When I purchased this classic Jules Verne text, I was looking forward to exploring the oceans of the world beneath the waves with James Frain, an actor whose work I have enjoyed for more than a few years. Imagine my disappointment when listening to this masterpiece of writing, only to discover that Frain's performance was not the aural feast I had hoped for.
Frain apparently had immense difficulty pronouncing a significant number of words in the book. (e.g. Anemone.) At first I thought it was my imagination that a phrase here and there was overdubbed, but as the incidences persisted I realized that not only were there a great many words he had mispronounced, but that the corrections were read in by someone other than Frain!
Additionally, Frain's reading of the book is horribly uneven... The first part is rushed and flat, almost as if he were engaged in a reading race. Now, I will admit that I have become spoiled by Davina Porter's reading of the Outlander series, but the decision to read Ned Land with a Yorkshire accent??? He sounds like he's imitating Sean Bean! It's Ned *LAND* not Ned Stark! Ned Land's character is Canadian, not from Northern England. And that is the only character whose performance has a distinct voice. Conseil's voice is indistinguishable from that of Prof. Aronnax, the narrator in the piece, and Nemo's voice is likewise lackluster, sounding stiff and bland.
By the time we get to the second part of the book Frain finally starts reading at a more reasonable pace, and with more feeling. Unfortunately, his voice has also become hoarse, and the transition from headlong-and-flat to reasonable-and-with-feeling-but-scratchy is so abrupt as not to be believed.
All that said, it is still Jules Verne, and that may be the only saving grace for this audiobook. But given the shoddy performance Frain delivers in this work I will be hard-pressed to ever download a reading by him again.
The Discworld has many endearing characters, some frivolous, others ridiculous, and quite a few ironic to the point of absurdity. But of all the repeating characters in this twisted universe spawned from Terry Pratchett's mind, DEATH is one of my favorites.
Reaper Man provides all the classic silliness one would expect from a Discworld novel, complete with wannabe-upwardly-mobile vampires, zombie support groups for the dead-but-not-quite-gone contingent, and a reverse wolfman who is a wolf three weeks a month and a man the rest of the time. And let us not forget the last surviving banshee on the Disc who is so afflicted with a speech impediment that he scribbles his wails on a note and slips them under the door.
But these are just the supporting characters to DEATH, keeper of time and reaper of souls. Reaper Man is DEATH's story, filled with surprisingly tender moments scattered amidst the shenanigans at which Pratchett excels.
The skeleton of the plot (sorry!) is that DEATH gets a performance review by cosmic auditors, and they hold that he has developed too much of a personality to do the job properly. In lieu of a golden watch, they give him a golden lifetimer for his retirement. The story then follows his (mis)adventures in dealing with the basics of living, along with sub-plots surrounding the side-effects that crop up on a magical world where everything has stopped dying and the excess life force builds up all over the place. The results are predictably explosive.
What gives the story its greatest appeal (to me, at least), is that Pratchett manages to imbue DEATH with a mixture of naivete, worldliness, nobility and innocence. DEATH understands much about the way the universe of the Discworld operates, but he is hopeless when it comes to giving a woman flowers. He takes pride in collecting souls efficiently, but he is neither cruel nor heartless. He understands the necessity of his job, but there is respect and a surprising degree of empathy from someone who suffers from a severe lack of emotion. Other books have touched on these traits, but in Reaper Man they are given center stage.
As in other Discworld readings by Nigel Planer, Planer narrates and performs the story with keen appreciation for the absurdity and pathos, bringing to life nuances in Pratchett's writing that I have missed when reading Discworld novels on my own. It also seems that Planer's repertoire of accents and vocal technique improves with each book. Since Reaper Man is the eleventh in the series, he has had ample opportunity to hone his skills such that his reading carries you into the story with grace and ease.
In short, Reaper Man is pure Pratchett at his best, blending the silly and the serious in more or less equal measure, and Planer is the perfect conduit to Pratchett's world, in all its strangeness and wonder.
I've discovered my tendency to get attached to specific readers, so I was only partly surprised when my initial reaction to Celia Imrie's reading of Equal Rites was irritation. I had become accustomed to Nigel Planer's voice when immersing myself in the Discworld, but as the aural pages turned I realized the propriety of having a woman read this volume. The protagonists are women, after all, and somehow I don't think that Nigel would have personified Granny Weatherwax as well as he manages Rincewind, et al.
As always, Terry Pratchett has me laughing out loud so often that people around me look at me strangely (or is it only that they think I'm strange enough to warrant more attention than a deranged ant..? Whatever...). And it seems that after a bit, Celia warmed up to the material and got a better grasp of the characters.
By the time I was done with the book I felt the all-too-familiar sadness of moving on and leaving behind a narrator who had become a pleasant part of my routine.
After watching the HBO production of A Game of Thrones, I bought and have listened to all the available books in the series. This one is my least favorite of the bunch. Although I love many of the characters (and hate many of the villains), this book is a classic case of overwriting and poor editing.
Circe's descent into paranoia and misuse of power is predictable and adds little to the progression of the story overall. We knew it was coming - it was obvious within the first half of the first book. We don't need to have every last tiny, insignificant detail of her incompetence and lust for power explored. The net result is both tiresome and pedantic. (Reminds me of the fight scenes in the second and third Matrix movies.... ) Circe's eventual arrest for treason and humiliating walk through the city should have taken place within the first third of the book, not in the latter part. After reading through page after page of her self-obsessed and short-sighted megalomania, her fall was a blessed relief.
Similarly, the struggles of Daenerys in Meereen is so fraught with endless details and arguments as to be mind-numbing. I don't *need* to read every debate and argument in the Meerenese court to know that Daenerys is never going to fit in there. It isn't until the last chapter that Daenerys' story line gets interesting again, restoring her to an active relationship with her dragons. Then it all ends in yet another cliff-hanger. The overall result is less than satisfying.
Based on Martin's history, I think it's a fair bet that we're looking at several years before the next volume in the series is released. I only pray that the old gods and the new will make sure that he gets someone to edit this next book effectively.
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