I bought this because (a) it's a well-regarded classic, and (b) there's a current movie version and I wanted to be socially literate if the topic came up. Unfortunately, it turns out to be a dung heap.
The characters are simplistic, exaggerated cartoons. One is THE MOST lovely, one is THE MOST disreputable, etc. To make the single mom who abandons her child have the reader's sympathy, she is first described as THE MOST demure, upright, virtuous example of a proper young lady. Each person is given a simplistic dilemma or a simplistic revelation, something where the author can spell out the moral for you as to a child, and then righteously beat the moral into the ground.
In between moralizing with caricatures, the author lists litanies of details about the names and places of France at the time, none of which play a direct role in the story. I'm sure these lists are fascinating for any Francophile and historian of the period, but if you are not already gaga for French ephemera, you will not get any enjoyment from this list, nor will it advance the story for you at all.
I could not get past the halfway mark in this book. It was painful and tedious to listen to. As if the writing itself weren't bad enough, the narrator does only an average job. Most of the characters sound the same, and lack any nuance.
This is a good buy for fantasy readers, with a thoroughly-detailed world and culture, and many engaging characters.
It suffers from a too-common conceit that the main character is The Chosen One, with mystical abilities and a fate to rise above everyone else. He is the best leader and the best spear fighter anyone has ever seen, even as a teenager, and all the gods and spirits recognize him while petty bosses and thugs beat him down. I guess this appeals to readers who want to imagine that they themselves are the unrecognized Special One who is secretly better than everyone else, and who will "show them all, one day".
Also, the author has a weird tendency to write the hero as an immature adolescent in one moment and as a grizzled war veteran in the next moment, whichever is more convenient to the paragraph. The hero is regularly propped up on his years of hard training and laboring as a slave and as a warrior, yet in the next paragraph he'll be whining with teen angst about hurting people instead of healing them, and about some bully from his childhood, and petty revenge for his friends getting hurt.
There's also a female protagonist, and her story was actually the most intriguing, but she is given only about 15% of the book, and not much development or resolution toward the end.
Aside from these complaints though, it's a good story, well told mostly, with lots of interesting supporting details about the rocks, plants, and animals of this book's world. The narrators (male and female) did a very good job, very listenable.
The author makes it clear at the beginning that he meant this book to be an easy-to-read introduction to our planet's history, meant for non-scientist readers, and I feel he succeeded quite well at this.
He explains our current understanding of the origins of our universe, our planet, and humanity. He also covers some of the previously-held ideas that have since been disproven, sometimes quite recently. Amusingly, he describes our current understandings as though they are the final truth, even though obviously we discover new things all the time, as demonstrated by his own text! For example tectonic plate theory was only just recently accepted by the scientific establishment, and we have discovered new things about black holes and other cosmic concepts in the nine years since the book was published.
All in all though he provides a very thorough and thoughtful overview of what we know and how we got to know it, and he encourages a scientific curiosity and wonder which will help people appreciate the ongoing process of learning about the world around us.
The narrator also does a very good job, keeping his tone humorous and engaging even while some of the text might seem too "dry" for some readers.
Other reviews made it seem like this book was some kind of masterpiece from King, better than his other books, a new level of maturity and artistry in his writing. No, in reality it is just like all his other books. Plenty entertaining, but full of cheap plot mechanisms, unrealistic dialogue, rural Maine, and a spooky evil force with a cartoony name.
On the plus side, the story moves along at a fairly steady clip; the characters are mostly likable and believable; and the use of the JFK assassination as a plot framework actually works pretty well. On the negative side, King throws in things that are completely unnecessary and that "spoil the mood". For example it's not enough for this book to wrap Lee Harvey Oswald up in a time-travel adventure, no--there also has to be a mysterious evil universal force named Jimla, and King goes to painfully awkward lengths to stuff this into each chapter. For another example, King likes to use pop-culture references, I suppose to make his books or characters seem hip and approachable... but his own comprehension of pop culture is antiquated and out of touch, to the point that it doesn't even make sense in a fictional context.
Again though, the book passed the time nicely, I was entertained, and it was not a waste of a credit. It was like eating a Subway sandwich: not great food, but you could do a lot worse, and it did the job.
The narrator did a very good job, not Oscar-worthy, but better than average.
If you are a fan of fantasy novels generally, then this one will be a credit well-spent because the book is quite long and the narrator does a very good job. He uses multiple character voices, with decent consistency and drama.
The writing and the story are both fairly adolescent, which is typical of the genre, but it was a bit disappointing to me personally. The idea of the story is that the main character is a brilliant con artist who gets over by fooling everyone, but the supposed cons are trite and transparent. His actual motivation through much of the book is "you hurt my friends, now I want revenge", and the chief bad guy he fights is also just motivated by a childhood promise of revenge.
Basically whether you enjoy this audiobook will depend on your age and whether you are already predisposed to enjoy typical fantasy writing.
This story takes us to a specific period in the history of England, when they are at war with Napoleon. In the world of the story, wizards and fairies were a famous part of England's past, but they have been largely dismissed as folk tales and superstition by the time the tale begins. Two men independently set out to learn and revive English magic, and of course their paths cross and become the foundation of a larger exploration of what happens when magic becomes a reality again, and powers from the faerie world regain their strength.
The two main characters are actually not likable at all, at any point in the book. Fortunately, the story that carries them is very interesting and well-written, and the world they inhabit is complete in detail, so it actually becomes quite normal and OK that we do not like the protagonists--after all, we don't like everyone we meet in real life, and this story does a creditable job of applying its magical premises to the ordinary world. Wars are fought, lawsuits are filed, marriages struggle, petty vanities trump logic and decency, and all the other weaknesses of man and society are on grimy display; yet under it all, faerie magic flows.
The narrator does a very solid job of the reading. He doesn't vary his character voices all that much, apart from a couple of grungier characters, but it's OK because they all speak in some variation of genteel British tones, which convey what is needed for nearly everyone in the story. His performance might be a bit sleep-inducing, but the story has a good flow that keeps your interest going, and the narrator doesn't get in the way.
The essence of the book is that a young man runs away and joins the circus, having many romantic and dangerous adventures there; and the story is told half by that young man as it all happens, and half by himself as an old man in his 90's, recalling those events and meditating on his current life in a retirement home.
At first I found the sections narrated by the old man to be almost painful to hear, because he pulls no punches in describing how difficult life can be for someone that old, and for anyone semi-incapacitated and relying on nurses for the simplest of things. It really screws home how fear of mortality is not always about fear of death itself, but fear of getting old and decrepit. This can be a difficult meditation for those of us in middle age.
This format is redeemed, however; first by the fact that the "old man narrator" voice is quite good, believable and engaging; second by the fact that story is so well-written and detailed; and thirdly by the final act. I won't give it away of course, but the ending of the book makes everything else pay off hugely. I started the book thinking "OK this is interesting enough to keep listening". Through the middle I became more appreciative of the characters and the story, though it still wasn't mind-blowing or anything. Toward the end though, the senses of longing, fear, hope, and suspense grew intensely, with a wonderful sense of completeness and resolution in the final chapter.
I had to knock one star off my review of the performance just because the "young man" narrator wasn't great, his vocal tone and his performance were "good enough" but just not quite up to the quality of the book itself, and not as good as the old man. Overall though, I recommend the audiobook highly.
I almost didn't buy this because I thought it might be just audio from the TV series, which I've already watched a few times. But no, it's all fresh material! Very similar to the TV show, but not the same. If you enjoyed the show, or even if you've only seen the infamous "Old Gregg" sketch on Youtube, you will LOVE this audio performance.
The boys do a fantastic job of conveying all the bizarre images and ideas of their world in a radio-show format. It sounds great and I found myself laughing uncontrollably every five minutes or so. There's also an interview with the guys at the end.
If you've never heard or seen Mighty Boosh before, it's a totally absurd and surreal semi-improvised comedy act. It centers on two main characters, with help here from a third. There's a loose framework that the two main guys are employed in a zoo owned by the third guy, and the zoo does come into it, but only as a launching point for utterly insane otherworldly shenanigans.
If you're already a fan of Boosh, buy it. If absurdity makes you laugh, buy it. If you like everything to remain neat, logical, and under control, keep moving.
This book should have been fascinating: an elaborate overview of court intrigue, backstabbing, and grabs for power in a long-ago empire of China. Very much like Game of Thrones, including the shifts of protagonist perspective from one chapter to the next. And indeed the scheming and layers of politics are well-wrought and believable. Unfortunately the storytelling is tortuously drawn-out and belabored, making me wish I could just skim the pages as with a printed book.
For example in one scene there's a nicely detailed description of a tribal shaman, with mirrors and bells on their costume. Good so far. In another chapter the characters go in search of a specific shaman, an old woman, who is then described thoroughly with all the same details over again. Then in the next chapter they reach her farm, and they don't see her, but they see horses belonging to the enemy. The protagonist sees a fresh mound of dirt in the yard, about the length and width of a body, as though somebody was buried there recently. So he digs around in it, only to find... a body! Digs some more, and it appears to be an old woman! And he keeps digging, and finds what seems to be mirrors! Who could it possibly be? He keeps digging, and finds... bells! Oh. My. God. Mirrors. Bells. An old woman. He had found the shaman, and she was dead! This last set of sentence fragments is nearly a direct quote from the book, by the way. Obviously we had already figured out what the guy would find, about two paragraphs earlier.
The narrator also made this book difficult to listen to. He has a posh British accent, which he then twists into a corny fake Chinese accent, with poor results. I am sure this was a difficult job for any narrator, to balance intelligibility for the average English-speaking listener, with Chinese characterization appropriate to the story, without sounding like a racist caricature. So I don't mean to put the narrator down too much, it may have been impossible to do well. But even so, his voice is ridiculous and this made it hard to believe in the characters and the story overall. Perhaps someone like Keone Young could have pulled it off.
At any rate, the book was a noble effort, and it does offer a lot of meat for anyone who likes medieval court dramas. I just didn't enjoy it as an audiobook.
The central concept will pique the interest of any speculative fiction fan: Earth is one day mysteriously enveloped in a field that drastically slows our time relative to other planets in the system, and this allows us to cause and witness billions of years of terraformed development of life on Mars, perceived on Earth over a period of only days, weeks, a year.
Unfortunately the author props this concept up on characters that are unlikable and shallow, with nothing to keep us interested in them. The main protagonist is a nebbish so empty and characterless that it's like a grey space where a person should be. One of the other main characters is like a cartoon of the smartest child genius ever, who also happens to have intimate access to privileged data at the highest levels of government secrecy. But we don't even get to like him, he is kept aloof. The only character that has some humanity is the genius's sister, who struggles with faith in the face of apocalypse; but even she is given a terribly shallow treatment, portrayed mostly as an indecisive whiner with no self agency.
On top of all this half-hearted hand-wringing by characters we don't care about, the reader himself whines. His voice is annoying. His whiny tone would sound sardonic or wry if the content of what he read was itself sardonic or wry, but instead what he's reading is this lifeless exercise in drawing out a speculative science concept. And he does very little to differentiate between characters. The first syllable of a line will have some character voice, but immediately thereafter it's all in the same whiny man's monotone.
All in all, I couldn't even finish it. I tried, I liked the central concept enough to give it chance after chance to pick up steam and become what it could be, and got most of the way through the book, but it became too tedious and annoying to actually bother reaching the end.
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