Audiobook Review: Bitterwood by James Maxey

23 04 2013

Bitterwood by James Maxey (Dragon Age, Bk. 1)

Read by Dave Thompson

James Maxey/ACX (Audiobook Creation Exchange)

Length: 13 Hrs 55 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Maxey’s tale of revenge and Dragons set in a unique Post Apocalyptic world is finally now available in Audio. Fans of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, and David Gemmell’s Jerusalem man series should cheer this offering by James Maxey. It blends multiple genres creating a fascinating tableau that vaults this classic story from the mundane into something special. 

Grade: A-

So, I need to be a bit upfront with you, my fine readers. One of the reason’s I write reviews like I do is to allow you not to just see whether or not I liked the book, but to know whether or not I am the kind of person whose recommendations have value to you. So, I like to admit my biases, and when I have any ulterior motives I like to be honest about them. So, here is my admission:

I want this audiobook to be a success.

Now, I don’t mean this in the typical "I want an author to do well, because I’m fan" sort of way. I really want this audiobook to be successful because I really want the rest of the series to be produced and this probably will only happen if this book is a financial success for the author. I should also note, the narrator is Dave Thompson, who is a blogger at The Audiobookaneers, a site that I consider sort of a bother blog of mine, run by two guys I really respect.

So, let me tell you a bit about Bitterwood. I first read Bitterwood back in 2007. I loved the book, and reviewed it for my old blog Thistles for Breakfast. Now, I rarely reread books in audio. I have on a few occasions when it has been one of my all time favorite novels, like The Stand, Swan Song and A Gift Upon the Shore or if it’s part of a series that I originally read in Print and I want both a refresher and to get used to the narrator, like I did with The Name of the Wind.  Despite my love for Bitterwood, I never read the rest of the series. Mainly because that was the time when I changed jobs and my reading dropped from about 3-4 books a week, to 1 or 2 books a month. This is also the time I started listening to more audio at about my previous print level. So, since Bitterwoods sequels Dragonforge and Dragonseed never were produces on audio, I never got around to reading them. Now that Bitterwood is available in audio, I really want the others to be produced as audios as well.

Now, it’s been six years, and I have changed a bit as a reader. I have read more fantasy, and the balance between Speculative Fiction and Mystery/Thrillers today is much different for me than it was 6 years ago. I still am not a HUGE dragon fan, but I don’t often run screaming when I see a book is about dragons. This second time around, I loved the world and characters just as much as the first time I read it. In fact, instead of writing a whole new review, I am just going to provide an edited excerpt of my 2007 review with this caveat, I think I may have actually enjoyed the story even more the second time around.  

On the surface, Bitterwood is a typical fantasy revenge thriller. Bitterwood, the main character, is on a mission to kill all the dragons in the world. The dragons rule the earth, and keep humans as slaves or pets. Plus, they killed his family,  so what kind of fantasy character would he be if he didn’t vow to wipe them off the face of the earth. So, for years he carried out his revenge, until, the rumors say, he died with a band of rebels in the Southern Rebellion. Then, years later, during a competition to determine the next heir to the throne, the King’s son is slaughtered, his dead body found riddled with Bitterwood’s signature dragon feathered arrows. That of course, pisses the King off. So, he decides the best way to deal with Bitterwood, and those who harbor him, is to wipe humanity off the map. While many dragons find his genocidal policy abhorrent, few are willing to stand up to the King.

Maxey piles layers and layers on top what seems like a typical fantasy story. He builds one of the most intriguing Post Apocalyptic worlds I have seen in a while, yet, doesn’t dump it all on your head in one big scoop, but doses it out expertly, changing the story both subtly and drastically. By the time you reach the satisfying ending, you aren’t reading the book that you thought you were. One thing that I found intriguing in this book is the dragon’s portrayal. Not being a huge dragon fan, I had no biases or expectations on how dragons should act, yet, if I had to guess, it wouldn’t have been like this. What struck me early was the Anthropomorphism. These dragons displayed some shockingly human traits and emotions that I wasn’t sure how to react. Was this just bad writing? I highly doubted it, being the book was so well written. The dragon characters, no matter how human like, were well developed personas. If fact, their complexity, and political savvy rivaled many of the human characters that show up in the Big Fat Fantasies like Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Yet, as the world became more and more revealed, the dragons become more and more understandable, and by the end, these dragons were exactly what they should be in this tale. Don’t make the mistake of comparing these dragons to what dragons should be. Their character is what is important, not being able to fit them into comfortable stereotypes. Fans of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, and David Gemmell’s Jerusalem man series should cheer this offering by James Maxey. He fills a much needed void in the world of Action Sci/Fi Fantasy.

So, did I love Dave Thompson’s narration with the heartfelt joy of angels and comfy pillows? Well….No. But, I liked it… I swear, I did. There is definitely a rawness to this production, just a touch of a hiss in the background that isn’t super noticeable except for during breaks when it falls away. Yet, I feel this rawness served the story well. What Bitterwood may lack in the polish of a big time studio production, Thompson makes up for his grasp on the story and these characters. He brings all the vast wonderful dragon characters to life in ways I didn’t expect. One of the reasons I feel I enjoyed this story more was Thompson had a gruffness to his voice that gave these dragons a quality that separated them from the human characters, When I read it in print, I sometimes had trouble remembering that these characters were not in fact human, and this was an issue I never had in the audiobook. I liked that Thompson also knew his limitations and stayed true to a minimalistic style. He didn’t try to go all girlish and falsetto for the kids and female characters. In fact, I thought he did an excellent job with Jandra, just softening his voice, allowing us to know it was a women speaking. This method gave her a soft confidence that worked well with her character. Thompson definitely knows how to tell a story, and the finale of this book came alive in all its gruesome detail. Again, I was mesmerized by the ending, both sickened and surprised by what was occurring, often frustrated with the characters while fearing for their safety. All this came across well in the audio version, with nothing feeling rushed. As I said upon finishing this book, Dave didn’t give me ear herpes. Which is a good thing! I am glad to finally get a chance to revisit this novel in audio form, and am quite happy with the production as a whole.

Note: Special Thanks to Dave Thompson for providing me with a copy of this title for review. Neither his kindness or threats of bodily harm against my person influenced my review of this audiobook. Now, maybe if he offered cookies…



4 responses

23 04 2013
The Guilded Earlobe reviews Bitterwood by James Maxey, read by Dave Thompson | The AudioBookaneers

[…] check it out! “Quick Thoughts: Maxey’s tale of revenge and Dragons set in a unique Post Apocalyptic […]

1 05 2013

Revenge, dragons and the post apocalypse…sounds tasty.

21 10 2013
Whispersync Deal: James Maxey’s Bitterwood, read by Dave Thompson for Just $1.99 | The AudioBookaneers

[…] And here’s what Bob Reiss of the Guilded Earlobe says about it: […]

24 12 2013
Sam’s Listening Report: March 2013 | The AudioBookaneers

[…] even cruelty in interesting lights, and Thompson distinguishes these characters quite well. In his review at The Guilded Earlobe, Bob mentions “a rawness to this production, just a touch of a hiss in […]

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