My Top 10 Audiobooks of 2014

8 01 2015

In the past, I used to offer my favorite 20 audiobooks of the year. This, of course, when I was listening to nearly 200 audiobooks a year. In 2014, I listened to maybe 80-90 audiobooks in total, and the idea of doing a top 20 seemed ridiculous. So, instead, I offer you my 10 favorite audiobooks(with a few honorable mentions thrown in for good measure.). Despite the lower number, my choices were quite hard. I think 2014 was a great year for apocalyptic fiction and my list definitely reflects that.

Choosing my favorite audiobook of the year incredibly hard. I knew it would come down to a battle between two novels. One was a simply mind blowing exploration of Post Apocalyptic fiction. For me, I thought Station Eleven was brilliant, and worked on so many levels. Mandel’s ability to blend together multiple storylines with a menagerie of complex and wonderful characters creating one of the most vivid and fascinating entries into post apocalyptic fiction I have experienced in some time easily made it perhaps the best book I listened to in 2014. Yet, I didn’t have more fun listening to any book as a did Daniel Price’s The Flight of the Silvers. I went back and forth on my decision, but in the end I decided this isn’t a “Best of”list but a favorites list, and he book I enjoyed the most this year, by a hair was The Flight of the Silvers.

Flight of the Silvers by Daniel Price

Read by Rich Orlow

Recorded Books

I should note that not was it my favorite Audiobook, but perhaps my best review of the year.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Read by Kirsten Potter

Random House Audio

Code Zero (Joe Ledger, Bk. 6) by Jonathon Maberry

Read by Ray Porter

Macmillan Audio

What list would be complete without the latest entry of the Joe Ledger series. What makes Code Zero so amazing is how Maberry brings together so much of the series into one book. While it’s book 6 of the series, it is also the direct sequel to Patient Zero and proves why Maberry is the Zombie king.

My Review

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

Read by Peter Kenny

Hachette Audio

I loved Harry August. I mean, this book was right in my wheelhouse, like Replay and Life After Life, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is a tale of one person living their life over and over. Yet, despite the apocalyptic tone of the novel, it is full of whismy and dark British humor that makes it a unique experience. 

My Review

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Read by Cassandra Campbell

Harper Audio

Bird Box is simply the scariest book of the year. And while there be monsters, Malerman let’s the monsters in your own head fill out the details. Bird Box also benefits from the wonderful performance of Cassandra Campbell. Chilling and wicked.

 

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

Read by Josh Cohen

Random House Audio

Any other year, this would have been a contended for best book of the year. It’s an emotional exploration of one man’s character, while dealing with the death of one world, and the creation of another. I loved how Faber created a unapologetic, authentic Christian character who was, while at times frustrating and naïve, a good man. Josh Cohen’s narration was my favorite performance of the year. If you have only read this book, I encourage you to take some time and be mesmerized by a simply amazing performance which is the perfect example of how a narrator can enhance the experience of a book.

 

California by Edan Lepucki

Read by Emma Galvin

Hachette Audio

On the surface, California seems like your typical Young Adult Dystopian set up, but Lepucki strips away all the clichés and creates a disturbing yet enthralling look at societal breakdown and counter culture movements. California explores the nature of humanity, yet also manages to tell a darn good story.

The Girl With All the Gifts by M. R. Carey

Read by Finty Williams

Hachette Audio

So, you don’t like zombies? The Girl with All the Gifts may cure you of that unfortunate ailment. Carey once again shows that the undead are not simply the bloated corpse of a one trick pony, but a medium that offers much potential exploration. While good zombie tales are about delicious brains and entrails, great ones are about what it means to be human.

The Three by Sarah Lotz

Read by Andrew Wincott and Melanie McHugh

Hachette Audio

The Three was a novel that often managed to mesmerize me and frustrate me at the same time. Like Bird Box, The Three worked by using your own brain against you. Lotz asks open ended questions, and allowed the twisted brains of her readers to fill in the blanks. This made The Three fascinating to me, because each reader brings their own nightmares into the tale making the experience unique to them.

The Lesser Dead by Christopher Buehlman

Read by Christopher Buehlman

Blackstone Audio

I almost didn’t listen to The Lesser Dead, because, well, meh vampires… and it was read by the author. Well, fucking A Vampires and perhaps the best Author narration I have ever hear. The main character, Joey Peacock, was one of my favorite characters of the year, and if the book ended with your typical horror story bloodbath ending I still would have loved it. But it didn’t and well… wow. Great surprising novel.

My 2014 Honorable Mentions

 

Defenders by Will McIntosh

The only reason Defenders didn’t make my top 10 Audiobooks, is because it’s not available in audio, which is a travesty. Defenders was easily my favorite print read of the year. McIntosh took pulp fiction to a new level. His economy of word created stunning imagery that defies logic.

Favorite Binge Listen:

Words of Radiance (The Stormlight Archive , Bk. 2) by Brandon Sanderson

Read by Michael Kramer & Kate Reading

Macmillan Audio

So, for someone who is a bit hesitant to take on Epic Fantasies, binge listening to 100 hours of epic fantasy was a daunting task. But Dammit, The Stormlight Archives are everything I love about fantasy including stuff I didn’t realize I loved about fantasy.

Here are some of my other favorites of the year.





Audiobook Review: Afterparty by Daryl Gregory

29 04 2014

Afterparty by Daryl Gregory

Read by Tavia Gilbert

Audible Studios

Length: 10 Hrs 52 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Grade: A

In Afterparty, Daryl Gregory has created one of the more unique near future thrillers I have experienced in a while, a psychotropic chase novel across a recognizable future landscape full of strange characters, new tech and enough twists to keep you not even sure if you should even try to keep on guessing. Yet, if this was all that Afterparty was, I’d write a nice little review, talking about the above mentioned topics and try to keep it sounding all professional and shit.

Except I can’t because Afterparty punched me in the head. Repeatedly. With lingering effects.

Now, it wasn’t the story per se. The story was like a really good road trip to someplace you never been before with little side trips you never quite expected. Except, this road trip was laced with landmines. One second you’d be driving along, pointing to an all glass Tabernacle and Hoagie shop, or stopping to get your picture at the world’s largest ball of Already Been Chewed bubble gum in the Midwest, then bam, something goes boom and your brain matter gets sprayed all over your upholstery.

Afterparty tells the tale of a group of scientists who invented a drug that had the unfortunate side effect of manifesting a deity directly into your brain. After one scientist purposely overdoses the group with the drug, the group each gains their own version of god along with various levels of self destructive behavior. Years later, Lyda Rose, one of the scientist is now sequestered in her latest mental institute and discovers the drug has now hit the streets and she, along with the Angel who lives in her head, must discover which former colleague is responsible.

So, it’s pretty damn cool on it’s own. Yet, Gregory has laced his tales with reflections of the true nature of God, faith, the delusion of free will, humanity’s biological imperatives, along with other sociological, psychological, religious and scientific mindfucks. I’m probably missing a few ogicals and istics along the way. As someone who grew up in a religious family, raised in a fundamentalist Baptist Church I have spent years trying to come to terms with my spiritual inadequacy in the face of those who find real joy in religion. I rarely come across an interpretation of the Bible that I haven’t in some level explored. Gregory somehow made me look at some things in a whole new light. In fact, it’s something I’m still thinking about and if you get a few beers in me, as some friends were loathe to discover, I will spew it all over you. It’s rare that a book affects me on such a personal level, not based on a character I came to love or some scenario I could relate to, but with issues of self, and faith explored in brilliant new ways. The thing I especially liked about Afterparty is that I think each person who reads it will more than likely have a similar mindfuck moment, yet with a different topic. This is the fun part of driving through a cerebral minefield, you never know which one is going to blow your brains out of the back of your head.

Sadly, I don’t listen to enough Tavia Gilbert. This is only the third time I have had the privilege to listen to her narrate a book, and it was definitely my favorite. How often does a narrator get to take on religious schizophrenics, delusional deities and bizarre cowboys? For some this may be daunting, but for Tavia Gilbert it came off as great fun. She deftly guided us through an strangely familiar world, while giving the intricately laced dialogue an organic feel. Gilbert never gave anything away, just allowed you to discover the various psychosis of the characters as well as their foibles and secret intentions in a manner worthy of the text. It’s a performance that is both nuanced and just a little bit goofy, and simply fun to listen to.





Audiobook Series Review: The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne

25 04 2014

For my reviews of the first two in this series, click on the images above

Hammered by Kevin Hearne (The Iron Druid Chronicles, Bk, 3)

Read by Luke Daniels

Brilliance Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 30 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Grade: B

Tricked by Kevin Hearne (The Iron Druid Chronicles, Bk. 4)

Read by Luke Daniels

Random House Audio

Length: 10 Hrs 41 Min

Genre:Urban Fantasy

Grade: B+

Trapped by Kevin Hearne (The Iron Druid Chronicles, Bk. 5)

Read by Luke Daniels

Random House Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 2 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Grade: B+

Hunted by Kevin Hearne (The Iron Druid Chronicles, Bk, 6)

Read by Luke Daniels

Random House Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 52 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Grade: A-

People seem to love The Iron Druid series. In fact, they love it so much that upon discovering that someone may be like two… or four books behind in the series, that person’s status as a blogger and perhaps even their masculinity is called into question. As someone who cares greatly about his image as the manliest of all audiobook bloggers, it was my secret shame to be woefully behind in the various adventures of the titular Iron Druid, Atticus and his canine cohort Oberon. Now, I had, some time ago, listened to and enjoyed the first two books of this series. I even reviewed those books pretty positively, so OBVIOUSLY I should have quickly moved on to the rest of the series.

Yet, I didn’t. I got all sorts of distracted by other pretties. Hot new releases, other series, covers with alien crab walkers on it. I said to myself, Hey, you need to get back to that Druidy thing with the funny dog, and I was like, yeah, yeah, yeah… but this book has cyborg robots in love with Unicorns. Maybe after this book about a small boy and his talking chimp who survive global economic chaos through pluck and bad cockney accents.

Basically, there is too many goddam books for me to listen to them all, and dammit, I listen to a lot of frakkin’ books.

I know, excuses, excuses.

Since 2014, so far, has been the year of the audiobook series binge listen, and since I knew that in the relatively near future, due to a change at work, my listening time may decrease, I decided that if I was ever to catch up on this series, I needed to do it now. Hence, the Iron Druid Binge Listen. I have always been a fan of the binge listen. In fact, it’s my favorite kind of binging, since binge eating leads to health issues, and binge drinking eventually leads to me vomiting next to a merry-go-round in a elementary school playground. Yet, I find that certain types of book series, particularly Urban Fantasy and Horror series are well suited to the binge listen.

OK, confession time. Often times when I start the next book in a series, after the required year long wait, I am totally lost. I don’t know if it’s just the limit of my brains, or the affects of reading 150-200 books a year, but I tend to lose much of the details of a book over time. Even with my most favorite series ever there are characters who I know I should know, and foreshadowing events I should absolutely remember, but instead the details take a long time coming. More than once, I will get like two thirds of the way into a book, and have an “ah ha” moment saying, “Holy shit, that’s who that dude is.” I think this is one of the reasons I’m hesitant about epic fantasy, since by the time book 3 comes out I forgot who 758 of the 760 perspective characters where. This, my friends, is why Cthulhu created the series binge listen.

So, I started the binge listen with Hammered, book 3 of the series. Honestly, throughout most of Hammered, I was kinda “ho… hummm…. this is nice.” I definitively was suffering some of the dissonance of jumping back into the story, and the core part that always stuck out to me in this series was the relationship between Atticus and Oberon, which wasn’t as prevalent in Hammered. It seemed to me that Hammered was that essential book in every Urban Fantasy series where the protagonist goes off to do something incredibly stupid, which they know is stupid, and everyone they trust tells them it’s stupid but they continue to do it for some sort of arbitrary “pride” or “honor” reason and you the reader just knows it’s basically going to unleash the shit storm that they will be dealing with in upcoming books. You know you have to get through the “protagonist acting like a complete nit” book, in order to get to the more awesome “protagonist dealing with the shit storm that acting like a nit unleashed” books. There were two scenes that made Hammered worth it. Atticus’s interaction with Jesus, and the “bonding” sequence where each of the questers told their stories. So while I was less than thrilled with Hammered, I believed there was good things to come.

Thank God I was right!

After the events of Hammered, Atticus has a lot on his plate. Gods want to kill him, Religious whackjobs still don’t trust him, he has an apprentice to train, and Oberon still needs sausages. Tricked benefited a lot from a scenery change, and a whole new mythology to explore. I often cringe when books bring in Native American mythology, because it often comes off as derivative, but Hearne has a way of exploring mythology in creative ways while not diminishing the traditions. Tricked was a fun change of pace, and gave the characters a bit of a breather before the chaos begins, well, if you can consider dealing with evil skinwalkers a breather.

I was both surprised and relieved with the 12 year time jump in Trapped. When Atticus discussed the prophesy of the word burning in 13 years, I was like “Shit, now Hearne is going to write 12 novels each spanned out over a year until we get to the global apocalypse we all are waiting for. WHY CAN’T I HAVE MY WORLD BURING NOW!!!!” Now, maybe he still plans on string out 12 more novels, but at least Ragnarok is looming closer and closer, and this absolutely builds the tension. I really, really enjoyed both Trapped and Hunted. First off, I love that Hearne ended the sexual tension between Atticus and Granuaile with a choice, and not some clumsy fumbling moment where they both finally give into their long repressed passions. I love the interplay between Atticus and the various Gods. Hearne never gives into the Hollywood dulling of the natures of the gods but embraces their utter despicableness. Hunted is a brilliant otherworldly chase novel, that cleverly included some new perspectives, and lots of cool twists and turns that kept me enthralled until the end.

Yet, everyone, let’s be honest. We’d all probably like a Iron Druid novel if the plot was an unadventurous trip to the Laundromat, as long as their were plenty of interactions between Atticus and his hound Oberon. Sure, life and death struggles, battles with the gods, hot druid sex are all fine and good, but without Oberon bartering for sausages and bitches, what’s the point? Oberon makes this more than just another Urban Fantasy series. He imbibes it with soul, acting as Atticus’ insatiable moral compass. I mean, he’s a friggin’ dog and he’s awesome. What else do you want?

Now, I like to keep my personal feelings about a performer out of my evaluations of their performances, so I will not let my jealousy of the fact the ladies swoon at the mere mention of Luke Daniels name influence my thoughts on that rotten bastards narration of The Iron Druid Chronicles. I have listened to Daniel’s narrate a lot of thrillers, mysteries, and contemporary science fiction novels, and I am always impressed with his ability to tell a good story. He handles characters well, making each one distinct and creating dialogue that feels natural. Yet, I often forget just how wide of a range he truly has. Books like The Iron Druid Chronicles and Martin’s shared world anthology Wild Cards show that Daniels can take on any character, no matter what sex, nationality, genetic mutation, planet of origin, or any other goddam weirdo thing a screwed up author throws at him with ease. I honestly at times thought, “Now, Kevin Hearne is just fucking with him, right?” with some of the voices he had to pull off, but pull them off he did. I truly can’t imagine experiencing this series in any other manner besides audio without a significant decrease in awesomeness, and really, people, we want more awesomeness, not less. So get with it. So, if you have yet to listen to this series, maybe you too should partake in an Iron Druid binge listen.





Audiobook Review: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

24 04 2014

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

Read by Peter Kenney

Hachette Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 10 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Grade: A-

Here’s the thing: Give me a book about someone reliving their life over and over again, while maintaining their memories, and I’m gonna read it. And, more than likely, love it. People often say that there are no new plots, like that’s a bad thing. Maybe I’m strange, but often when I read a really good book, I want to read something just like it again. Maybe it’s the experience. You can never really re-experience a book again for the first time, but you can try and recapture that experience again through something else.

One of my all time favorite books is John Grimwood’s Replay. I friggin’ love that book for so many reasons. It’s time travel without the stupid machine. It’s a chance to fix your mistakes, or make new ones. So, when I heard about The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, I knew I had to listen. It reminded me of Replay, and Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. So, it’s hard to truly evaluate how much of my reaction to this novel is a reflection of the shared experience and how much was an appreciation of this specific experience.

Yet, I really liked Harry August, both the character and the novel, for many reasons. One of my favorite aspects is how Harry used each life to investigate a certain aspect of condition. Through science, religion, drugs whatever, he explores what it means to be a man reliving his life. This gives the novel a whole lot of metaphysical and scientific time travel speculation stuff that I always enjoy. I like novels that make my brain jump through hoops, consider strange possibilities, while maintaining character that I find engaging. The plot was full of moral complexities. How much influence should Harry and his like have on world events? Are they responsible to make the world a better place, or obliged to keep history flowing as close to the original path as possible? North explores these questions in interesting ways. I liked all this thinky stuff. The basic plot itself was fine. Harry receives a message from the future that something is happening to speed up the end of the world, and he investigates it. He works, at differing levels, with a group of others reliving lives called The Chronos Club. The investigation serves the purpose of creating conflict, and does it pretty well. All in all, I felt it came together well. In fact, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is a novel that stuck in my brain for a long time after finishing.

I was glad to finally get to listen to a audiobook narrated by Peter Kenney that I actually liked. I had listened to him once before, and his performance was the main thing that kept me in that game. Again, Kenney gives a wonderful performance. OK, some of his American voices sounded weirdly like Daffy Duck, but his handle on international accents was excellent, and he added so much texture to the reading. He moved effortlessly between long bouts of exposition and dialogue seamlessly, keeping the listener actively engaged. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is an experience I won’t soon forget, and the next time I see a book about someone living their life over and over again, I’ll probably be all over that as well.





Audiobook Review: The Flight of the Silvers by Daniel Price

16 04 2014

The Flight of the Silvers by Daniel Price

Read by Rich Orlow

Recorded Books

Length: 21Hrs 27 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Grade: A

OK, so this may get weird.

The other day, I was finishing up a particularly disappointing listen. I had been in a strange cycle of awesome followed by awful in my audiobook listening, and needed to balance out the latest heartbreaking letdown with some new brain-busting goodness. Scanning through my pile of yet to be listened to audiobooks, my brain was screaming “NO NO NO!” at each one I perused. So, as normal people are known to do, I started to scan my extremely packed Audible Wishlist for something, anything that may tickle my malleus. Then, I saw this:

THE FLIGHT OF THE SILVER

“What the fuck is this?” I asked myself in my typically profane way. I had no recollection of adding this title to my Wishlist. While I have been known to add some weird stuff to Wishlist, this book didn’t seem to be some strange hedgehog porn title, or an Apocalyptic Robot Unicorn Spatterpunk Anthology, and I had no clue how it got onto my Wishlist. Immediately I went to my list of go to possibilities.

Drunk Wishlisting: This is of course, the cousin to Drunk Texting for the more socially awkward.

Hacker Pitches: Maybe some Author/Hacker gave up pitching their novels to me through email, and used the Heartbleed Bug to access my Audible Passwords to add their book to my wishlist.

The Pets: I know these bastards use my computer when I’m not home to fuck with me.

But, being curious I read the Publisher Summary. This book seemed really good. Like, something I would really like. Then it hit me.

Maybe, future Bob went back in time and added this book to my Wishlist, because it was so damn good.

But then, this creates a weird Paradox. How exactly would future Bob know this books was so good if it was never on his Wishlist and yet how was it added to my Wishlist unless future Bob knew it was good? Maybe, it wasn’t actually future Bob. Maybe, one night I faced a choice, embrace my extroverted side and go out and engage in some social activity like a normal person, or give in to my introverted half and spend the night researching audiobooks like some hermit auditory entertainment addict. Now, in the past, I tended to feed the introverted side, and stay home, but lately I have been more social. So, what if when I made this latest decision, the choice created an alternate timeline, where alt-Bob stayed home and discovered THE FLIGHT OF THE SILVERS, read it, became fascinated by temporal paradoxes, created a dimensional spanning time machine, traveled to the timeline where I actually engaged in social activities, and accessed my Audible Wishlist, adding THE FLIGHT OF THE SILVERS to it, knowing at some point I will be looking for an alternative to my latest disappointing listen.

I know, right! Makes sense.

So, I did listen to THE FLIGHT OF THE SILVERS and goddammit, Future Alt-Bob was on to something here. When a book starts with the utter annihilation on one existence, and get weirder from there, well, I’m in for the ride. THE FLIGHT OF THE SILVERS is tale of regular, everyday people, who just happen to be cross dimensional temporal superheroes who must come together to prevent the destruction of the multiverse. It’s like Markus Sakey’s Brilliance meets Fringe, with a touch of the Superfriends. You have all the typical superhero cliches, the tragic beginnings, the broken heroes, the discovery of their powers, the struggle with the ethical issues of power, silver glowing force field ball things, over the top action sequences and awkward romantic tension, yet added into it is some bizarre physics/timey wimey meta-mystical weirdness. Oh, and an isolationist alt-America that is rife with Xenophobia because WHY NOT!. To make it better, Daniel Price has the writing chops to pull what could be an incoherent mess, into a fast paced, exciting chase story. His characters are lovingly constructed, and come alive in your brain. His action sequences are so well put together, and detailed that at times they seem to go on a bit too long, but still keep you utterly enthralled. My only real complaint is that as part of a series, my brain wanted a bit more resolution. Sure, the story had a lot of strong reveals at the end, and it was pretty well contained, but Price utilized his temporal plotting to create lots of foreshadowing of potential things to come and I wanted to know NOW! THE FLIGHT OF THE SILVERS grabbed me from the apocalyptic beginning, and held onto me with it’s giant white fist through all the multidimensional time weirdness, to the exciting finale. It was pretty damn good.

There is a scene early in this book, where Amanda, a nurse and one of the future SILVERS, is trapped in her protective bubble as the world is being destroyed around her. It’s a brilliant and poignant scene between her and her somewhat estranged husband that has emotional resonance throughout the rest of the book. Listening to this scene, I felt like I was there, witnessing a conversation between two distinct people. It literally gave me chills. This is when I said to myself, “Rich Orlow is a pretty badass narrator.” And, really, he is. There are performances to remember, and Rich Orlow gives one here. His handling of the many characters was wonderful. From the sociopathic creeper Evan to the strange otherly beings that seem to be directing each step the Silver take, Orlow nails them all. His pacing is spot on, allowing each sequence to move at just the right speed. While we are only a few months in, this is definitely one of my favorite performances of the year. Dammit, the man even sings a bit. If you like science fiction, time travel, shiny awesome things, or have a soul trapped somewhere in your flesh cocoon, give THE FLIGHT OF THE SILVERS a listen.





Audiobook Review: Dreams of Gods & Monsters

15 04 2014

Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Bk. 3)

Read by Khristine Hvam

Hachette Audio

Length: 18 Hrs 11 Min

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Grade: C

Laini Taylor’s Dreams of Gods and Monsters was one of my most anticipated releases of spring 2014. I loved the first books in the series, particularly in audio. Taylor’s prose was like poetry come to life, dripping magic with every word, brought into life like music through the voice of Khristine Hvam. Even the angst filled forbidden love between Karou and Akiva, the star crossed angel and his lovely monster, managed to keep me entranced. Her world full of angles and demons, of battles spanning time, fate and worlds was unique in a genre filled with stilted cliches. I was anxiously awaiting the final ballad of the trilogy, the last burst of magic that would bring this story to it’s ultimate world changing climax.

Sigh…

I did not love Dreams of Gods and Monsters. Oh, the beauty and magic were still there, and Taylor’s writing still enthralls me, but the final chapter of this trilogy was 12 hours of angst interwove between 6 hours of story. There was stuff I did like. I really liked the new character of Eliza, a doctoral candidate who worked as the assistant for the scientist studying the genetic makeup of a discovered mass grave of Chimera, whose dark past hid secrets to her dreams of monsters and angels. Even though her story arch took some odd turns along the way, Taylor’s prowess at developing strong characters is on full display her. My major problem, beyond the long eloquent ruminations of fated love, was the way the plot was concluded. The Angel invasion into earth was anticlimactic at best. I applaud Taylor for trying to bring an nontraditional closure to this storyline, yet, it’s execution paled in comparison the nature of the set up. The large battle between the Seraphim and the joint rebel Angel and Chimera was totally Dues Ex Machina, even worse it was an off camera Dues Ex Machina in service of an unnecessary twist. All this blunted the tale, allowing the angst to become the driving force of the tale, instead of an influencing factor. Taylor explores some fascinating new physics concepts, adding more Lovecraftian spins and examining the nature between magic and science. It was a wonderful, beautifully formulated thought experiment, and if added in more detail to the earlier novels, or explored on its own in another book, I may have really digged it, but by the time these concepts were fully examined, I was so frustrated with the book and ready for it to end. All criticisms aside, Dreams of Gods and Monsters didn’t diminish my view on Taylor as a writer. It just didn’t offer what I was looking for in a conclusion. I am sure, those who love the tragic love tale between Karou and Akiva, will be thrilled by this ending. I was not one of those people.

As always, I have nothing but high praise for Khristine Hvam. More than once her reading of this novel gave me chills. I highly doubt I would have made it through the 18 hour production if it was read by a lesser narrator. Her performance is music, and beauty and humor in all the right places. I almost enjoyed the long soliloquies on love and fate… well, almost almost… well, not really, but at least there was a bit of sugar to help those bitter pills go down.





Series Review: The Stormlight Archives by Brandon Sanderson

14 04 2014

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

Read by Michael Kramer and Kate Reading

Macmillan Audio

Length: 45 Hrs 37 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Grade: A+

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

Read by Michael Kramer and Kate Reading

Macmillan Audio

Length: 48 Hrs 15 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Grade: A+

Big sweeping epic fantasies and I don’t always mesh well together for many reasons. First, magic tends to annoy me. I think it can be all kinds of cool when some crazy old sorcerer unleashed hellfire and damnation down upon the wicked, but when every problem is solved by a twinkle of the nose or some demon released from the nether regions, and magic becomes more important than characters, I lose interest. And while I love characters, after the 300th one appears in their cardboard cutter glory, and they are all named, Taragon, Sharagon, Sh’othan, Larry of the Sharaghon Forrest, Troctadon, Bill, Z’Atmothathalogabn, and… I WANT THEM ALL TO DIE. Also elves. OK, in the right context, elves can be sort of fun, but when they show up in their Tolkenesque glory in the first five friggin’ minutes of a book, I tend to want to scream GO BACK TO MIDDLE EARTH YOU POINTY EAR BASTARD! Maybe I’m speciest, I just don’t trust them. Yet, when I do fall for an Epic Fantasy, I fall hard. I fall like a YA protagonist after just meeting her first Vampire. I lie awake wondering if the book will call me the next day. I wonder if I read the book too much it will think I’m creepy, but still go back to it over and over again. I have spent months, reading and rereading Fantasy series. I have spent hours refreshing author’s websites when they are supposed to announce when the next book is coming out. This is why I am often hesitant to jump into a big fantasy novel. It becomes either my bane or my existence. Luckily, this is why god created other awesome people to motivate you into important life decisions like dedicating 100 hours of your life to listening to the AWESOMEST SERIES EVER. So, yeah, thanks. You know who you are.

So, what is The Stormlight Archives series by Brandon Sanderson about. Well, I’m not going to even try. If I could do justice to a summary that would truly give you an idea of the nature of this book, I would be a much better writer than I am and probably should concentrating on trying to fuck with people’s brains they way Sanderson did with mine. I think often, especially with hard core readers, there is a sense when reading where you think… “You know what… I could do this.” With Sanderson my reaction was “How in god’s name did some human being imagine this with his brain thing than manage to transport it from the twisted regions of his mind to words on a page. WHAT FOUL MAGIC IS THIS?” Truly, Sanderson has created a world that is truly breathtaking. From the otherworldly creatures that react to the emotions of the people, to a shattered land serving as the field for a massive battle. It’s full of dark beauty, fascinating magic, deep secrets and something tickling along the edges of the narrative letting you know there is even more than you can possibly imagine. Yet, the true beauty of this novel is the characters. Sanderson tells the traditional fantasy origin story in an entirely unique way. He creates a character, strips them down to their core, then builds them back up piece by piece. Along the way, they become real to you. Not just some powerful mage, or savvy political leader, but a real broken person, with flaws who manages to pull you entirely into their world. Sanderson surrounds his key players with an assorted menagerie of colorful characters, allowing you to see the growth of his protagonists through how they affect those around them. Bridge 4, a collection of slaves forced to carry bridges in suicidal battle runs, is one of the most wonderful group of characters I have read in a while. Their transformation from beaten down slaves, to an effective unit is so brilliant, it makes you almost want to to start running these death marches yourself.

Then there is the action. Holy shit, the action. There were moments where I just had to stop where I was and absorb some scene of pure baddassery. I became so mesmerized, I ignored those around me for the much more interesting people performing crazy ass action in my brain hole. I’m lucky I was never in the middle of traffic when these scenes came, because it’s hard to finish listening to a book after a F150 runs you down. The Stormlight Archives is the rare fantasy novel that is about war, but never glorifies it. Sanderson allows us to accompany his characters into the battles, giving as an intimate look at chaos, letting us see the full horrors of these event. Yet, there is some level of hope at play within the context of the team, and the players assembled. These are characters that make each other better, that build each other up, become a true family of choice, setting the basis to allow the events to build. The individual fight scenes rivaled the visual splendor and choreography of the best superhero films. These fights go beyond the “so and so punched so and so in the face” battles, but took place in multiple dimensions that break the laws of physics, yet never become muddled or obfuscated. Sanderson creates a vivid conflict in your head, and leaves you breathless as you follow each movement, each action and each new mind bending discovery.

Another fascinating element that Sanderson sneaks into the plot is the self defeating nature of isms. His society is built on highly structured class-ism based on the arbitrary physical attribute of eye color. The division between the Noble Bright Eye class, and the peasant dark eyes, creates levels of conflict that plays out in multiple ways throughout the tale. Sanderson shows how such and arbitrary class structure creates self defeating scenarios and ingrained suspicions among people who are essentially good and should be allies. It adds a level to the tale, that while on surface seems almost cliché, yet Sanderson subverts the clique effectively making it unique in his hands. Also, I found the division of labor between the sexes to be quite interesting. Men have deemed reading, writing and scholarly pursuits to be feminine qualities, when they focus on the more physical. So, while women are viewed as subservient, they control the knowledge, and well, we know what that means.

This is my problem with reviewing something like the Stormlight Archive. I just want to scream, AWESOME! READ THIS NOW. There is so much here that I simply loved about this book, that I can’t even scratch the surface. I want to yell “Dalinar is such a badass” and you just understand what I mean. Or, THANK GOD SHE ASKED HIM ABOUT POOP and you just shake your head knowingly. Because, there is so much here. So many aspects that I want to frantically point out to you like a frat boy looking at Christmas lights while tripping on LSD. And what’s the hardest thing to reconcile, is I may never have read it. So, if you even think you might possible like Epic Fantasy, read this.

If you can listen to two people read a book for almost 100 hours and not once want to stab yourself in the ear with a rusty fork, then those narrators are doing something right. At no point did either Micheal Kramer or Kate Reading make me want to stab myself in the ear with a rusty fork, in fact, their reading made me want to protect myself from any sort of rusty fork in the ear related injury. These two talented narrators brought this story alive in a brilliantly vivid way. I love how you could hear the character development in their voices, with Shallan going from a seemingly flighty naïve girlchild, to, perhaps, the pivotal character of Words of Radiance and Kalidan developing from a man with nothing to live for to a leader of men. Kramer does a wonderful job guiding us through this brokenness and rehabilitation of Kalidan as well as showing us the turmoil of Dalinar’s struggles with his own sanity. Plus, his Bridge 4 character never failed to put a smile on my face. One thing I especially liked about Kramer is he gives his characters a wide range of exotic sounding accents, without falling back onto the annoying Elizabethan feel that many people seemed to think fantasy novels require. One of the problems you face with two different narrators is the dissonance of shared characters. This isn’t too much of an issue here. Sure, Kramer’s Shallan sounds a bit more imperious than Readings, and Reading’s Kalidan a bit younger than Kramer’s, the two POV’s don’t really come together to late in the series and by that time the narrators have had such a strong grasp on the material, you are fully engaged in the story. So, yes, The Stormlight Archive is now my newest Fantasy obsession, so please forgive my creepy book stalking during the wait for the next book in the series.