A successful follow up to Wool seemed like a pretty tall order. Wool hit me out nowhere. It had that new car smell, something I hadn't really seen before, so it seemed like I was bound to be disappointed simply because a sequel would be more of the same. Making that harder was the idea of this book being rooted in a time period closer to the modern age, so mundanity was bound to intrude.
Wow. I was wrong.
This was a great follow up. Hugh Howey proved to me that he was no one trick pony. Perhaps I'd been dazzled by the imaginative world of Wool, and had failed to notice his skill at character development, but in this book new and old characters continued to drive this arc to a new height.
As for the narration, I have to say I was never aware of it. I was totally immersed in the story. I consider that high praise, as that's exactly what I want, and I hope it isn't taken as anything negative.
I feel guilty for rating this so low. I recently listened to the Hard Magic series, and loved it. I believed I had found a new favorite author, and picked this up hoping for more of the same.
The first half had me feeling like my hopes had been justified. The story was fun, and well plotted. The events and consequences made sense for the world the author had crafted.
That's why the transition into the second half was so jarring. The plot seemed to fall apart, and the characters were seemingly sucked into a closet sized pocket dimension (of the sort described in Monster Hunters International) that existed for the sole purpose of serving as a locale for concluding the conflict (which of course it was). Immediately, everything became much too convenient and I found myself unable to continue to suspend disbelief.
Compounding this disappointment was the performance put in by Bronson Pinchot. Again, I was thrilled by the Hard Magic series which he also narrated. All the elements of his narration were the same, but what worked so well in that hard-boiled fantasy world felt completely out of place and inappropriate here. I was frequently pulled out of the story whenever one particular character portrayed with a sing-songy voice appeared. I eventually began repeating the lines in my head in what I imagined to be a more appropriate tone.
This book was largely a collection of movie cliches.
Examples include a literary version of the action sequence where somebody has just hacked a computer and the progress bar is filling painfully slowly while a desperate fight is underway. A hackneyed climactic showdown between bitter rivals, who go at it hand to hand, and culminates with the "good guy" staying his hand and saying something like "If I did it, I'd be just as bad as you." To which, the "bad guy" responds with a Wrath of Khan style cry of anguish.
The characters are paper thin, and predictably pop back into the story just in time to save somebody from certain death.
If you've watched any mediocre action movies from the past 40 years, there's probably nothing new here for you.
I gave it a second star because there were a couple good turns of phrase here and there.
In a refreshing departure from many fantasy novels, Scott Lynch's characters are not superhumans possessed of some extraordinary power, but survive on the strength of their own wits. The stakes are high, but not ridiculously so. The world isn't about to be destroyed, or thrust into an endless dark age. Much as the first book in this series, The Lies of Locke Lamora, this is a heist/fantasy novel. The protagonists are not immune to failure, and the story seems driven more by it's characters, than by an ultimate goal, which makes it a pleasure to listen to. The characters are possessed of a strange morality, and are humanized by the situations in which they are conflicted by practical concerns, and their desire to adhere to their own code of ethics. Success is never guaranteed in this series so far, which leaves me sympathizing with the characters own frustration, and keeps the tension strong. Locke and Jean don't wander from one startling, incredible success to another, and so the journey is never boring.
The audio narrator is crisp and precise, speaking with a smooth cadence, and does an excellent job with voices and accents, further enriching this atmospheric book.
If your reading this Mr. Lynch, get back to writing (and thank you).
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