I first heard Gregory Boyle interviewed on On Being, and he was so compelling I had to check this book out. This is a great example of a book that's 10x better in audio--Boyle's narration has so much heart and really brings the people he writes about to life. It helps that Boyle is fluent in Spanish and nails most of the Angeleno accents. Such great stories of humanity and redemption that brought back years living in the Pico-Union area. HIGHLY recommended!
I guess the other four few reviewers thought the book was great, so perhaps your feelings about this book will be a matter of taste. But if anything I describe here resonates in a bad way with you--avoid this one.
I love retellings, and thought this looked promising--after all, the author promises us early on that we're in for some unique worldbuilding and a fascinating relationship dynamic. Both are hollow promises the author puts very little effort into fulfilling. There's all kinds of potential, but what seems like it will be a fascinating mystery to figure out within the magic system of this world turns out to be only a glittery surface. You soon discover that the author didn't really put the time into working these elements out very well thoroughly and just plunged ahead with her shiny premise. In reality, there turns out to be actually very little mystery to any of it, and very, very little substance to the magic system. You'd think at *least* the romance might be at least a bit entertaining (come on, this is Beauty and the Beast!), but instead it was enormously unsatisfying and emotionally hollow--not because the characters didn't have potential, but because the author didn't put much work into developing them.
I waded through the endless repetitions of the protagonist raging on about her bitterness and feeling guilty about it--not in an interesting way, but in a monotonous way (seriously, this takes up about 3/4 of the book), hoping that the story would bloom at some point--but by the end, I was like, "That's it? REALLY?" The tidy little ending felt utterly false to me. Juvenile in the worst of ways--not in the best. No wonder, no magic, no depth.
All that to say, if you demand a little more substance out of a story--especially one that's been told many times exactly because it has such potential for exploration of its characters and themes--avoid this one, which to me was just another disappointing, hastily-written YA offering. Try either of Robin McKinley's retellings (either Beauty or Rose Daughter) if you're looking for something well-written and satisfying.
I kept thinking this story would get better--after all, the basic plot had so much potential, didn't it? A secret library! Well, no real spoilers, but the book--which ended up taking me FOREVER to get through (I almost quit so so many times but kept thinking maybe it would take a turn)--was a whole lot of nothing.
No real story at all. Just a couple interesting characters--and no real story. You keep thinking something interesting will happen--some twist, some connection between all the random pieces--but there is no real mystery, no real wonder, no real anything.
There are enough negative reviews on Amazon that I should've listened to, but I ended up wasting a great deal of time trying to give this story a chance. What a shame.
If only this were a full-length audiobook of Storycorps' best...that would definitely be worth the $10/credit. If you enjoyed these fabulous stories, make sure you subscribe to Storycorps' podcast. It's an ongoing project that 10x worth whatever grant money they're getting to produce--makes you have hope for humanity!
This is the 2nd book in a 4-book series by the Dyachenkos, but unfortunately it's the only one that's been translated into English so far. Still, the story works as a stand-alone, and is strong in spite of the mystery of the Wanderer--whose identity we would know sooner had we read the first book in the series (which is about his story).
To get to the real meat of the story, you'll have to get past a significant part of the protagonist being excessively beastly--but once the story catalyst takes place, the plot picks up considerably. I'd highly recommend listening at 1.5x (via the Audible app)--the narrator is great, but I found the pace to be far more enjoyable a tad faster. I've discovered that only extremely experienced narrators are able to get the pacing just right--it requires a massive amount of preparation--and good ones sound far more natural--more like they're telling the story rather than reading it--at 1.25x or 1.5x. Try it out.
There were certainly a few significant holes/loose ends in the story, but I expect that this is only because the authors were planning to write two more books after this one. We can only hope that Tor invests more in translations.
If you enjoyed this book, there's a new Kindle book by the Dyachenkos that's currently available in English (called Vita Nostra--not sure why it hasn't been printed yet, though, as it won all manner of Russian awards and has been optioned into a film), as well as a free novella (The Burned Tower).
To repeat myself: Another great example of a wrist-gnawing narration suddenly made pretty durned good sped up. In other words, I'd completely agree with the reviewer who pans Will Patton as being a bad fit for this book--if I'd listened to this at normal speed. However, at a truly listenable speed (yep, he needs 1.5x--1.0x is *that* bad), I'd say the opposite. 1.5x Will Patton keeps these books from being pigeonholed as YA paranormal romance--and they really are not, in spite of this author having written books of that flavor in the past. His narration fits the mostly-male cast of protagonists, and is even better than the first as he better gets the characters--and his delivery (on 1.5!) is really enjoyable. Despite other listener complaints of him being a bad fit, I can't imagine a female reader convincingly voicing Ronan, who takes the lead a lot more in The Dream Thieves than The Raven Boys.
As for the story, it gets richer and the characters more compelling. While the first book certainly had more of a YA flavor, this one felt broader and almost completely outside the genre. Sure, the protagonists are teenagers, but for the greater part of the book, they're handled with a depth that simply makes them human. Definitely wittier and more eloquent than is realistic, but all the more enjoyable. The ideas are fresh, and the writing is of far higher quality than the YA novels that get churned out left and right. The author does well to not just make this story so much of an Act 2 (as is typical) but rather, focuses on a fresh plot and brings a new antagonist. In other words, there's a real story arc.
However, I was pretty disappointed when the final section of the book started to unravel and push me out of it. I felt that The Raven Boys also started to fray in the last couple chapters, but this one started coming apart far earlier...it felt 10x more jarring and disjointed and rushed. There are WAY too many wth?! moments/scenes, beginning with an absolutely unconvincing and seemingly arbitrary scene when all the characters decide to go over and chat with said antagonist. Pretty much everything from that point devolves. It felt (and disappointingly so, considering how carefully written the rest of it felt) like a book deadline rapidly approaching...and the effect was such that I went from being utterly absorbed in the story and totally caring about these characters...to not being sure I cared that much and feeling mighty dubious about a fictional novel I was just listening to. In other words, the people in a believable world suddenly became contrived characters in a book, and I was just sitting there observing an author make up stuff about them. Big, sad difference. Not sure how that's supposed to compel me to wait for another year until the next book comes out to find out if I still care enough.
Another great example of a wrist-gnawing narration suddenly made pretty durned good sped up. Same goes for book 2. You're welcome.
C'mon Audible: don't keep making us have to speed up dragging, breathy readers ourselves...not everyone can use the app that lets one change the speed, and this has been *the* difference between me giving up on a book immediately and finding it truly enjoyable.
As for the contents...probably the best Y.A. book I've read in a long time...normally I'm not one for these books, but this one stands out with its far-above-average writing and lack of the usual cheesy overfocus on a teenage romance. The characters are compelling, the story unique enough. The end is a bit of a tumultuous hodgepodge that I probably wouldn't have been okay with--if I'd read this a year ago when there was no sequel to immediately turn to. But when you're able to immediately go on to the next book, the story feels richer as a whole and said conclusion doesn't feel quite as dissatisfying.
Trust me when I say that if you don't listen to this book via the Audible app so that you can speed it up to 1.5 (and 2.0 when the villain gives a creepy lecture), you'll either give up quickly or else want to tear your hair out before long. The narrator's dragging, snoozey pace and melodramatic, drawn-out wail will make you want to throw things.
HOWEVER: If you speed it up, she'll sound quite normal! Before I did so, I was hitting myself for not just buying the paper book. But after a few chapters of misery, I thought I'd try out the various speeds and settled with 1.5x...and then suddenly, I was listening to an honestly compelling story.
This is an elaborate retelling of an old fairytale made painfully, intricately human and present. It's no lighthearted fare, and far from a YA tone or style. Sadly, it probably won't attract as many male readers as it should since the main character is a young woman--even though her six brothers factor strongly into the story as characters you come to know well, and even though this is *hardly* a soppy romance (it's anything but that). It's brutal enough--and emotionally complex enough that instead, I wouldn't suggest this if you want a light fantasy adventure for your commute. It's character-driven by far and nothing comes tied up in bows. Hard times and more hard times. No easy answers and no easy justice.
My main criticism would be that it's overlong with its explication and is at times redundant, but that's why I'd say it's a good choice for an audiobook. If you listen at the speed I Forcefully Recommend, you'll probably only have brief moments when you wish she'd move forward, whereas I imagine otherwise skimming long paragraphs in a book while feeling you're missing something.
Overall, this is a very thoughtful, well-told story that gripped me on many levels. Not sure if I'll continue with the series, but there's goodness in that too, especially in the context of today's publishing world of cheaply-plotted, hurriedly dashed-off first-draft trilogies that make you buy at least three books to get any resolution. This is a stand-alone book that doesn't leave you empty or require you to soldier on to find a satisfying conclusion. Recommended for anyone who knows what they're getting into!
This is a great example of an audio book surpassing the actual thing. I'd had this book on my shelf for years, and continuously had trouble getting into it. But Simon Prebble is a genius. He brings not only the characters to life--he brings the brilliant writing and dry wit to life...and I think those of us who are Americans probably need his help. I seriously did not realize how hilarious the book was until listening to this. Overall, the book really is too long--but the audio never ceases to entertain. I found it enjoyable all the way through.
I'd recommend this book even to non-fantasy readers--it's not a typical fantasy and reads more like a cross between historical fiction and Jane Austen (that is, if Jane Austen wrote interesting plots).
This is a long book--and not easy to narrate, so kudos to Stuart Langton. It's in first-person, so it's commendable that he came up with a believable Irish voice for the main character--although Aidan's bitterness throughout much of the story is hard to swallow, you understand more of what he feels because of the narration. It starts out very slow--but you soon grow used to the pace as it's not a typical adventure tale.
Ultimately, this story, while a dramatic adventure saga in which the protagonist is a monk, a slave, a spy, a prince and emissary, is really more of an exploration of the age-old question of this world's suffering. "How could a supposedly loving, omnipotent God allow the suffering of the innocent?" Aidan, who starts out as a monk, decides that God is neither loving nor omnipotent and his bitterness drives much of his experience throughout the book. Really interesting, no matter what your personal beliefs are, since everyone has had to grapple with such questions.
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