I read pretty much everything Chalker wrote back in the 80's as a teen, and enjoyed this series then as well. I sort of expected that I would find it more childish or unsophisticated reading it as an adult. I was completely wrong. Still an excellent book, and definitely his best series. Wonderful character development, a highly original plot, and the voice acting and recording quality are excellent as well.
I read most of Chalker's work back in High School, and requested that Audible make it available (as I'm sure did others). Chalker does speculative SF very well, and has a lot of creative ideas in his books. While certainly some of it is derivative, most of his books are far less derivative than most other authors, and he has a lot of ideas which are uniquely his. This particular series, while voice-acted very well, isn't my favorite (though I had to listen to it again to realize that). His other series, like the Well of Souls, are much more creative and interesting IMHO. Don't get me wrong, this series isn't bad, and like his other books, his universes are well thought out and self consistent. I just found myself getting a little bored as I listened through this series.
The story is quite well written with good character development and a decent writing style. The voice-acting is excellent. However, the technical side of things seems fairly poorly thought out. Suspension of disbelief is invoked many more times than necessary in this book, in many places seemingly out of laziness. The space battle scenes seem to lack a sense of the actual size of space, and space battles seem more like naval/air battles. For example, a space ship with wings so it can work in atmosphere as well, which seems to go from zooming around the canyons on a moon or the planet's surface back into orbit in a matter of a few seconds, then sweeping graceful arcs through space. While I confess, this is no worse than some of the SF in Star Wars, it feels a little disappointing on this front. Also, as mentioned by others, the book is steals pretty liberally from The Last Starfighter and Star Wars. As a character study, it's good, and it would probably make a decent summer movie, but don't go in expecting anything vaguely like hard SF.
Is should start by saying that, not realizing it was the middle of a series, I did start out of order. However, I didn't feel lost, and it was pretty easy to pick up the back-story. While it is fairly well written and is well performed, it just wasn't all that exciting. The science/magic wasn't all that clearly developed, making it mostly about the characters (which can still be fine). I just found myself not caring all that much about them. It was fine, and I finished reading it through the end, but didn't really have much of an inclination to read the others in the series.
Based on the cover art from this series, I was a little afraid it would turn out to be some sort of romance novel (which I do not read) with some sci-fi fantasy tweaks thrown in. Never fear, this is a solid fantasy series, with a very imaginative interpretation of real-world mythology and a good self-consistent set of rules for magic, gods, etc. They are action-packed with good character development, and very solid voice-acting in the audiobook version. I immediately continued with the rest of the series after reading this one. PS - If you are devoutly religious (regardless of the religion), you may not find it quite as enjoyable, as it certainly pokes fun at the idea of any one religion being correct.
I first read these tech/magic crossover books as a teen in the 80's, but it still translates quite well. While the computer tech is a bit dated, those of us who grew up in the dawn of the computer age can still appreciate it, and it's a minor aspect of these mostly-fantasy/mystery books anyway. Great character development, and a very good mystery plotline to pull it all together. Don't expect a tremendous amount of detail in the workings of magic in her universe, but what there is holds together very well. Well worth the read.
I first read this in high school at the recommendation of an english teacher who didn't really care for it, but thought I probably would. She was right. I reread it (or listen to it) now every few years. If you believe in the greatness of human achievement and of the human mind, and have not read this, you should. Give it a little time, it is a massive book, and starts rather slowly.
I have listened to a (non-audible) performance of this book by a different narrator, and this one is superior in my mind. I have not listened to the other available audible reading.
It is not physically possible to listen to this in one sitting.
While I have enjoyed Stephenson's other books, some of the other reviews left me with doubts. After reading this book I conclude it's a true masterpiece. The book mixes philosophy and physics in a compelling way. The development of the language (commented on by other reviewers) rapidly grows on you, and in the end is critical in establishing the reality of the world he portrays (despite being a bit punny at times). While the book isn't fast paced, it contains a layering of mysteries which are resolved at just the right pace, giving the story a real sense of depth and breadth. If you are after a fast-paced action novel, look elsewhere, but if you find slightly deeper books that bring philosophy mathematics and physics into play, you will enjoy this book. As a footnote, the narration is excellent, and a real pleasure to listen to.
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