The narration provided by Simon Prebble is excellent. He's a good voice actor and manages to make each character distinct no matter how big the cast of a given story.
I would give this book 4 stars, but there is one critical problem. There is a story missing. "The Final Problem," in which we are first introduced by Doyle to the character of Professor Moriarty, is nowhere to be found.
This particular production company has seen fit to include it as an extra on their recording of "The Valley of Fear." It makes sense, from a certain point of view. Given the ending of the story and the role of Moriarty in both tales, there is a certain logic to packaging it with "The Valley of Fear." However, the description of this audio book EXPLICITLY STATES THAT IT INCLUDES "The Final Problem," which it does not. Listeners will therefore be surprised when the audiobook ends with, "The Naval Treaty."
It's a good audiobook, and Prebble's performance is excellent. If you're working your way through the Holmes cannon, this isn't a bad production. But unless you buy "The Valley of Fear" as produced by the same company, you're going to feel a bit cheated.
This book is a long series of cliches and stock characters. It never goes anywhere new or does anything particularly interesting withing the two genres it tries to span, spy thrillers and zombie stories.
As spy books go, it's pretty dull. Standard plot centering on (this is all presented pretty early in the book, so I'm not spoiling anything) Islamic fundamentalists bent on waging jihad with zombies created by a massive drug company that hopes to get crazy rich selling anti-zombie drugs even though it's clearly already very prosperous. But the billionaire owner just has to be a trillionaire, even though that means killing most of the world, because reasons.
The biggest suspense point in the story was the identity of the traitor in the group of mercenary heroes, but when the reveal came, I didn't care. None of the characters mattered much to me as they were little more fleshed out than the nicknames the protagonist gives them.
There are some good action sequences that are well described, no easy feat, and Ray Porter does a great job making the various characters distinct. In the end though, it just wasn't worth the time it took to listen.
I was hoping for something more interesting given the author's extensive academic credentials and experience as subject of a persistent male gaze. I thought that Dr. Z would have some unique insight into romantic relationships and human sexuality. What I got was a lot of dull, recycled, drivel that, surprisingly, reduced women to automatons that dispensed sex when the correct buttons were pushed in the right order. Completely lacking in any unique insight or sensible advice, it was a waste of my time and money.
If you want something interesting, read Sex at Dawn. If you want something entertaining, and intermittently helpful*, read anything by Dan Savage. Do not spend your time on this empty, thoughtless pablum.
I'm trying to imagine who would actually have use for this book. Perhaps, if you've been living in isolation, raised since infancy by monks in a secluded part of the Himalayan mountains, and have never seen a woman before, this might be a good introduction to interacting with them on a social level. Just remember that you will eventually reach a point at which you need to discard its teachings as the lessons taught to a child who cannot fully grasp the complexities of metaphysical conundrums. It's an acolyte's doctrine, but not to be taken as dogma. If that does not describe you, don't buy this book.
*It's not that Savage isn't generally saying things worth while, but his writing encompasses so many different areas of sexuality, it won't always have direct bearing on the lives of cis hetero males. But it will be well written and thoughtful.
I've been a fan of David Wong's writing for a couple years now. I was a little apprehensive about reading a full length book by an author whose only work I'd read consisted of lists primarily centered around what's wrong with video games. But the articles were always insightful while still being funny, so I decided I might as well try it.
I was not disappointed. Wong is both hilarious and moving, sometimes in such a short span of time that it can be jarring. One moment, I'm deeply moved by the possible fate of a character, and the next, I'm laughing because, while facing almost certain doom, someone made a dick joke.
Now, if you were just offended by my use of the phrase "dick joke," you shouldn't buy this book. Because there are a lot of them. Dick jokes, I mean. And you may think that it's vulgar or that it's easy comedy, but the way they come up (I am trying to avoid innuendo here but it's just not possible) they fit the character (John, specifically). It's just how he is.
And the vulgarity of John's humor often draws a stark counterpoint to the events taking place. By the time the book reaches its climax (really, I am trying) the stakes are the complete obliteration of the world as we know it. But John can still manage to find an opportunity to make some reference to his genitals.On a certain level, it makes the character endearing. The fact that he has no social filter attached to his brain makes him likable for his stark honesty. That's not to say he doesn't lie. He tells several stories that the narrator (David) points out are simply not true. Somehow, that just makes him more charming ad the tales are so grossly exaggerated as to be completely unbelievable. As such, you don't feel you're being deceived, as no one could expect you to buy such garbage.
Another thing the story has going for it is that the heroes are not heroes. Not the way we typically think of them. They're ordinary guys with ordinary jobs living in a disturbingly ordinary town. But their reaction to the threat their world faces was so honest. No one said, "My god! We have to save the world!" There were no big speeches. Instead, it was more along the lines of, "Oh great. Now there's a monster from another dimension sleeping on my floor and using my couch as a bathroom. I do NOT need this today!" The protagonists will narrowly escape death, then complain that they have to go to work the next day. There's something noble in that. Honestly, if you almost died, would you go to your crappy job the next day? It's refreshing to see someone get annoyed by the proverbial bug-eyed monster, only to tell it to bite them and then kick it in the fork.
Despite the humor, the story got unnerving at times. Particularly when it came to people going mad and the things David and John see as a result of taking the soy sauce. I don't want to ruin it, but there's a bit where David describes a picture of Ronald McDonald that no one else seems to see and, well...maybe it's just me. I mean, if you had told me, succinctly, what it was a picture of, I wouldn't be bothered. Really. Could care less. But Wong's description of the picture, the way the face was contorted and...ok. Don't want to ruin it. Let me just say it was unsettling.
Wong has a way of doing that, describing things in a way that makes them unsettling. And I'm someone who watched his own surgery, nonplussed, while it happened. Seriously, I'm not squeamish. There's something about the way he describes things that makes them...psychologically uncomfortable. That's a good phrase for it. Wong can make ordinary things psychologically uncomfortable. I don't mean any of this as criticism. Just the opposite. It's a deliberate act on his part, which is why it's so brilliant. I can be put off by one paragraph, then laughing the next. It's really quite impressive.
The book was confusing at times, but not without purpose. The story is told from a first person perspective. As such, there are moments when the events taking place are somewhat unclear and it's hard to work out just what's happening. This is due to the fact that the narrator isn't entirely sure himself at that moment. And if you hang in there, all will be explained (well, most of it).
Finally, let me say that you don't know what's going to happen at any point in the book, save when it's over. You may think you know, think you've got it all worked out and you're certain you know where the story is going. You do not. You are lying to yourself. And lately, it's rare that I find a book that does that. I'm not trying to be egotistical when I say that. I'm no genius. But a lot of authors do one of two things. They either lay out such blatant clues that you know who the killer is well before you're two-thirds through the book, or they withhold vital information to guarantee that you will not figure it out (I'm looking at you British mystery novelists). At no point did I feel Wong was withholding information. And I was genuinely surprised when the end came.
Stephen R. Thorne's reading was excellent. I had a good sense of the characters and the emotional content was excellent. A fantastic performance. Great book. Great reader. I'm only sorry it's over. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go read, "This Book Is Full of Spiders."
For those who've been through the Dresden Files starting at book one, the voice of James Marsters has become very familiar. I was heartbroken when I picked up book 13 to discover a new narrator.
John Glover is a talented man. I still remember his Devil character from Brimstone. And his reading of Cold Days was good. If he'd read the twelve books before it, I'd probably be fine with him. But he didn't, and when a new voice comes out of someone's mouth, it's jarring. Harry, Murphy, Molly...no one sounds the same and the cadence of the narrative voice is a little different as well. Marsters has a rhythm to certain phrases that Butcher uses regularly, such as when Harry sarcastically points out his shortcomings by saying, "(adjective), that's me."
But the return of James Marsters to narrate the series is like wrapping one's self in an old familiar sweater and settling in by the fireplace in a nice tall chair. It's familiar and comfortable. Returning to Dresden's Chicago with Marsters feels...right. It's as though everything has gone back to the way it's supposed to be. Which is an odd thing given the contents of the story.
Butcher is in top form. He makes big decisions about the direction a story will take and he sticks to them. As a fan of comic books, nothing annoys me more than when writers decide to ret-con a bold decision out of existence, or rewrite entire back-stories. Ok, technically Butcher had a character come back from the dead, but we all knew that was going to happen. In the end, the early events of the series shape the way later stories will unfold, and while Butcher will sometimes leave a few threads hanging, it is not without reason and he never discards them. For example, while the Black Council does not feature as prominently in this story as it has in others, it's clear that they are still out there and will no doubt feature in future novels.
Like so many other Dresden Files books, I finished this one and immediately went online to see if there was any release date for the next one. I also thought about starting it over again immediately. Even though they're mysteries and I know what's going to happen, I still love this series. I've been through books 1-13 at least twice (some three times), and I'm one who rarely rereads (re-listens to?) books.
If you've come this far in the Dresden universe, you will not be disappointed. If you're new to the series, what are you doing reading a review of book 14?! Go back and start at 1. What's wrong with you?
...ok I'm starting this one again right now.
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