Audiobook Review: Shadow Ops: Breach Zone by Myke Cole

6 02 2014

Breach Zone (Shadow Ops, Bk. 3) by Myke Cole

Read by Korey Jackson

Recorded Books

13 Hrs 54 Min

Genre: Military Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: While Breach Zone’s high concept scenario should thrill any speculative fiction fan, the true heart of the tale comes in Cole’s intimate development of the relationship between two characters. Breach Zone asks big question and never provides easy answers, but what it does provide is a whole lotta fun and characters you become truly invested in. 

Grade: B+

In Breach Zone, Myke Cole rounds out his Shadow Ops trilogy with a well conceived and solidly executed completion of the story that began in Control Point. When I first began Breach Zone, I was a bit worried. The concepts behind the tale, a siege of New York City by magical otherworldly beings under the leadership of a disgruntled and dangerous women, was brilliant, yet part of me wondered if the concept was too big for the writer. While Cole’s action scenes are solid, the strength of his writing came in his ability to create realistic, morally conflicted characters. I wondered if the big time blockbuster scenario would drown out the essence of the story. Yet, Cole took the story in a direction I was totally not expecting. While probably his biggest novel to date, it was also his most intimate, expanding the stories of two peripheral characters in a heartfelt way that felt like a natural progression to the story. While goblin battles and magical warfare was going on in big ways, the story proved to be about two characters and this conflict became the soul of the story, giving Breach Zone the humanity it needed. Breach Zone asks big question and never provides easy answers, but what it does provide is a whole lotta fun and characters you become truly invested in. 

After some pacing issues early on in the first novel, Korey Jackson has seemed to really find his stride in this series. It’s not easy for a series narrator to take on a series where the main protagonist shifts book to book, yet Jackson handles this seamlessly. Jackson’s reading sucked me into the tale, breathing life into these characters. His narration drives the story forward, keeping the listener on their toes. Cole brings the first arc of hi Shadow Ops series to a strong finish, and allows a good framework for more tales to come.





Audiobook Review: The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente

19 09 2013

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente (Fairyland, Bk. 2)

Read by S. J. Tucker

Brilliance Audio

Length: 8 Hrs 18 Min

Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: THE GIRL WHO FELL BENEATH FAIRYLAND AND LED THE REVELS THERE  maintains all the magic, dark adventure and vicarious joy of the first novel, and builds on it with delightful results. Catherynne M. Valente’s twists of classic fairytales and portal fantasies is a magical joyride for people of all ages.

Grade: A

It’s been a year since September has returned from Fairyland, where she had grand adventures, made fabulous new friends and helped overthrow the Marquess who wanted to prevent any other little girls from crossing over into Fairyland. A year of patient waiting for her father to return from the war, for her 13th birthday, and for the wind to sweep her back to Fairyland where now that the darkness has been defeated she can delight in the magic and the company of her friends. Yet, when she finally does return, nothing is right. Someone has been coming up from Fairyland Below and stealing the shadows of those from Fairyland Above, and September suspects that the shadow thief may be her own shadow she left behind a year ago. OK, let‘s screw suspense, people…. I LOVE LOVE LOVED this book. This book made me want to have kids just so someday I can introduce them to the wonderful world of Fairyland where young girls can be bishops, markets run wild, shadows can dance and play, and science is a device searching for it’s use. Catherynne M. Valente’s twists of classic fairytales and portal fantasies is a magical joyride for people of all ages, from wide eye children to gruff brutish, emotionally distant, socially awkward almost 40 year old men like myself. Following September’s adventures in Fairyland is the closest I have come to reliving those days when I would give anything to travel to Narnia or Oz and have grand adventures with talking animals, ogres and ghouls, and maybe have tea with a family of beavers. THE GIRL WHO FELL BENEATH FAIRYLAND AND LED THE REVELS THERE  maintains all the magic, dark adventure and vicarious joy of the first novel, and builds on it with delightful results.

There is so much in the book I loved that it’s would almost be easier to write a checklist of awesomeness. While you may miss out on the illustrations that come with the print version, the story itself is perfect for audio. Valente, in the form of a nameless narrator, tells this story in a conversational tone. The narrator acts as a conspiratorial conduit for the tale, letting the reader in on bits and bobbles and tiny secrets that the characters of the book are not privy to. She is quick to defend September for her often rash manner, explaining to us about how she is just now finding her heart, and is just getting used to it. This style truly pulls the reader into the tale, becoming more than an outside observer, but investing themselves into September’s adventure. I was amazed at the small and subtle moments of wisdom that Valente sneaks into her tale, flipping typical platitudes on their heads, and revealing as much about our world as Fairyland through the absurdity and wonder of it’s denizen’s. Small words of wisdom about ones "bone’s desire" and how you never forget what you do during war, ring even more true through the innocents of these characters. Like the first novel, Valente create magic through the mundane, taking regular items and having them act in irregular ways. Often times, the magic that forms is more in the altering of perceptions of everyday things than on spells and potions. While I am not a parent, I am an uncle, and I feel this book is one that little girls should read to understand their true potential, and little boys should read to understand little girls. Also, adults, because adults should always take moments in their lives to remember what it was like to be children. While THE GIRL WHO FELL BENEATH FAIRYLAND… is all these things I have mentioned in theme and execution, it is also a delightful, suspenseful and engaging story full of magic humor and wonderful characters. Most of the characters from the first novel, or some altered version of them, return, and often it surprising ways. Old friends become new enemies, and old enemies are surprising allies. Also, there are a couple of crows because crows are awesome. As I said, I could go on rambling and rambling about the many reasons I loved this book, and will probably hate myself tomorrow when I realized I missed 10 or 20 more, but just know I loved this book, and if you still have a heart somewhere, whether you remember how to use it or not, you will love it too.

THE GIRL WHO FELL BENEATH FAIRLYAND AND LED THE REVELS THERE had been languishing on my TBL pile for a while, and the only reason I decided to listen to it at this time was due to a malfunction in my planned audiobook. So, with all this love of the book, why wait? My hesitation was solely from the change in narrator. This first novel was read wonderfully by the author, and I balked at a new voice taking over these delightful characters, particularly in a narrator I have never experienced before. So, it was somewhat of a shock to me when I absolutely fell in love with S. J. Tucker’s performance of this novel. She has a rich exotic voice, with a bit of spice that perfectly fed into the otherworldly magic of the novel. Tucker reads it with an unrecognizable accent, something not quite American and not quite British, but somewhere in between, adding a lyrical cadence to made the simplest line sing with poetry. I have always said, when talking about audiobooks, that readers can hear a smile, yet, with S. J. Tucker’s performance you can hear the shades of the narrator’s grin from the sly smile to the devilish Cheshire. While I am not sure if it was planned, Tucker’s performance seemed to have a continuity with Valente’s. I suffered no dissonance, each character felt right to me, as if I had already spend plenty of time on adventure with them. There were so many wonderfully memorable moments in this production, but I would be remised if I didn’t mention the rhyming goblin sales pitch, which was wonderfully written and performed and a joy to experience. As I mentioned early, this series is almost tailor made for audio, and S. J. Tucker’s beautiful performance enhanced the experience.





Audiobook Review: Perdido Street Station by China Mieville

9 09 2013

Perdido Street Station by China Mieville

Read by John Lee

Random House Audio

Length 24 Hrs 5 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Perdido Street Station is a brilliant but at times overly complex fantasy tale that twists, meshes and redefines many of the standards of what fantasy is. Most importantly, if you are a big fan of giant empathic man eating killer moths and enjoy listening to them gaining carnal knowledge of each other before heading out to suck the life essence from a human being, this book is for you, you sick twisted excuse of a human being.

Grade: B

I really should learn my lessons. The other day I was scanning through my reviews this year, and realized I have actually listened to very little traditional second world fantasy. I’ve listened to plenty of Urban Fantasy, and other such genre off shoots, but not much tales of worlds other than ours, with magic, and unicorns and elves, and the like. This really isn’t too surprising. Of all my genre faves, second world fantasy is the genre I am probably most hesitant about. Typically, when I jump into a new fantasy reality, it’s part of a series, and I fall in love with the world in book 1, get intrigued my the story progression but dismayed by the lack of any true closure in book 2, and then totally ignore book three. I can probably name 5 series which I have read the first two books in, and still haven’t finished. So, the obvious solution to my fantasy drought would have been to pick up one of this final books in a trilogy, but this would require that awkward adjustment period when you jump back into a fantasy world you haven’t been in for years, but are expected to remember. So, instead, I put out a call on twitter for a stand alone second world fantasy novel. This first thing I learned is there is almost no goddam standalone fantasy novels out there. There are plenty of books that “standalone but exist in the same world” which I know I would be crazily trying to figure out the missing subtext and those little character relationships that are thrown in as Easter Eggs to the series fans. Finally, after receiving a few recommendations for series, or fantasy series that weren’t second world, I finally decided that it was going to come down to two names, China Mieville and Guy Gavriel Kay, fantasist that I believe met my criteria, but I have always been a bit intimidated by. This off course, lead me to my major issue. Upon talking about China Mieville, I suddenly got slammed with PERDIO STREET STATION! PERDIDO STREET STATION! recommendations. So, I chose to, well, take my initial voyage into the world of China Mieville with Perdido Street Station. I guess this is what I get for asking for book recommendations on Twitter.

So, I am going to forgo writing a synopsis about this book, because it is so weird, and really, what same person would believe me. Perdido Street Station is at its core, a love story between a woman who has a human body, but her head is, well, not so much insectile but an actual full bodied insect and a mad scientist, who is really quite sensible. It is also a tale of government corruption, organized crime, and a fantasy exogenous anthropological tour through a fantasy city which is both recognizable and entirely alien. Mieville’s city of New Crobuzon is brilliantly conceived and surprisingly vivid. Each moment he spends showing us around this city is breathtakingly physical. In many ways you feel the heat, smell the stench and find yourself a bit uneasy as you enter each new district, and meet it’s strange other than human denizens. Yet, it’s not just a thought exercise, but a interesting story of a scientist who let his zeal to find a way to give a bird like being restored flight after his wings had been removed due to a crime, lead to a danger that may destroy the entire city. Herein lies the problem. It’s wonderfully done, full of complex action scenarios, strange diverse characters including robots, demons and large spidery things and a fascinating revenge tale involving a disturbing crime boss, but the menace was HUGE EMPATHIC KILLER MOTHS. This is what I get for asking for recommendations on twitter, monstrous moths having sex and eating people’s essence. I have been quite open about my mottephobia. I have an irrational fear and disgust of moths which I trace back to the days when my sister would hide at the bottom of the attic steps and throw dead moths at me when I came down. If a moth lands on me, I feel dirty the rest of the day. And now I have images of giant moths fucking in my brain that can’t be removed without targeted radiation or some PDK-like superdrug. Perdido Street Station was a challenging book for many reasons. Mievelle’s world is so foreign that it takes time to adjust to. In many ways, his world building is the antithesis to much of the fantasy I have read in the past. There were moments I really enjoyed this book, particularly the wonderful city and some of the most fascinating characters I have encountered in fiction, but for the most part my brain was so involved in understanding the book, it forgot to enjoy it. Plus, KILLER MOTHS! I mean, really. One last note, I only later discovered that Perdido Street Station is in fact, listed as part of a series. I know… I know… it’s not a traditional series, but moths and a series. What’s next, finding out that New Crobuzon is actually located in Idaho? Geez…

So, John Lee reads Perdido Street Station, and this makes me angry. I love John Lee. I think he’s one of the best narrators out there particularly when it comes to fantasy. He has a lush voice that can be both simple and complex at the same time. He manages to bring New Crobuzon alive in such beautiful ways.  One day, I would love to interview him for the blog. Of course then I would absolutely have to ask him about moth sex. MOTH SEX. If I ever meet the man in person, the first thing that will pop into my head won’t be his performance in Pillars of the Earth, which I consider one of the greatest narrator performances of all times, or his handling of the wonderful works of Graham Joyce, or even the odd but brilliant choice to have him narrate Brian Hodge’s Prototype… nope, it will be “Here’s the man who voiced killer empathic moth sex.” DAMMITT! Yet, this shouldn’t take away from the fact that once again Lee gives a wonderful performance. Perdido Street Station is a brilliant but at times overly complex fantasy tale that twists, meshes and redefines many of the standards of what fantasy is. Most importantly, if you are a big fan of giant empathic man eating killer moths, and enjoy listening to them gaining carnal knowledge of each other before heading out to suck the life essence from a human being, this book is for you, you sick twisted excuse of a human being.





Audiobook Review: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

26 08 2013

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

Read by Alana Kerr

Audible for Bloomsbury

Length: 14 Hrs 57 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: The Bone Season simply didn’t live up to my expectations. I think there are a lot of people out there who will love this book, and look forward with baited breath to the next edition of the series. For me, The Bone Season wasn’t the right fit. The things that it did well were the things I was less interested in, and overall the whole thing felt flat to me. 

Grade: C

I am really sick of hearing that so and so is the new JK Rowling. Some new book series comes out that loosely shares some sort of commonality with Harry Potter, or the author happens to have some sort of association with Rowling, and people begin screaming "THE NEXT HARRY POTTER" A seven book series…. THE NEXT HARRY POTTER… magic being performed by people under 40…. THE NEXT HARRY POTTER…. the writer is British…  THE NEXT HARRY POTTER… there’s a character in the book whose name rhymes with Dobby… THE NEXT HARRY POTTER! I hate it! I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. I hate that the expectations are raised. I hate that authors can’t write original fiction without people comparing it to something else. I hate that it friggin’ works. Whenever someone is touted as the next JK Rowling’s my interests is spiked. I’m not sure why. There are plenty of Fantasy series I love more than Harry Potter, yet, if someone says "THE NEXT STEPHEN R. DONALDSON!" I’m all ho hum but channel the name of Harry Potter, and I’m like a fiend looking for that last bit of crack. I liked Harry Potter. It’s so much fun, and I fell in love with so many characters, but it wasn’t the life changing series that it was for others. I was already a voracious reader, with a love of fantasy. My first boyhood crushes were on Laura Ingalls Wilder and Susan Pevensie. Yet, there is something about Harry Potter, the magical mood, the feeling of being an isolated loner stripped away from everything and sent to a grand magical school where you are in fact special. It’s a feeling I like, and when someone says this latest book may once again allow me to relive that feeling, I can’t help but take notice. Sadly, it doesn’t always work out.

Paige Mahoney is a dreamwalker, a clairvoyant whose spirit can leave her body and search out others, living in a London controlled by Scion, a dystopian government who subjugates those with magical abilities. After a tragic encounter on a train, Paige is taken into Scion custody and transferred to a secret penal colony in Oxford, where she encounters a race of magical beings that have been controlling the government for 200 years. I came into The Bone Season a bit hesitant, but with high expectations. Sadly, my expectations were not realized. I was fascinated by the blending of magical realism and dystopian literature the synopsis describes, and while Shannon’s world building of her magical structure was detailed and at times brilliant, her look at Scion controlled Europe was very weak. The Bone Season started with a bit of heavy handed exposition explaining what Scion was and how it would affect those with magical powers. This opening dragged down the story. I think if Shannon allowed the reader to slowly discover the oppressive government, instead of presenting what it was in a quick infodump, the blending of the two worlds may have been more effective. By the time the novel did take an interesting turn, I wasn’t invested in the characters at all. No matter how often Paige told us someone was wonderful, it rarely actually played out that way on the page, and you quickly began doubting the characters opinion. I also had a hard time with the Rephaim. They were like a weird blending of Vampires and Fae, and neither side was explored well enough to make the blending effective. Instead of a unique race of Otherworldly creatures, I found them a weird mishmash of popular fantasy beings repackaged with a shiny bow to make them look original. I found the weird mix of pretentiousness and self loathing unbalanced. Instead of seeing the natural dichotomy of any sentient beings, it all felt forced into showing us another side of these creatures that was manufactured. The Bone Season isn’t a bad book. Shannon created beautiful visuals, and permeated her tale with a sense of magic. She has some thrilling action, and while I was personally bothered by the romantic tones in the novel due to my personal curmudgeonly attitude, they were understated and probably would appeal to those more open to complicated romantic relationships in fiction.  I think there are a lot of people out there who will love this book, and look forward with baited breath to the next edition of the series. For me, The Bone Season wasn’t the right fit. The things that it did well were the things I was less interested in, and overall the whole thing felt flat to me. 

Alana Kerr’s wistful Irish tones were definitely beautiful to my ear. She does a good job bringing Paige to life. At first I was surprised by how understated her brogue was, but the character describes attempting to lessen the ethnic tensions by adopting a proper British speaking voice, and Kerr does a good job adapting the character to this. I could have listened to her voice for a long time, no problem, yet having a beautiful voice, and even appropriate character performance isn’t always enough. Where I struggled was her pacing. She read The Bone Season at a slow plodding pace that may have been fine for the world building aspects but suffered when things started happening. I felt tempted at times to speed up the audiobook, partly because I was never fully engaged with it, but mostly because many of the action sequences lacked a sense of urgency in their reading. It was like she was describing events to a room full of students, instead of actually living it, and because of this the listeners never became fully engaged in the world. For most of the book, I felt like a passive, uninvolved observer, when I much prefer to be pulled into the pages of a book, feeling just as much at jeopardy as the characters guiding us on this journey. In The Bone Season, this never happened. 





Audiobook Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

15 07 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Read by Neil Gaiman

Harper Audio

Length: 5 Hrs 48 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: I loved every moment of The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It is the rare book that from the wonderful start to the bitter end, kept me enthralled in its words, a prisoner to the next sentence and situation. The Ocean at the End of the Lane reminded me of why I read.

Grade: A

I really love the magical fogginess of childhood. I lived a pretty mundane childhood where the only magic I experienced was through books and deep within my own imagination. I lived in a series of older homes, with many rooms full of older furniture, none of which lead me into magical kingdoms. I grew up in a time where children could go off on little adventures, and I did, climbing hills to the train tracks, crawling under highways through the drainage tunnels, all things that nowadays would give modern parents anxiety disorders or orders of protection. While I enjoyed these little jaunts, I never did meet a crazy old German man living alone in a drafty old house of mystery, or three old sisters living together with a menagerie of cats, their home full of strange music. All the magic of my childhood came from external sources…. or did it? One of the saddest things for me was discovering that the older Pensevie children stopped believing in Narnia. Here they were given the ultimate magical adventure, and their maturity stripped it away from them. This saddened me as a child, but now it gives me a bit of hope. Maybe that underground drainage pipe was actually a magical portal to another world, and I did go off on a grand adventure. Maybe I did meet an old werewolf or three witches and discovered that the monsters of literature may not be the true monsters. Because there was magic in my mundane childhood, and even if this magic came from books and my own daydreams, it existed, and just maybe, the fogginess of my childhood and the maturity of a teenager allowed me to delude myself into believe this magical was merely the whimsy of a lonely boy.

Returning to a childhood home, a man takes a walk down to the end of the lane where he meets the mother of a friend long forgotten. As a flood of memories overtakes him his is transported to his childhood, where a man’s suicide and his new friend leads to an encounter with a sinister new Nanny who has seemed to entrance his family. Unlike any other author I can think of, Neil Gaiman reminds me of the true magic of reading. No matter what he is writing about, whether it’s dark modern contemporary fantasy, fairy tales or even horror, I always feel transported when I read Gaiman to a place where I never feel safe, but find oddly comforting. Despite the darkness that permeated The Ocean at the End of the Lane, it is full of whimsical magic, characters I wish I knew and the feeling that I am being included in a once in a lifetime adventure. It’s nearly impossible for me to critically review anything by Neil Gaiman, I can just talk about how it made me feel. I simply found it impossible to separate myself from the tale. For the nearly six hours I was listening to this novel, it we me who was betrayed by those I loved, frustrated that no one would believe me, and fascinated by this strange new family I met just down the road. This is something I really haven’t fully experienced since those days I spend as child in Narnia, traveling the Yellowbrick road on my way to the Phantom Tollbooth. Yet, despite this magic of childhood, The Ocean at the End of the Lane isn’t a book for children. It’s a book for adults who once were children living many different lives. It is a book about nostalgia on par with Lev Grossman’s Magician novels, yet with a much more subtle beauty. All the little touches just reminded me of what it was like to be a child, the petulant sibling, the oblivious adults, and the darkness that lies behind every door. It reminded me of the wisdom that only children can have to see beyond the mundane, and accept things that we adults know are not possible. There is a true wisdom in ignorance of the world, and this naivety is the core of all childhood magic. I loved every moment of The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It is the rare book that from the wonderful start to the bitter end, kept me enthralled in its words, a prisoner to the next sentence and situation. The Ocean at the End of the Lane reminded me of why I read.

It’s interesting. Although Neil Gaiman’s voice is very familiar to me through the intros to his audiobook line, and a few short stories, this is my first time listening to him narrate a full novel. I remember as a child, watching my first baseball game, as the pitcher came to the plate to bat, I thought about how pitchers must be good hitters because they would know all the tricks. This was before I understood that in most cases skill outshines knowledge. This is the same mentality I have about author’s narrating their own books. In my childish mind, authors should be the best narrators of their work since they truly understand the intent of their words, yet, rarely in execution does this end up working. There is a skill that the professional narrator has that goes beyond understanding the intent of a word. Luckily for us who love the written word spoke aloud, Neil Gaiman has this skill. His reading of The Ocean at the End of the Lane was so full of everything that made the book special, that allowing anyone else to read it would have done the novel a disservice. Listening to Gaiman read, you just couldn’t help but realize that he was doing something he simply loved, telling people stories. I couldn’t help but smile when in the beginning, he told us that the book was written and narrated by "Me, Neil Gaiman." I think for any other author, this would have came off pretentious, but with Gaiman it was like he was a child telling you, "Hey guys, I get to read you this story I wrote and love." The Ocean at the End of the Lane tells me what everyone seemed to already know, that Gaiman’s worlds should be discovered through the spoken word, especially if he is the one speaking them.





Audiobook Review: Low Town by Daniel Polansky

10 06 2013

Low Town by Daniel Polansky

Read by Rob Shapiro

Random House Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 39 Min

Genre: Fantasy Noir

Quick Thoughts: Low Town is gritty fantasy noir told in a slogging style full of shady characters, deep mysteries and forbidden magics. It’s a unique blending of detective noir, second world fantasy and urban fantasy that creates a dark, often hard to stomach feel that while never sitting quite right finds a way to wedge itself into your psyche.

Grade: B-

I hated Low Town. I mean, simply hated it. Low Town by Daniel Polansky hit the shelves nearly two years ago and garnished praise from critics and fellow bloggers alike. There was a while there where it felt like everyone was reading Low Town on the SFF side of my twitter dial and loving every word. Some of my go to speculative fiction bloggers said this was a title I must go to, so I got up and went. I bought the title on Audible, followed the author and was very excited to give it a go. Then hated it. I made it maybe 3 Hours in before ripping the earbuds out of my ears and screaming lamentations to the heavens. Over the next few weeks, I saw the author announcing good reviews and praise and I seethed, eventually unfollowing him. Now, I was listening to it when I was sick, and in one of the most stressful times of my life, but, there were audios I simply adored during those times, so I wrote it off as a lousy excuse. I decided Low Town was dreck and I was sticking to my guns. If I knew about the Audible return policy I may have swapped it out for a novel that James Patterson got someone to write for him so he could attach his name to it and announce it the best thing he ever wrote on a TV commercial. But I didn’t. Then came THE ACCIDENT. This occurred when I plugged the wrong hoziwhat into the incorrect thingababob or something, and my MP3 Player dies on me one day when I just wanted to be listening to something good. I was then relegated to seeing what I could pull up on my audible ap, and the only unlistened audiobook I had available was, well… duh dah!!!!! LOW TOWN. Luckily, I only had to listen to like an hour or so, then I’d be home and I could do some zombie robot unicorn thing. Except… stuff happened. I was intrigued. What’s this…. mystery, magic…. drugs! Now… hold on… missing kids! Strange killers! Drugs! WTF IS HAPPENING!!

The Warden is a hard luck, fallen drug addict surviving his daily grind peddling his mind altering substances to the denizens of the lowest of all areas in the town of Rigis. When The Warden discovers the brutally murdered body of a young girl, and the secrets her corpse holds, he realizes he must confront his past in order to stop a repeat of history. Low Town is gritty fantasy noir told in a slogging style full of shady characters, deep mysteries and forbidden magics. It’s a unique blending of detective noir, second world fantasy and urban fantasy that creates a dark, often hard to stomach feel that while never sitting quite right finds a way to wedge itself into your psyche. I never really fully embraced Low Town, but I did get ensnared enough in its spell to keep me sticking with the story to the bitter end. Polansky is a strong story teller and takes a lot of risks in his world. I think people may do better with Low Town if they come at it from strictly one side of the fence, particularly Fantasy readers. Most of my issues came with Polansky’s use of mystery tropes. He creates wonderful and memorable characters, but his attempts to misdirect and the single mindedness of The Warden in his focus on a particular villain at times had the opposite affect, acting as a blinking red arrow to the correct path, with just enough information to get the framework of the jigsaw together. Where Low Town shines is in his creating of Rigis and the thirteen cities, and in it blending of history informing on the modern time. Polansky’s examination of the great plague that made The Warden and orphan and started him down his path was so vivid and powerful, that I missed it when we returned to the present day story. Also, the few relationships that The Warden did maintain all contributed to the plot so well that despite the traditional "Hey, let’s kidnap someone the protagonist cares for" plot twist the ending actually came off fresh and maybe just a bit exciting. Polansky also created a social structure that made unique hurdles for The Warden to jump and added many layers to the narrative. I ended up liking Low Town. Despite my issues with some parts of the tale, I am glad I never swapped it in for something a little less special.

Rob Shapiro did a strong job narrating this tale. He uses a gritty, deep voice to deliver Polansky’s dark, shady world that fit perfectly. Most of his character voices where well done, although I did find some of his female and children voices a bit less distinct. Yet, I did have one issue with Shapiro’s reading, and this only the second time this has happened to me in an audiobook. On an interesting level, and probably unconsciously, I think Shapiro telegraphed aspects of the ending. There was a scene where a character, let’s call SPOILER delivered a line in such a way that I think it indicated SPOILERS true shady nature. There were trigger words in the narrative, and a small mention of a strange reaction to SPOILER’s comments by The Warden, but Shapiro delivered it in such a strange way, that I started questioning SPOILERS motivations in a way I never would have in print. I hate bringing this up, because I can just see annoying anti-audiobook person yelling "SEE! AUDIOBOOKS ARE EVIL!" Yet, I have listened to over 1,000 audiobooks in my life, and this is only the second time this has happened to me, and the other was due to a poorly used accent in a throwaway scene. This is another reason I have had trouble reviewing this book. I stand by some of the comments I made about Polansky’s plotting, but I also know Shapiro’s narration contributed to my figuring out too much of the plot before the not so surprising ending.





Audiobook Review: Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear

26 04 2013

Range of Ghost by Elizabeth Bear (The Eternal Sky, Bk. 1)

Read by Celeste Ciulla

Recorded Books

Length: 12 Hrs 32 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Range of Ghost is a beautiful sprawling epic fantasy, full of deep mysteries, wonderful imagery and truly engaging characters. Bear twists and turns your expectations of what fantasy should be, combining myth and fables with an intricate history that is reminiscent of the vast dynasties and mongrol hordes of Asia in the 12th century.

Grade: B

I hate reviewing Fantasy. I can never seem to manage to get my feelings about a Fantasy novel to flow from my brain to my fingers then onto my blog. I will often sit down and read some of my favorite bloggers discussing the latest in Fantasy novel with an eloquence I just can’t manage. They know the lexicon, they can analyze the trends and tropes, and deftly describe what they love and hate about a fantasy novel with a poetic flair that also manages to be accessible to everyday fantasy fans like me. Yet, when I sit down and try to write about a Fantasy novel that I recently read, I feel like an 80 year old man trying to figure out The Google. Specifically, where I have trouble is in second world fantasy. In fact, I only recently learned  that what I typically would refer to as epic, or Tolkieneque fantasy that takes place in a separate world totally apart from our plane of existence is called Second World Fantasy. Give me some portal fantasy or urban fantasy, and I’m cool. Part of my problem is I often have trouble with the worlds in general. I’m not sure if it’s due to a lack of imagination or that fact that I grew up in a home that looked at Fantasy novels as the gateway drug to Satanism, it just takes me awhile to buy into the world. At least with Portal Fantasy, I have characters who share some similar experience, or with Post Apocalyptic Fantasy, the world can be an extrapolation of our own. Yet, with Second World Fantasy, I am always looking for a tether. I am trying to find a link that can be a reference point. Typically, I can do this using history, for example, once I figured out that A Song of Ice and Fire was in part inspired by The War of the Roses, I was all good. Yet, I often times try figure out what settings are supposed to represent, or which Earth bound society a race or ethnic group within a Fantasy novel are inspired by. Often, without this tether, I feel like I’m visiting a stranger’s house and I never truly feel comfortable.

After a devastating war of succession amongst the Plain people, Temur, grandson of the Great Khagan, is now without family or tribe, lost among a flood of refugees. Yet, his star still burns in the Eternal Sky and his enemies would love to put it out. Samarakar was once a princess and heir to the Rasa dynasty, until her brother supplanted her and married her off to a political ally. Now, widowed, she has become a wizard, required to sacrifice her ability to reproduce to ensure her safety from her brother’s machinations. With an evil force unleashing disease and death, these two once heirs must join up to set right the course of history for their world. Range of Ghost is a beautiful sprawling epic fantasy, full of deep mysteries, wonderful imagery and truly engaging characters. Bear twists and turns your expectations of what fantasy should be, combining myth and fables with an intricate history that is reminiscent of the vast dynasties and mongrol hordes of Asia in the 12th century. Range of Ghosts wasn’t always an easy read for me. As I mentioned, I often struggle with second world fantasy and I never quite fully immersed me in Bear’s world. I felt like an outsider, trying to understand it, and every time I think I got a grasp on something Bear would introduce a new element that had me reevaluating things. This was both disconcerting and exciting. What I really loved was the characters. Relatively early on I felt invested in what was happening to them, fascinated with their journeys, and intrigued by what was to come. I loved that Bear’s magical system was more practical, a welcome change to the often flamboyant magic that seems to serve as the end all answer to all of the character’s problems. Here, the magic was a tool, and not their savior. I really liked the balance between the two main characters, the younger, more rash Temur, and the more experienced Samarakar, whose inner strength often masked her own insecurities and naiveté. Bear has a real knack for writing wide open battle scenes, yet giving them an intimate feel. I found her action quite descriptive, and her pacing crisp. I did begin to feel a bit fatigued with the non stop pace of the second half, and was wavering on whether I would want to continue the series, but Bear wrapped it up nicely, leaving me quite intrigued about where these characters will be heading next. Range of Ghost deserves all the accolades it has received. It’s a beautiful conceived fantasy novel and most of my issues with it are more due more to my limitations as a fantasy reader than any deficiency of the author.

This is my first experience with Celeste Ciulla as a narrator and overall my feelings were mixed. She definitely has a beautiful voice and I felt the majority of the characters, particularly the female characters, were well done. There were moments where her reading of the exotic names of characters and settings had an almost musical feel, rolling her tongue and emphasizing disparate syllables capturing the poetic feel of the world Bear created. Yet, I also had some issues. Her pacing was sometimes stiff, full of harsh diction that, at times, sucked some of the beauty from the prose. It was unbalanced, she would read a line, almost harsh and flat, over enunciating words, then end it with a place name or character name and give that an exotic flair. I felt her voice for Temur was a bit too soft, and uncertain. There were moments where the shock of his experiences could lead to this, but I feel at some point he should have seemed harder, more wary, yet Ciulla’s interpretation seemed to lack any of the pivotal character development that Bear was utilizing. Overall, it wasn’t a bad performance. The pacing issues were problematic at times, but it was balanced by the beauty of her voice and exotic flair she gave to much of the production.