use of internet technology or its ideas about internet possibilities and implications. The premise and some of the use of tech is clever, but the characters' goals, motivations and reactions, any real ideas that should be there, are vague or missing.
The main antagonist is probably too powerful. Even if suspension of disbelief is not a problem, the Daemon's overwhelming strength leaves the story with no tension and nowhere to go.
What we're left with here is a mash-up of a weakish techno-thriller with a brainless summer blockbuster, say "The Net" meets "Transformers." Turns out they're not better together.
Remove the early rape scene which is wildly overcomplicated and has nothing to do with the plot or later character development, it's just an ugly, dangling piece of background scenery.
I'd also reduce some the action sequences, which are long and brutal and grisly and overblown and for me, boring. Like listening to an explicit play-by-play of an RTS or MMORPG playing session.
Neal Stephenson's REAMDE is to this book as a paragon 100 demon hunter is to a level 4 wizard: they're in the same game, but one is orders of magnitude better.
There are obvious differences in structure, but they weren't my main concern. Narration switches from Sookie's to other characters' perspectives, and we jump around in time a bit, neither of which I remember from other books. Still, when we were in Sookie's chapters the voice was definitely the Sookie I've come to love.
The real problems are plot and pacing.
There's a mystery or two around Sam that is resolved in the most rushed and ridiculous way. That plot just makes no sense, and I think it wouldn't have taken that much to close some of the holes in it.
Sookie's romantic situation also goes through certain changes without much import of romance or of loss, and that was disappointing. She's always had grace (Miranda Lambert take note) in painful situations, but here a lot of what must be painful and what must be happening in her heart is just not covered. Is she supposed to be numb? Aren't these basically romance novels? The denouement especially has a lot of shortcomings, and I stopped the book a couple of times in disbelief.
It might make more sense if I had the last novel fresh in my head. I remember liking it less than this, so I'm not about to go back, but if you haven't started this yet, maybe re-read the last book to get your head in the place Sookie's head is in before starting this.
Johanna Parker is fantastic as always. I look forward to listening to more books of hers. Despite the shortcomings in the middle, I listened to most of the book eagerly and am glad I revisited Bon Temps one last time.
These rich women's identites are totally tied up with their men and their china, and they're boring, and they don't get much better over the course of 13 long hours. Everybody repeats their past mistakes, their parents' mistakes, everybody's waiting for a convenient savior. It's hard to say characters are stiff for a romance novel, but they really aren't real. I can't believe I still have 40 minutes of this bloody book to listen to, when it could have been over several times already, sparing us a lot of the mystery that isn't a mystery at all, many stupid decisions, and a ton of china talk.
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