I love Orson Scott Card. I have read nearly every book Card has written, including his books on writing (I believe I missed a book of poetry and entirely skipped a series about women of the Bible, but I'm pretty sure I got everything else, and most of that two or three times). I regularly read the reviews on his website, and I subscribe to his Intergalactic Medicine Show. In short, I've enjoyed a lot of Card and Card related merchandise. Hart's Hope, for me, was unappealing.
The odd thing is, I'm not sure why. It has all the elements I've come to expect from one of Card's books, but somehow this one fell flat. Because this is a review, and I know that at some point somebody will inevitably read it hoping for advice, I will offer two suggestions.
First, if you prefer to like at least a couple of the characters in the books you read, this one might not be for you. By the end of the book I found them all to be a little distasteful, and not in a "love to hate them" sort of way. It was more of an "I'd rather not know any more about you" sort of way. As far as I know this is the only time in all of Card's writing career that I have failed to connect with anyone in the book. This is my best explanation for the two star review.
Second, if this will be your first Orson Scott Card book, skip it. Listen to Ender's Game if you want military action, Seventh Son if you are in the mood for fantasy or alternate history, or Empire if you are into near future Sci-Fi or political intrigue. In fact, find any of Card's stand alone novels or the first book in any of his series, and read that before you listen to this. You can always pick this one up later to prove me wrong.
Sorry folks, not buying it. I listened to the sample chapter and fervently hoped it was all that Penguin recorded, for their sake. I buy the hardcover for Mr. Butcher's fantastic writing, and I buy the audio book for Mr. Marster's fantastic portrayal of every freaking character in the book. I mean no offense to Mr. Glover. He puts emotion into the reading, and I'm sure he works out well for many other books, but we're used to James Marsters. Penguin may as well have used a screen reader if couldn't they wait for the actor we know and love.
You don't replace steak with "potted meat food product" and expect no reaction. Ok, that was too harsh. To be fair, I'd say Mr. Glover's performance is more of a SPAM, which I love, so long as it remains with breakfast, where it belongs. The Dresden Files is the main course. Accept no substitutes.
If you are looking for the combination of somber considration, excellent autobiographical story telling, and hilarious hijinks that you found in "A Walk in the Woods" and "The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid," look elsewhere. If you love to learn about the origins of everyday objects and processes, and you prefer to do it with a tongue-in-cheek guide, this is the book for you.
I should also note that this unabridged production is read by the author. Considering he has opted to read abridged versions of his longer books in the past, he (or one of the people he pays to think about such things) must have realized folks like me love his voice, his distinctive "anglo-Iowan twang," and the perfect timing and inflection he brings to his readings. I wouldn't have bought the audio book if it were read by anyone else.
I don't believe that this is Mr. Bryson's best work, but that doesn't mean it isn't better than any other book of the type I've ever read. I will be listening to it again.
If you really want to know Smith's take on stem cell research, or you would like to taint your memories of Smith's best work, buy this book, but if you are interested because you loved River God turn back now. Even the reader of the series, Dick Hill, decided to take a pass. Follow his example. I'm angry that I wasted my money.
If you loved River God, be wary of this title. I loved River God, and Dick Hill, but Smith takes an intentional turn with this novel, perhaps because he wants to take ownership of the story line (Smith claims River God was based on actual Egyptian scrolls), or perhaps because he wanted to bring mysticism to the forefront. Either way, the magic was gone.
Because this book is written in the third person, Dick Hill abandons Tiata's voice for the narration for a time, but it seems that he realized his mistake about halfway through and slowly made the correction. I was glad he did.
Three stars was too much, and two not enough. I say you should get this one from the library if you want to take a chance.
I read River God years ago. I lost sleep. I missed college classes. I'm not sure, but I may have referred to my self as "Tiata" for a few weeks. The story was full of interesting characters, wit, potty humor, fascinating story, and information about one of my favorite ancient civilizations. It was as if it had been written just for me. When I finished I was reluctant to set it aside, so, in desperation, I read the authors note. I was amazed to discover that, according to the note, the story was not written by Wilbur Smith. He claimed It was written by a slave thousands of years ago and sealed in a tomb, and that the archeologists who discovered it had given him the task of rewriting the story as a novel for modern readers. He worked from a translation, adding only some modern terminology. Cool beans.
Dick Hill was the perfect reader. His performance became the standard by which I judge all others.
Give this book a chance.
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