Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms manages to be both complexly woven and a great ride. The characters are individual, complicated, and compelling, the world-building and cosmology are fabulous. It's also just well-written. I enjoyed reading it the first time, and it rewards rereading in a very satisfying way. Sensual in all meanings of the word, literate, capable, *fun*. I love this book.
And Casaundra Freeman is a superb reader. Not only is she *exactly* the right voice for this book, she's just plain great. She never fumbles a line, never garbles a sentence by getting the emphasis wrong, never forgets whose voice she's using. Some of the text is challenging for a reader, involving two-voiced internal conversations without the speakers identified and both of them simultaneously the same person and not the same person. If that doesn't make sense, don't worry about it - the point is that it's a tricky bit of narration, and Freeman carries it off beautifully. I can't wait to find more books she's read and listen to them all.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Hidden away from the world by his mother, the powerful sorceress Heloise Oliver, Pierce has grown up working in her restaurant in Desolation Point. One day, unexpectedly, strangers pass through town on the way to the legendary capital city. "Look for us," they tell Pierce, "if you come to Severluna. You might find a place for yourself in King Arden's court."
Kingfisher - the title itself a delicate play on words - is set in a world with both cell phones and sorceresses, knights, guns, goddesses, wyverns, Friday Night Fish Fries, and small, tinny, fuel-efficient cars - and even a hint of Faerie. The prose is brisker and doesn't have the crystalline beauty of McKillip's other fantasies, but is still mesmerizing. The story is complex, moving back and forth among three (at least three) sets of characters (although the sets shift occasionally) until they converge for the denouement. Running through all the well-turned phrases is water imagery which is totally appropriate to a story focused on rivers and coastal fishing communities, and which help draw the disparate elements of the story together.
Bernadette Dunne is fun, as a reader. She is at the high end of competence among even good readers, virtually never mispronouncing a word or mis-anticipating where a sentence is going. She is also infinitely better than some other readers McKillip's work has reaped, whose breathy girlish wonder destroys the actual wonder of the writing. Dunne still has moments where she can't quite relax and let the prose do all the heavy lifting - which is the only way to be entirely successful at reading such a well-crafted book - moments where she forces the wonder and amazement with her tone instead of letting the story carry it. But she's so much better than readers like Gabrielle de Cuir (who might be excellent reading something entirely different from McKillip, but I'll probably never know) that there is no real comparison.
I finished listening to the book with the simultaneous gentle regret and deep satisfaction that is the hallmark of a good story and a good performance.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
For Portier de Savin-Duplais, failed student of magic, sorcery's decline into ambiguity and cheap illusion is but a culmination of life's bitter disappointments. Reduced to tending the library at Sabria's last collegia magica, he fights off despair with scholarship. But when the king of Sabria charges him to investigate an attempted murder that has disturbing magical resonances, Portier believes his dreams of a greater destiny might at last be fulfilled.
Carol Berg's earlier work is highly enjoyable pulp, emotionally gratifying and eminently fun to read. The Spirit Lens is also emotionally satisfying and fun to read, but it is deeper and richer. The world-building is especially enjoyable, reminiscent of France poised on the cusp of the Enlightenment (where magic plays the role of faith) but with varied original cosmologies and histories having brought it to that point. The narrator is not only likable, he contains all the struggles and contradictions, beliefs, hopes, and frustrations of a truly believable character - and the explicit plot line, of unraveling a mysterious tangle of sorcerous crimes, is paralleled by an inner plot line that is also one of truth-seeking, this time of a fairly conventional and unhappy young man forced to understand his own history and change many of his most profound beliefs about his world and himself before he can succeed in his task.
The short version of that is, this book is not just fun, it's satisfying in a more literary, well-crafted way than some of Berg's early work. For someone like me who notices that consciously, it means the story can be enjoyed on multiple levels simultaneously. For someone who doesn't notice these things consciously, it still shapes a much more solid, powerful book. It's always nice to find a writer who just keeps getting better and better (especially when there are so many others who use up all their skills and good ideas in the first book and then devolve). Berg is, almost startlingly, aging well.
I will note, the ending is an odd one, in terms of resolution. While not a cliff-hanger in the traditional sense, the story ends just as the world takes a sudden sharp turn into a much darker and stranger reality.
David Devries is a very entertaining reader and handles the narrator's voice very well. Some of his voices for other characters are a little jarring at first, but they do work. From time to time - not often, but often enough that I found it noticeable - he obscures or inverts the meaning of a sentence by putting the emphasis on entirely the wrong word, suggesting to me that he may have done the reading without quite as much preparation as would have been best. It doesn't make the reading bad and I think that many people who 'surf' a little might not even notice, but it is a touch distracting to a listener who is following along very attentively. I'd still happily buy another book with his reading.
Earth - Air - Water - Fire These elements have sustained the peaceful people of Shaftal for generations, with their subtle powers of healing, truth, joy, and intuition. But now, Shaftal is dying. The earth witch who ruled Shaftal is dead, leaving no heir. Shaftal's ruling house has been scattered by the invading Sainnites. The Shaftali have mobilized a guerrilla army against these marauders, but every year the cost of resistance grows, leaving Shaftal's fate in the hands of three people.
Laurie J. Marks's Elemental Logic books are, in my opinion, some of the best fantasy-genre writing published in the 21st century. The world-building is complex and subtle, handled with a deft maturity of writing skill. The characters are detailed, engaging, and highly individual. The dialogue is good. The plots are, if anything, better. The prose is excellent but not flashy, leaving the story to shine out clearly from each page.
As the first book in the series, Fire Logic has the highest burden on it, to establish both the changing world and the main cast of characters while still telling a gripping story. It succeeds.
Also, these books are *fun*.
I have tried, in listening to Anita Roy Dobbs, to come up with some alternate book or genre I think she might be better suited to, but I'm coming up dry. I don't mind a slow, distinct speaker, but the pace of her reading is so dragged out, it sounds like the recording is being played at the wrong speed altogether, most of all in the dialogue, where it does the most damage. She has a breathy sweetness of tone which has absolutely nothing to do with the harshly beautiful stories being played out. Finally it seems to me that she doesn't have the basic skill of separating characters by different tones of voice, tempos of speech, and subtle shifts in accent and manner, so she uses much more heavy-handed methods to keep speakers sounding different from each other, with the result that all of them sound blurred and numb, like people worn to stupidity from 30 hours in a blizzard fumbling their way into their lines, or like people trying to converse after taking much too much valium and not yet gone to bed.
I am getting through Fire Logic's recording with clenched teeth, solely on the basis of my love for the book. Much as I hate to leave a series broken off early, I think it's unlikely I'll buy Earth Logic or Water Logic, until some distant, hoped-for day when someone else records them and I can try again.
Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries' seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once. At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointy as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.
Of all the contemporary SF writers who tackle Faerie, Holly Black seems to me to be the one who *gets* it. Her Faerie is beautiful and frightening, dark and wild, its inhabitants neither good nor evil but amoral, alien, dangerous, and mesmerizing. No other writer I know of has managed to evoke the appalling draw of glamour, the irresistible undertow-strong pull of a desire that is impossible to fight - even when everything sane inside a person screams that it is stupid and fatal and unwanted - because it's impossible to get the brain and body to line up and even try to fight at all. She is all the more extraordinary for having found ways to blend the Faerie of ballads and fables with the largely unconnected old and dark versions of fairy-tales, to weave a world which is all the more alien because it is so well known.
The Darkest Part of the Forest is all of that and more, because Black layers this incredibly rich and vivid Faerie with an equally evocative - though more sparing - depiction of life in a very strange and yet very recognizable small town largely dependent on its tourists, and again with a truly complex and troubling depiction of an unusual family and two siblings' childhoods in it, alternately glorious (or perhaps the word should be *glamorous*) and damagingly neglectful. (And, in a world filled with formulaic romances, predictable from page 3, let us stop for a moment to consider with respect a story in which - although there is indeed romance - the central, pivotal, close, flawed but unbelievably powerful relationship is between brother and sister.)
That layering, where every part reflects back on every other, and where the individual characters are just as vividly filled out as the world they inhabit and the dialogue is almost startlingly believable, combine with a truly gripping, fast-paced, complex but never overly complicated plot to make this a book I am going to read - or listen to - over and over again.
Lauren Fortgang's reading, while not quite up to the full scope of the novel, is still more than good enough to allow the novel to shine through, and provide a companion aspect to it. At times her intonation has overtones of Kate Reading, and at times Anne Hathaway in the Princess Diaries, and often is very much her own. A good reading is one which not only doesn't get in the way of the text but adds a dimension to it, and Fortgang achieves this mark with room to spare.
2 of 3 people found this review helpful
Amidst the decaying splendor and poisonous intrigue of Chalion's ancient capital, Cazaril is forced to confront not only powerful enemies but also the malignant curse that clings to the royal household, trapping him, flesh and soul, in a maze of demonic paradox, damnation, and death for as long as he dares walk the five-fold pathway of the gods.
Curse of Chalion is one of my favorite Bujolds - honestly, it's one of my favorite books. After years and years of doing good work on the Vorkosigan novels, she turned her hand to a wholly new piece of fantasy, producing compelling characters, with the simultaneously hilarious and penetrating dialogue of all her best writing, in an incredibly rich, detailed, interesting world, fully supplied with totally new gods and beliefs, a history of politics, hardship, courtly elegance, and war, a society, a geography... Curse of Chalion is a masterful piece of epic fantasy which keeps the story fully anchored in the gripping humanity of its characters.
And someone went and gave it to Lloyd James to read. There may be some books he could read well, I don't know. In Curse of Chalion, he seems to struggle simply to complete each sentence, intonation going up at random, and eventually wandering back down again, without any grasp of what the words that have just come out of his mouth might possibly mean. And I suspect that in fact he may not know what several of the words mean (and I don't mean ones Bujold invented, just English), because he mangles the pronunciation of several of them.
Harsh, harsh. I feel like I should apologize. But I love this book, and Lloyd James made listening to it once an agony, and listening to it more than once unthinkable.
If you want to see Bujold really stretching her wings and putting all her wit and intelligence and eloquence to great use....read the book on paper (and then get Kate Reading's reading of the semi-sequel Paladin of Souls, where the book and the performer are equally superb). Read it on paper, and then hope and pray that at some point, there will be another audio recording of it, with a reader who actually understands the prose and the story, and can do justice to both.
1 of 3 people found this review helpful
A girl named Charmain must inhabit her ailing great-uncle's time-traveling home full of magical belongings. As Charmain begins a journey of amazing discoveries, she comes to the attention of the powerful sorceress Sophie and an elusive wizard named Howl.
House of Many Ways is in some ways a new direction for Diana Wynne Jones, and in many ways reminiscent of her other lighter, funnier works. It's entertaining and has some good bits of character insight/development, and some nice moments of tension, and it is pretty much free from the underlying hatred of adult women which tarnishes so many of Jones's otherwise more engaging works.
What makes this recording a joy to own and hear, however, is Jenny Sterlin's sterling performance. After years of Gerard Doyle's agonizing struggles to get meaningfully from one end of a sentence to another, it is a dazzling relief to finally have a reader who is brilliantly suited to Diana Wynne Jones's works, with range, flexibility, intelligence, and humor.
Here's fervently hoping that others of DWJ's best novels will be given the reader they deserve.
8 of 10 people found this review helpful
Brenden Vetch has a gift. With an innate sense he cannot explain to himself or describe to others, he is able to connect to the agricultural world, nurturing gardens to flourish and instinctively knowing the healing properties each plant and herb has to offer. But Brenden's gift isolates him from people and from becoming part of a community - until the day he receives a personal invitation from the Wizard Od.
Not the very best of McKillip's work but still with the odd, unexpected, quiet charm which distinguishes her prose, her characters, and her imagery from any other writer's, _Od Magic_ is a fine place for a publisher to start with recordings. The world is complex, the characters varied, the story not so intricate as to leave a listener stranded but a long way from simple.
But the reader. Gabrielle de Cuir has a sweet, breathless, girlish voice which embroiders on every hint of wonder until it loses all its interest. She doesn't have the range for the variety of characters she's posed, but more, she seems to take the delicacy and beauty of McKillip's prose as a mandate to make a sticky-sweet spun-sugar confection out of a story that truly has more grip to it than that. de Cuir should be set to reading cyberpunk or other dystopias, where the *italic* quality of her reading would provide a contrast, a surprise, a source of richness in the reading. To have her reading McKillip is to reinforce every stereotype there is of McKillip's flowery-ness, every stereotype formed by readers who don't pay attention to the real tensions and ambiguities laced - yes, delicately, but with great tensile strength - through the narratives. De Cuir reads _Od Magic_ exactly the way someone who didn't like the book would expect it to be read.
I've been a fierce fan of Patricia McKillip's works since 1981. When _Od Magic_ was published, I bought it and read it and liked it very much. Every month or so, I do a hitherto useless search for any of her books available through Audible. When I found one, I bought it. I downloaded it. I started it. I never finished. Now, when I do my searche for anything by McKillip, it's with both eagerness and dread: what if there is another one, one I like even more? But--what if it's read by de Cuir?
13 of 13 people found this review helpful
Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last 15 years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor.
This satirical, hysterical romp of a novel is a classic now, and would be hard to describe in any case. At breakneck pace, it careens through the galaxy, only rarely pausing long enough for the characters - or the listeners - to catch their breath.
Arguably, the best way to listen to Hitchhiker's Guide is to listen to the original radio show that prompted the novel in the first place.
But if you're going to get an audiobook instead of the radio-show, this is the one. Stephen Fry is top-notch, and clearly having just the right amount of fun.
26 of 30 people found this review helpful
Fly away with Peter Pan to the enchanted island of Neverland! This first chapter book adaptation of the classic novel, originally published in 1911, tells the story of the boy who never grows up. And when they join Peter on his magical island, Wendy and her brothers are in for exciting encounters with mermaids, an Indian princess, and pirates! Let the amazing adventures begin!
After countless reductionist versions, it may be hard for some people to remember what J. M. Barrie's original story really was: a surreal, ironic, humorous, touching tale filled with weird details that no other writer would have dreamed of, and dry - and very English - social commentary.
Like so many other books which have been relegated to the ranks of "children's classics" and forgotten, this story is actually rather disturbing in some strange and marvelous ways - and I think it would be largely wasted on the young reader. Let them have the Disney picture book, and keep this gem for yourself.
Jim Dale is a superlative reader, who truly does justice to this strange, lapidary little piece. I recommend it without reservation to any reader/listener who will *pay attention* and see what's really there, and not the pastel wallpaper that revisionists have spread over the original work. I've listened to other versions by readers I respect and enjoy, but this one wins out over all of them: Jim Dale has got to the heart of the story that is really there, and he is mesmerizing in telling it.
50 of 50 people found this review helpful