This is another among the solid, but basically middle of the road, Star Wars genre books. The entire "The Old Republic" series, while interesting as independent books, do not lead one to another in a typical series fashion -- each one is centered around new characters at a different point in time. Nevertheless, "Annihilation" does stand well on its own, and I very much appreciated that the main character's background is different from that which is most focused on in many Star Wars books. But it does not approach the epic quality of the more intimately connected series.
As for the narration, Marc Thompson continues to do a top job with Star Wars as always.
The story is interesting and has a few twists on some old themes, but this mainly seems like an extended introduction while hinting at a number of other things to come. Many prior reviews address the story itself, which is good and entertaining -- I look forward to the rest of the series.
However, I was less enthused by the narration. Personally I had a difficult time connecting -- enunciation was great, but a little too radio-announcer wanna-be for me. I kept envisioning a grad student dressed a little too sharply for himself, smiling broadly but emptily (if that's a word), and looking around for people who are supposed to like him. I think it took me longer to become engrossed in the story as a result, but as with almost every narrator I don't initially love, by the end of the book (and it is long), I had come to terms with it and lost my annoyance. There are some characters he does very very well!, unfortunately I'm not convinced the main character is among them. But if you don't like the first few minutes because of the narration, wait it out!
While those of Star Wars fandom should listen to this book, I found it largely forgettable. The general paucity of true character development may be why. We don't get many good glimpses into the underlying characters, but merely observe them go through somewhat predictable motions. That said, there is some redemption in the fact that it does fill in some of the gaps in the timeline and we do see a little more of the various machinations leading up to Episode I.
Powerful continuation of the series, packed with interest amidst the continued long yarns of sometimes confusing value -- a tremendous amount of time continues to be spent on details of uncertain significance, yet I still couldn't seem to stop listening. There's just quality all the way through, even when it's not clear whether a scene or a chapter have much of a role in the greater plot(s). But for those who pay attention, sometimes even the small things come back in some way or other. I remain awed. Anyone who thinks they have a good grasp of what is happening in this world, or what will happen, may yet again be surprised. As always, do not neglect any prologue or epilogue, in its proper time and place. Anyone who has been through the first two books, however, really shouldn't need to read a review to decide whether to move on to the next in this series.
Epic really isn't the right word. What this series encompasses is a different kind of vastness all its own, with characters often far more grey or black than pillars of heroic virtue. By this the second book of the series I'm already lost in what happened in what book, and there is a little intentional confusion of perspective and timing. One never seems to know how important a given scene is going to be in the bigger picture, and the picture already seems to be bounded only by what we think we know of the world -- a picture always just a bit in motion, no less, and to which a little (or a lot) more is added or smudged. I fear I may be ruined on more typical modern writing.
The performance remains a bit drunkard-old-man to me, regardless of the character. The predominantly British/European accents used suit very well, and I've come to think of Dotrice as a sort of kindly old black-sheep uncle, willing and pleased to read for me, but without a particularly wide range of ability. It does seem to suit the theme overall, but the women and children still sound like raspy old men like everyone else.
Clines takes the old themes of heroes and zombie apocalypses and merges them in an entertaining romp set in modern times, rolling out names of persons, places, events, etc. that pretty plainly mark the timeframe...somehow almost comically so. He goes back and forth a bit about how much he's playing with the whole thing, so at times there's a dark and gritty feel and at times there's more of a comical inside-joke air -- I would have preferred a little more of the former, though perhaps taking the theme too seriously would have ruined the thing. Overall the action keeps moving, and there are regular windows of insight to help put the characters and situations in perspective. I'm not a particular zombie-theme fan, but quite enjoyed the listen.
The performances are a little commercialized, for lack of a better term -- like a commercial announcer, wavering in loudness but not so much in personality. Even when cursing there wasn't a lot of tangible emotion, just car salesmanship. It also took a very long time for me to tell much of a difference among the characters beyond male & female, which are portrayed by 1 male & 1 female performers. It basically doesn't work when there are a lot of people talking around the same time because I just couldn't tell them apart beyond gender, but, that isn't a particularly common problem. Fortunately the book is written in such a way that this doesn't completely detract from the enjoyment -- I still look forward to getting the next book in the series!
Butcher merges two well worn themes in magic and old-school down-and-out private eye in crafting this world, which on the surface appears basically the same as our own. One of the difficulties in establishing magic in a world is how many rules to lay out in defining the bounds of magic -- too many and the magic becomes restricted and predictable, but too few and it can become a bit silly and far too easy of a fall-back. In this first book of the series, the only one I have listened to thus far, Butcher seems to hang onto the middle ground reasonably well, allowing some interesting unexpectedness while not quite falling into the trap of "anything goes, it's magic after all.." -- he offers the idea that there are bounds and explains a little, but doesn't give up all the mysteries. The style is not as gritty and mature as some, but not pre-teen either given some of the content; it might have been better served taking a slightly bigger step in one of those directions or the other. In all, an enjoyable, action packed book which both stands on its own and establishes substantial character background for the series, while introducing other things which are not completely explained.
The performance by Marsters took a little getting used to. Think of an old-school black and white detective show with quiet conversational narration, where the main character sounds perpetually weary or hung over, disinterested but obligated to keep going, at times even almost whispering. At times breathing and lip smacking can faintly be heard. While in a way overall it kinda mimicks that old detective style, it wasn't what I anticipated and didn't quite fit all the other characters. But by the end, for better or worse, I couldn't think of it being done any other way, and I still look forward to the next book in the series.
The depth and magnitude of this book, and this series, is staggering to the point of being difficult to follow for the first several chapters of this, the first book in the series. However, once the main groups, characters, and geography is laid out and grasped, the subtleties of the story become more apparent and intriguing. In contrast to other authors who tend to fall perhaps a little too much in love with certain characters, Martin evidently makes no apologies in showing a character's greatness and weakness from different perspectives, nor in spreading thin and sometimes confusing the traditional roles of protagonist and antagonist, and in so doing merely makes the characters and the story more gritty and believable. As for the audio narration, while Dotrice does a good job generating English/British Isles accents and voices for gravelly middle aged medieval men who have probably drunk too much, eaten too much, and shaved too little over their years, similar voices are applied to young teenage girls. Unfortunately, while there are certainly a goodly number of the former type characters in the book, there are also more than a few of the latter, and many key characters who are relatively young but don't sound like it. Still, as with many narrators, familiarity and continuity substantially mitigates that problem, and with each book I've seen being well over 30 hrs of narration there is plenty of time to develop familiarity. Overall, it remains an excellent book and the narration still lends itself to exactly the right "feel" -- as if winter is indeed coming.
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