I really liked the first two books in the series, but the last two seemed scattered and inconsistent. The underlying stories were still good, but the character development made it seem as though I was listening to a whole new story rather than one with previously established history. Also, Brennan continues to expand the realms, but they don't seem to fit coherently or smoothly with already existing realms... it's as if a great apartheid exists in the faerie world... but it comes off feeling more like a mere plot gimmick of convenience.
Worst of all is the narrator. Contrary to the claim, James Daniel Wilson does not perfectly voice this thrilling clash between good and evil. His character acting would be good, but he overembelishes them to the point of losing the heart of the character. i.e. Mr Fogarty sounds like a menacing old man, rather than the kind, yet grumpy, wise gatekeeper that he is. That mere mild criticism could be overlooked if it was the only issue. But In Mr Wilson attempts to over-act the character readings, he forgets that the author and his personal narrative is also a key character to be presented. Mr Wilson fails to ever provide the mood of the environment or situation when reading the descriptive, non-speaking aspects of the novel. You never get the feeling of whether you're in the palacial palace or a murderous dungeon. Mr Wilson's narration of these aspects are always pleasantly neutral--do not confuse that with monotone or boring--just neutral in a simple matter-of-fact manner.
Mr Wilson has potential, but he simply needs to keep in mind that the Novel itself is a character that needs life breathed into it as much as any one of the characters within the book. He's supposed to be Telling-the-Story, not merely reading the course of events. It's a novel, not a stage script.
This story was slow and boring for the first 8 hours of narration (think Atlas Shrugged without any significant plot advancement). It did begin to pick up some redeeming qualities in the latter third, but then simply fizzled down the home stretch. I would not be able to recommend this book no matter how hard I wanted to. I have enjoyed Heilein's other work: 'Stranger in a Strange Land' and 'Starship Troopers'. But this one just missed the mark, a rare instance where an abridgment would have actually been the better version.
The narration was good, I could have perhaps done without the Russian accent only because at times it made the words difficult to understand, but I still give the narrator favorable ratings as I understand that the character was indeed of Russian decent and the writing itself at times was written with a Russian inflection.
I found the story enjoyable with just enough hook to keep me wanting to know what happens next. But was mildly disappointed with only the partial conclusion/to-be-continued ending. I will have to say that while the narrator could have been worse, she read as though every sentence was like pulling teeth. Every sentence ended with a down note, so much so that I kept expecting to hear her qualify each sentence with a teenage: "or, you know, whatever". The narrator simply seemed to be keeping a seat warm and collecting a paycheck. I wouldn't have been surprised to even hear her sneak in an occasional "can I go now?". I guess that's a testament to the book itself, in that I was willing to persist through the teenage-droning, just so I could find out what would happen to Dorothy and company next; that and I find myself wanting to follow up with the next book to find out the full conclusion, in spite of the narration.
For comparison, the narrator's delivery reminded me so very much of female comedian, Kathleen Madigan. That kind of diction works as a comedic schtick, not so much in narration.
I tried to enjoy this book, I really did.
But the author spent so much of the book explaining his theories to the reader, and he did so in a manor as though the reader merely had the attention span or IQ of a gnat. This was one of those books where you felt that either the author just didn't think his reader could be smart enough to understand such high-tech lingo or that he was out to show the reader just how much smarter and cleverer he was; when the author should have concerned himself more with telling the actual, and preferably coherent, story. The book feels as though it was nothing more than originally a modest short-story/idea injected with a hyperbole of lectures in modern/future science (real or imagined). By the time I was half-way through, I began to wonder if the author was trying to be the next L Ron Hubbard and indoctrinate his readers into some sort of new religion that only he was smart enough to understand. What with all the amount of time explaining his theory instead of telling the story. At times, the book even read more like a reference manual than a novel.
Perhaps a minor kudos to Stephenson for envisioning the metaverse back in 1992. But even then virtual-reality was not that novel of a concept... The Neuromancer, The Lawnmower Man, and even Nintendo's Virtual Boy was on the sci-fi radar.
In the end, this book read more like an over-soaked diatribe than any good novel, and I was just unable to be entertained, enthralled, or captivated.
The overall writing and story was enjoyable. But I just cannot get into a story that has the protagonist so often getting pummeled into near death and utter submission, only to miraculously land a sucker-punch and turn the tables to save the day. How many times can your bones, joints, and connective tissue be torn, broken and shattered before the healing process reduces you to a limping arthritic old man before your time, especially in the midst of battle with creatures that are flat-out deadly when facing them at full health??? It just stretches the heroism-aspect to thin and places it on par with the metal-chair-to-the-face chicanery of professional wrestling. I expect more from my books... and the EPIC nature of EVERY encounter with the super-natural element would imply that the mortality/morbidity rate for the hunters would be just too high to ever maintain an actual hunting organization.
As for the narration, it was okay, with the exception of over-acting and zealous yelling of the narrator in times of stress. When will producers realize that most people listen with headsets and having someone yell directly into your ear is just not pleasing and yanks you right out of the fantasy. "macho-bravado" is not achieved by the volume of the voice but rather it's in the simple nuance of voice inflection.
I believe your enjoyment of this book will be determined by whether you've seen the movie before you read the book. I had, and some of the nuances were lost while reading. I see the story being a 4-5 star story from scratch and a 3-4 star story if you've been compromised by the movie.
With that said, the ending is different from the movie, and it can be cause for dissatisfaction. It is somewhat open-ended and left to interpretation. It may leave some unfulfilled. I initially felt this way, until I began to reflect on the "hints" in the story, and since came to a satisfying conclusion that elevated the book to that of an enjoyable read.
For those who struggle to find a meaning to the ending, may I offer my view... the man at the conclusion asks whether his visitor will stay or leave. It parallels the man's current predicament. So in as much as the man is immortal; I do not think it was the accident that caused his immortality. But his immortality was created at the first use of the machine. Other comments in the book discussed the separation of spirit from the earthly-shell and thereby hint to this possibile side effect of the machine. The visitor, having been through the machine as a child, is also immortal... this is what prompts the question of will you stay or leave (inferring a sympatico relationship between the two).
I also think that perhaps the man may have perpetually pretended to be an heir to his own estate through the ages, so that when Kate's father throws a young boy into the machine, it is in fact the man who is Kate's father and so he knows the boy will be unharmed and gifted with immortality; thereby ending the fued and making the families even... that's my threepence anyway.
... but not so much in a good way.
I love all of the other Eoin Colfer novels I've read: all of the Artemis Fowls, Half Moon Investigation, and The Supernaturalist. But this story just fell a bit flat. Early in the book during character introduction/development, the story bounced around quite a bit. Then once things settled into the story, it felt more like the story was simply happening to the main character, Daniel McEvoy, rather than him engaging and actively pursuing the next stage of the events. Much like those old cartoons where the sleeping character haphazardly meanders blindly from one hazard to the next, only to peacefully end up back in his bed with little knowledge as to the hijinks that had just occurred.
That's how this reviewer sees it anyways... just a bland story about the day in the life of a bouncer with hairplugs, where the solution to a murder mystery simply unfolds around him... sort of like "The Big Lebowski", except without any real "Dudeness" to speak of... ya know?
The writing was fine, but unless you are really into zombie stories or just a hardcore star wars fan, this story was terribly cliche, no unique star wars or zombie angle was presented.
But the worst part was the production value, while the narrarator was fine to good, there was two exceptions with the presentation:
1) When will audio producers learn that no one enjoys listening to over-dramatic human body noises??? i.e. coughs, gags, etc. Especially at equal or greater volume than the narration. It really can pierce a reader's ears.
2) The sound-effects and back ground music were horrible, recycled tripe that in no way fit the mood of the story... in what zombie chase, pursuit, or lurking does John Williams bouncy symphonic music from the original trilogies fit??? It doesn't. Instead, it pulls you right out of whatever suspense the author was attempting to build with his words and descriptions. The story needed something along the lines of Jaws or Friday the 13th, instead we get the music associated with Darth Vader walking down a hallway or an Ewok riding a speeder bike (neither of which occurs in the book, in case you were wondering). How do those established images jive with the images of ZOMBIES STALKING their prey??? Again, it doesn't.
Simply put, the story was good and could have been a four-to-five star rating...
But Butcher's insistence to continually have his so-called "wizard", Dresden, unable to muster nothing more than that on par with a "first-year" from Hogwarts... it simply turned a good story into a tedious and impotent endeavor.
And as the reader struggles to overlook that display of futility... you are given Lt. Murphy investigating wolf-like killings and where in that process she is witness to actual werewolves... upon which Mr. Butcher's "great detective" and friend to the paranormal is STILL found attempting to arrest Dresden, the NON-WEREWOLF wizard?!?!. And she decides to do this while there is a confirmed CRAZED werewolf in the neighborhood still unaccounted for?!?! So there's a full-moon werewolf on the prowl, and Dresden is the person Murphy feels most compelled to point her gun at... Really?!?!?
Fool Moon, indeed.
The story found within Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is excellent (four to five stars), but all too often one is left with the notion that the book could have been better served with an editor and/or an abridgement. Listening to this story was like sitting next to the talkative stranger on a train, the one ever so eager to tell you of their adventures, but all too often jumps from here to there with needless distractions to the actual story they are attempting to convey. It's as if Susanna Clarke imagined that this was the only book that she might ever have published, so she included every little mind-wandering short-story she prosed during the grander pursuit of developing the actual tale of one Jonathan Strange and one Mr. Norell.
Too many times, I felt compelled to poke the narrator with a stick as to spur him back onto the path of the actual story--which was no fault of the narrator, but rather simply the pace and meandering of the written story. As narrators go, I was quite pleased with Simon Prebble performance.
While the story could have left me eager for a sequel, the plodding pace left me ever so reluctant.
...while being narrated like a 1930's Detective Novel.
All-in-all an enjoyable listen, but by attempting to bridge the various styles, it tends to remain a little rough around the edges. Seems like it would make a better movie, than a book... a sequel-in-spirit perhaps to something akin to the "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow".
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