Where to start? When the series started, Griffin could spend 100 pages describing a day in the life of his characters and keep me interested in what was going to happen to them the next day. Then out of the blue, with this "afterthought" of a conclusion, we pick up the story years later in a different war and speed recklessly to a conclusion that leaves me desperately wishing I had just finished this tale in my own mind instead of entrusting it to the actual author.
Of course. I can forgive him a lot for having told a damn good yarn up to this point.
I have to admit I I am a huge Neville Shute fan. Great literature? No. But he unselfconsciously tells compelling stories about decent, ordinary people doing extraordinary things. This is not quite on par with the Pied Piper, and not even close to his utterly unforgettable masterpiece A
Town like Alice, but I thoroughly enjoyed it even the second time I listened to it.
Based on the many favorable reviews I expected to enjoy this book a great deal more than I did. to sum it up in a word, it was trite.
I really liked Outlaw and tried to like Holy Warrior, but after listening for many hours to tiresome depictions of extreme sadism and battlefields slick with the entrails of disemboweled horses, I finally concluded that there was no actual plot here, so I stopped listening. It doesn't work as a travelogue or as a story. I would remember the first book with far greater pleasure if I hadn't moved on to the second.
I wasn't sure I would like this, but I chose it on the strength of other reviews and it proved to be an engaging story. It was easy to root for the young protagonist, and the narrative pace was brisk.
I was pleased that there was a series to follow Outlaw, and if I had written this review prior to listening to the second installment in the series, I would have more enthusiasm about this great start. However, the second book, Warrior, was so disappointing that it colors my appreciation of the first book.
I enjoyed the story and the characters of Outlaw enough that I was willing to put up with the gory depictions of sadism that peppered the narrative. But the second book, Warrior, was all gore and no plot. I wish now that I had only listened to the first one and left it at that.
I am a huge fan of both Neil Gaiman and the narrator Simon Jones. It was on the strength of their association with this book that I bought it, despite misgivings. I hoped, I suppose, that the many enthusiastic reviewers of the audiobook were onto something, and that the minority of negative reviewers were perhaps a bit trollish. Well, I'm voting with the trolls.
I might have tolerated this book well enough if the whole thing had been read by, say, Stephen Briggs or Simon Jones -- both masters of many voices. Either one could say every name on a half-page in the phone book in a convincingly distinct voice. Instead, this book was read by many different men and women who spoke essentially alike. Incredibly, the main narrator (the book's author) sometimes reads her characters' voices and sometimes other people do. It was just a mess.
The idiom of the written book was overtly British, featuring an array of titled nobles. But unlike any noble of my acquaintance, the audio characters all spoke in nearly identical American accents. Apart from the author, the character actors sound like students -- and not even not drama majors at that -- reading dialog they wrote for a school play. It was so cognitively dissonant, and fell so short of the standard of narration that I expected, that I could barely focus on the story. Not to mention the absurd background sound effects; don't let's even start on that!
The author was a better reader than most of the other voices, but not a lot better. I tried to listen and follow the thread, hoping if I got engaged in the story I could tune out the goofy reading, but nearly every time a character spoke, I found myself imagining how much more authentically the lines could have been delivered. "I think we should get a cat of our own," for example, as opposed to, "I-ee think WEee should get a cat of our OWN." Who eNUNciates like THAT? Nearly every line of dialog was so over-acted that I'd have laughed if it hadn't been so grating.
I got about a third of the way through the book, and since I knew I was going to return it for a refund, I stopped listening. I needed something refreshing for the rest of my drive, so I turned to a random place in one of my favorite Terry Pratchett Discworld books, The Truth, read by Stephen Briggs. I happened upon a scene where half a dozen aristocratic men of similar age are seated in darkness around a table. Stephen Briggs' reading -- always astounding -- is here beyond brilliant. I know every one these people! -- or at least I know their kind from British costume dramas. Every cadence, every intonation, every pitch is so unique to each unnamed character that I could be eavesdropping on six living, breathing, upper-class British men sitting in total darkness around my own table!
I am not sure whether or not I would have liked the book had it been read by a master narrator (probably not), but this rendition was ridiculous.
Great story, great writing, great narration. Against the backdrop of the Depression, the deep determination of these boys, especially Joe, on whom the story centers, is absolutely riveting. The author is a master storyteller, and his tale is compelling, uplifting, and rich with the flavor of those times. Loved Edward Hermann as a narrator, and my standards for narrators are high. This is the best book I've listened to in recent memory.
I have to admit that I didn't get that far into this book before deciding that the dissonance of the narrator's American accent swamped my determination to differentiate and get to know these characters.
Contrast the narration of Antony and Cleo to the brilliant performance of Simon Jones reading Robert Harris's Imperium series -- or don't, as Simon Jones and his ilk are so much better at bringing characters to life through nuance in speech that comparison would be odious. The best of the British readers are able to define a great deal about a character by dialect and patois, making it much easier to keep track of a vast cast in a long story. In my experience listening to "Rome-themed" books, American narrators who would be perfectly acceptable reading a contemporary novel rarely ring true reading characters from ancient history. I found myself having to rewind again and again to recall who was speaking, and I finally gave up. It didn't help that the story wasn't immediately compelling.
So what if taking the story forward relies on one highly improbable coincidence after the next. It's good fun anyway!
My prior knowledge of Cicero was gleaned entirely from his fairly minor role in HBO's bawdy, totally over-the-top series "Rome," so I can't begin to comment on the historical accuracy of this fictionalized biography, but I loved it! The storytelling was oddly riveting, especially considering how mundane the details of Cicero's law practice must have been in reality, and the narration was nothing short of brilliant. I gulped this down and went straight to gorging on Conspirata. Can't wait for the next installment.
The story started out in a promising way, but the plot became complicated without being commensurately clever. There were quite a few characters whose motives were rather vague, and there were none that I pine to hear from again in future books. The story itself wouldn't have earned four stars from me, but it got an extra star for what struck me as authenticity in descriptions of the medieval setting. It was well read, so don't hesitate to try it if you are a fan of historical fiction.
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