Bryce Courtenay is a gifted storyteller and Humphrey Bower is one of the best narrators on Audible, so it's hardly surprising that this is one of those books you just can't put down until it's finished. It's also historically very interesting, providing a wealth of information about the situation and events of the Pacific War that I wasn't yet aware of, and just for that it is definitely worth reading.
Even so, it does also have some annoying weaknesses. The main one is that the main character, who is also the first-person narrator of the story, simply isn't credible. I don't know if Courtenay himself ever saw active service in war, and if he did I apologize in advance. However, it doesn't seem even remotely believable that a man could go through the horrific wartime experiences described and still remain basically the same insouciant, happy-go-lucky young man he was at the beginning of the story. Even internally, they hardly seem to touch him. It doesn't ring true, and that lessens the impact of the story as a whole.
The resulting effect is of an author retelling a story that he has heard but was not involved in himself. It is as if he is seeing his characters from the outside, and knows nothing of how they really felt about what they experienced. It is still an excellent story, but if that missing depth had been there it would have been a much, much better novel.
This is a very well written book, streets ahead of most works dealing with sensitive subjects like this. Unfortunately, that doesn't save it for me. The problem is that the people the author writes about are all tediously boring and uninteresting, and infantile to the point of dementia. It would be fine if these depictions were there as representations of the protagonist's tormentors. The problem is, the book is entirely devoted to them, to the point that one cannot help but think that the protagonist has become one of them and is now just as fascinated by their empty lives as they are. I'm not even a little bit interested in their empty lives, and there wasn't enough of the protagonist as a real person to offset that. As a result, the book was so stultifyingly boring I fond it impossible to stand more than a few hours of the first novel.
The performance of the narrator is adequate, but all the people involved except the protagonist are so monstrously unpleasant that it is also really difficult to listen to.
This could have been a good book. There are some excellent ideas, and the author is capable of writing well and clearly has a lot of detailed and accurate knowledge about the Middle Ages to work with. Unfortunately, the execution makes it so tedious that it negates all the good material the author had to work with.
The main problem is that almost everything is massively over-written. It is like those B-class documentaries on TV, where they take two hours to reveal what is really a tiny snippet of information, and when it finally comes out you feel annoyed because it turns out to be not that interesting anyway. I normally love long books, and at 26 hours this one is actually short by my standards, but it is still much, much, much too long. I found myself constantly wanting to shout at the author, "Please just get to the point already, it's been clear where this is going for the last hour at least!"
This is compounded by the fact that the filler material adds nothing to the story, it is effectively just pointless meandering. When Charles Dickens or Susanne Clarke go off on a tangent for several pages you love it, because they enrich their story or their characters or take you off on a wonderful side journey that is simply delightful. Here, not so much.
And then there are the characters and the narrator. There is generally nothing wrong with having a couple of stupid people in your story. They add realism and provide an excellent source of friction. However, when every single character in a book is almost painfully stupid it makes the unfolding of the story tortuous and aggravating. Even the heroine is infantile and almost retarded, although she is supposed to be a post-graduate with time travel experience.
All this, in turn, is made worse by the narrator. It is not that she is a bad narrator; on the contrary, she is very good. She has just made some terrible, terrible choices on how to portray her characters. The heroine's voice makes her sound like a twelve-year old schoolgirl terrified of getting into trouble. All the Oxford University staff members' voices are a kind of Bertie Wooster parody of pompous, choleric, upper-class Englishmen of advanced age and decidedly limited mental faculties. The voices make it impossible to focus on what they are saying, because the primary message you are receiving from the voice is, "this character is an insufferable, pompous idiot". Listening to them bumbling about, misunderstanding everything, flying into juvenile rages every ten seconds and talking to each other in these voices is like a kind of audible, Oxford version of a Keystone Cops movie. The other voices are not much better.
Again, this could have been a much better book. Unfortunately, it was not to be.
I fail to understand the positive reviews of this book. I normally love historical fiction and was hoping for something like Umberto Eco, C.J. Sansom or Robert McCammon. I struggled through two hours of it and found nothing at all to make me continue listening. At least by that point in the story, the author failed to introduce a single interesting character or story line. Just endless trivia related by uninteresting people. I'm sure it's well researched historically, but for me at least, that alone does not make a novel worth reading.
Obviously, I'm missing something, but it's really not for me. Complete waste of a month's credit.
Other reviewers have already commented in detail on the author's lack of understanding or even interest in the science and technology involved. If you boil it all down, she got one interview with an unnamed engineer from Area 51 with some potentially new information and then padded it out with irrelevant but occasionally interesting declassified information to create a "book".
The trouble is that even this one tidbit of "new" information is patently ludicrous from beginning to end -- making any little green men stories look credible by comparison. It's either disinformation or the engineer was pulling her chain or she made the whole thing up. Others have already commented on the many holes in the story, but the real elephant in the room is one simple question that the author never asks: If Soviet Russia under Stalin had a flying machine with a revolutionary new power plant that enabled it to perform like a UFO, why did Russia never use this technology? Why did they go on building Vostok rockets, MiG fighters, Antonov transporters and Kamov helicopters? Why didn't they equip the Vietnamese and their other proxies with these machines, which would have enabled them to win any conflict with ease? Come on.
I love historical fiction but this one just didn't work for me. Perhaps because I recently finished the first two volumes of Ken Follet's new trilogy (Fall of Titans, Winter of the World), which are in a completely different class. I'm sure that Wouk's book made fascinating reading in the period shortly after World War II, but now it's just a little flat and probably dated. The characterization is on the level of Bonanza or The Waltons, and I just couldn't find it in myself to be interested in these shallow and really rather uninteresting people, particularly since the focus is so much more on their story than on the actual history of the War.
This is an outstanding, well-written and fascinating book with a perfect narration by John Lee. The only thing that is frustrating about it is that it tries to cover too much in a single volume. It would have been much better as a series of as many as ten novels. The material is there, and the author is easily up to the task: The characters, background, dialog, exposition and everything else are all wonderful. But as soon as you get familiar with a group of characters the story suddenly moves on a hundred years and you have to get used to another group. After every little episode I had the feeling of being short-changed.
In a way, it's more like a historical docu-drama than a novel. But that's not quite right either, because it really does have the quality of a novel; or rather, of a series of frustratingly unfinished novels. This feeling gets heightened towards the end, where I started to get the feeling that the author was getting a little tired of the project. The whole story of Julius Caesar and his murder was much too perfunctory, with much less introduction and background than many of the other episodes.
This is a good book and I'm not sorry I read it,but it could have been much, much better. And that's a pity.
Paul Scott's Raj Quartet series is a timeless classic about the British rule in India and its ignominious end. I enjoyed listening to the first volume so much that I bought the second without listening to a sample. Big mistake.
I have experienced my share of poor narrators on Audible but never ever anything as bad as this. The problem is not the narrator's ability but his voice, and the emotion it conveys. No matter what the narrator is saying, he always sounds snotty, arrogant and condescending. Even the most simple, factual sentences sound like scathing insults. What is even worse for this book is the fact that this narrator's voice is the epitome of everything that Paul Scott criticizes about the British rule in India. It is the voice of the narrow-minded, pig-headed, racist British upper class who despise everything and everyone that does not belong to their tiny elite club. It is the exact opposite of everything for which Paul Scott's wonderful work stands and speaks out. It is like having a production of the Diary of Anne Frank narrated by the voice of a German World War II radio newscaster.
Choosing Richard Brown to narrate this book is probably the most egregiously inappropriate decision in the entire history of audio book publishing. He manages to completely destroy it and its message.
I bought this on a whim, having never heard of it or Scott Turow before. Man, had I missed something. I greatly enjoy the legal thriller genre, even though I haven't read all that many of them. This was far and away the best I have ever read, made even better by Edward Herrmann's literally pitch perfect narration. I've never heard him narrate before, but he ranks right up there with the greats like John Lee and Simon Prebble.
All the characters are beautifully drawn and credible, brought to life by the wonderful narration. It's also really a pleasure to read a book that has been so carefully crafted in every detail, backed up by what is apparently really thorough research and familiarity with the subject matter.
It's almost impossible to really write anything about this book without creating a spoiler, so I'll just say: If you enjoy first-class, intelligent and suspenseful legal fiction get this book. It's brilliant, and I literally couldn't stop listening until I'd finished. And now I'm sorry that I didn't make it last longer, which is always a pretty sure sign of an outstanding read.
This was at least as good as the first volume in the series, possibly better. I'm hoping that all the historical information was accurate, because it was fascinating, including much that I did not know about the lead-up to World War II and what happened afterwards. Obviously it's impossible to cover everything in such an epic period in history in a novel of any length, but Follet does an excellent job of showing the War from the perspectives of many people in different parts of the world and on different sides. It also made me understand my parents' generation and appreciate what they lived through a lot better.
John Lee's narration was generally excellent, as always. I only subtracted one star because it really wouldn't have taken all that much effort to learn the pronunciation of the simple German words and names that appear in the story, which where often embarrassingly incorrect.
...and throw away the key!
If you love Westeros and its history you will still finish this book, because you must, but you will hate every horrible minute of it, and your anger at the narration will grow and grow and grow. Roy Dotrice's performance is as bad as his narration of the first three books was brilliant. In fact, it is so abominably bad that I can only guess that it was intentional: That he didn't want to do the job, was sick of the books and felt forced into doing it, and decided to ruin the performance as revenge. The only other explanation would be that he has contracted Parkinson's or had a stroke, and has thus forgotten everything he knew before, but as far as I can see that is not the case. What I cannot understand is how the producers could allow this travesty of a performance to reach publication.
Most of the time Dotrice abandons even a pretense of trying to deliver voices for his characters. For example, conversations between Jamie and Cerce are conducted with identical voices for both characters and the narration, and none of the voices are even remotely like the ones he used before. The brilliant characterizations he produced for wonderful minor characters like Dolorous Ed are simply gone. Samwel Tarly's perfect voice is gone. All the other voices are gone. Almost every single name is pronounced so differently that you often have no idea that you actually already know the character being referred to. Even normal reading is sloppy and slapdash and sometimes not even really English. In a passage I just listened to Dotrice pronounced a reference to a group of crossbowmen as "cross bowmen", making it sound as though they were in a bad temper. His lack of interest and distaste in his work are palpable in almost every sentence.
Unfortunately, Dotrice's miserable narration is compounded by the fact that this is the first weak book in the series (so far as I can judge, I haven't read the fifth yet...). George Martin's only real weakness as a writer is a tendency to indulge in unnecessary rambling exposition and detours into endless sidelines and side-stories, and this has gotten out of hand in this volume. There would be nothing wrong with the side-stories if they were interesting in their own right, but so far they aren't. Nothing really happens, and this is described at great, great length, with all the suspense of a thousand-page phone book. I often drift off and miss entire paragraphs but it doesn't seem to matter much because nothing worth listening to was happening in most of them.
I'm hoping that this is going to get better, and I'm going to finish the book and the next volume as well, because I must, but at the moment I'm horribly disappointed.
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