Audiobook Review: Dead Harvest by Chris F. Holm

12 06 2012

Dead Harvest by Chris F. Holm

Read by Brian Vander Ark

Angry Robot on Brilliance Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 33 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Chris F. Holm manages to bring a believable noir feel to his urban fantasy, by creating a truly compelling character whose struggles with his very nature only adds to the  tension. While things go boom, and the stakes are world changing, Holm keeps the story centered by focusing on his character’s inner struggles.  Dead Harvest is a wonderful blending of the supernatural with urban crime fiction and an exciting start to a new series.

Grade: B+

I have only recently become a fan of Urban Fantasy, in fact, I only recently discovered that it was a genre. I had probably heard the terms, and I’m sure I may have read a book or two that fell within the genre’s definition, but I never was truly cognizant of it being a specific category until I began actively blogging and reading other book bloggers work. The first urban fantasy series that I recall reading is Thomas Sniegoski’s Remy Chandler series. After that I took on the Harry Dresden series, and I became more and more enamored with the concept. The major reason I was never more than a peripheral Fantasy fan, is that I preferred modern, relatable characters. Early on the majority of the Fantasy I read was portal fantasy, and I shied away from elves, dragons and the like. This is why I think I got drawn into the whole subgenre. The core of any good urban fantasy is the main character’s struggle with their humanity in a world where humanity isn’t the top of the food chain.  In a world full of magic, beings of power and the temptations these things bring, how does one maintain their soul? Urban Fantasy is wonderful escapism, but done correctly, it also shines a light on the human condition by displaying the conflict that those who have the opportunity to step outside it must undergo. It gives us a chance to ask the uncomfortable questions.   For us in the mundane, 40 hours a week, wage slave world, how much would we be willing to sacrifice for just a glimpse of something more?

In Dead Harvest, we meet Sam Thornton, collector of Souls. Existing in a sort of purgatory between life and death, Sam collects the essence of the damned, sending them to their final destination. Yet, when Sam is sent to collect the soul of Kate, a young women who was caught in the act of butchering her family, things go wrong and instead of taking her soul, he breaks her from prison, convinced she is innocent. Now Sam is being pursued by the cops, and even worse, creatures of heaven and hell, some of whom are ready to start a devastating war that could very easily destroy the world. In many ways, Dead Harvest is a chase novel in the form of an urban Fantasy. The novel moves at a relentlessly break neck pace as Sam and Kate barely manage to escape from the human and supernatural forces allied against them. Holm creates some stunningly complex yet vivid action sequences with near misses and skin of their teeth escapes galore. One of the frustration elements of the story is Sam, whose supernatural abilities could often aid in his escapes, chooses not to use the powers given to him as a collector. While I found it frustrating, it was also true to Sam’s character. Holm walks us through Sam’s regret filled past to show us a man struggling to keep hold of some semblance of his humanity. Unlike the majority of Urban Fantasy protagonists, Sam sees the powers he is given and his supernatural role as a curse, and has created a strict moral code to live by despite his belief that he is irredeemable. It’s a true testament to Holm’s skills as a writer that he can fully develop Sam as a character, while maintaining the run away rollercoaster pace of the narrative. Holm manages to bring a believable noir feel to his urban fantasy, by creating a truly compelling character whose struggles with his very nature only adds to the tension. While things go boom, and the stakes are world changing, Holm keeps the story centered by focusing on his character’s inner struggles.  Dead Harvest is a wonderful blending of the supernatural with urban crime fiction and an exciting start to a new series.

While Brian Vander Ark is no stranger to the recording studio, this is his debut as an audiobook narrator. Dead Harvest is a first person tale and Vander Ark gives Sam Thornton a gravelly voice that is an excellent fit for this character. Vander Ark manages to give the book the Hard Boiled feel of a Dashiell Hammond novel, while keeping up with Holm’s rapid fire pacing and elaborate action sequences. Vander Ark’s characterizations of the peripheral characters are a mixed bag. He is brilliant with the various lowlifes and demons that pepper this tale, yet, he struggles early on with Kate, and his gritty tones don’t always fit some of the smoother characters, particularly those of the angelic form. Yet, as the novel progressed, Vander Ark managed to get a hold on his characterization of Kate, smoothing her out and giving her a younger feel than originally portrayed. It’s not easy for male narrator’s to capture teenage girls authentically, but he manages a happy median with the character. While his performance wasn’t free of flaws I enjoyed Vander Ark’s narration and sincerely hope to hear him reading the next entry in this series.

Note: A special thanks to Brilliance Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

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3 responses

12 06 2012
russell1200

Seems like urban fantasy at least initially was somewhat in step with the early Ann Rice vampire popularity.

Tim Powers with his Last Call series struck me ve as almost the epitome of a parrallel magicical within reality.

12 06 2012
Kat Hooper (@KatherineHooper)

I’m looking forward to reading this!

10 07 2012
Stefan's Bookshelf

I am halfway through Dead Harvest and really enjoying it. Brian Vander Ark captures Sam’s voice perfectly.

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