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.





Audiobook Review: Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor

20 11 2012

Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor (Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy, Bk. 2)

Read by Khristine Hvam

Hachette Audio

Length: 15 Hrs 25 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Days of Blood & Starlight left me totally breathless. Taylor creates her worlds with poetry, twisting our perceptions of the genre with each word, creating something both comfortable and unique with a magician’s touch. Fans of Daughter of Smoke and Bones will not only have their anticipations paid for with this novel, but they should be totally blown away.

Grade: A

I have a bit of a bone to pick with Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Earlier this year I took part in the Armchair Audies, listening to all three of the speculative fiction categories, Science Fiction, Fantasy and Paranormal. For the event, you were to listen to your categories, and choose who you feel would be the winner. So, I undertook this task, listening to 10 Audie nominated books, having already listened to 6 of the nominees before they were announced, within a few months. I put a lot of effort and thought into my picks, and I pretty much nailed it. Well, nailed it in two of the categories. In the fantasy category, I had predicted that Jonathan Carroll’s Land of Laughs would win for a multitude of reasons. While it wasn’t my favorite of the lot, I thought it would be the one that most resonated with the judges, plus, having the backing of audiobook and fantasy legend Neil Gaiman. Looking back, I really should have realized how off base I was. I let myself get caught up in the bells and whistles of the awards program without thinking of the emotional resonance. I enjoyed all of the entries in that category, but months later, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, despite some small quibbles, probably stuck with me the most. Add to that the beautiful and haunting performance by Khristine Hvam, in the clear vision of hindsight, it should have been an obvious choice.

Karou, now aware of her own tragic past finds herself at the center of a millennium old war that could determine the fate of two worlds. Stripped of her family and betrayed by her love, Karou must balance the needs of her people with her desired for peace and a normal life. I have to admit, despite how much I enjoyed Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I was a little hesitant to start Days of Blood & Starlight. While I found the beginning of Daughter of Smoke and Bone to be brilliant, and Karou a wonderful character, I found the second half of the novel, a sort of otherworldly Romeo and Juliet tale, to be less engaging. Not being a huge romance fan contributed a lot to this. Add to this, the fact I struggled to get back into the story at the beginning of the book. This often happens to me in with second books in multi-character exotic fantasies, especially when I have listened to and read around 100 books between. What I had no problem getting into was Laini Taylor’s writing style. Days of Blood & Starlight is beautifully written. Taylor writes like the best lyricist, creating musical poetry with her words, creating her world with a sweep of aching magic. It has a way of being both melancholy and uplifting like only the greatest songs can. There were moments were the poetry infused story telling gave me chills, even before I was totally sold on the story. Luckily, after finding my place within the story and properly reintroducing myself to the characters, the story captured me. Captured me totally. Days of Blood & Starlight is part military fantasy, part romantic tragedy and with a dash of portal fantasy, all blended into a unique cautionary tale of death, war and xenophobia. It contains many classic themes of fantasy and science fiction, blended into something utterly unique and engaging. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment, but at some point I fell in love with this tale, affecting me in an exponentially greater way than Daughter ever did. What made the experience even better was the wonderfully executed ending, with brilliant twists that opens up so much potential for the next entry in this series. Days of Blood & Starlight left me totally breathless. Taylor creates her worlds with poetry, twisting our perceptions of the genre with each word, creating something both comfortable and unique with a magician’s touch. Fans of Daughter of Smoke and Bones will not only have their anticipations paid for with this novel, but they should be totally blown away.

I’m not sure if I can adequately portray just how wonderful a performance Khristine Hvam gives with this book. There were moments where the combination of her narration and Taylor’s words simply gave me chills, and I am not one prone to chills. The narration was so perfect she even got me to laugh out loud during the Author’s dedication page, which, in all honesty, I often find kind of strange in audiobooks. Whatever special form of magic Taylor is infusing her words with, Hvam captures with her own sort of vocal magic. The world Taylor has created is so exotic, full of strange characters and it is all presented to us in vivid detail through Hvam’s voice. Whether it’s the slight purr of a feline Chimeara, the angelic yet sadistic tones of a cruel Seraphim, or the beautifully rendered Eastern European accents of Karou’s best friend, all the characterizations were just spot on. Her pacing was luxuriously musical, finding the poetry rhythms of Taylor’s writing with ease. I even enjoyed the little musical touches that Hachette added to the production. They were simple yet effective, giving the production a fairy tale tone. If you are in anyway trying to decide between print and audio for this novel, I highly recommend you give the audio version a listen. You won’t be disappointed.

Note: Thanks to Hachette Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.





Audiobook Review: The Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

2 04 2012

The Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Read by Khristine Hvam

Hachette Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 32 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Laini Taylor has created a vivid world, lush in color and grand in scope. The Daughter of Smoke and Bones blends together aspects of mythology, fantasy and science fiction to create something that fits together comfortably but feels quite unique.

Grade: B+

The Daughter of Smoke and Bone is an Audie award Nominee in the Fantasy Category.

I am going to say something that I know annoys many people, I don’t listen to a whole lot of Young Adult. Now, I don’t say this as some sort of proclamation of superiority, it’s just the fact. I choose my novels based on what interests me, and last year, less than 5% of my total listening was of young adult novels. Now, I in no way ever feel any sort of shame when I do take on something that is young adult. In fact, the book I declared to be my favorite audiobook of 2011, Dan Well’s I Don’t Want to Kill You is arguably young adult. I find the recent attacks on young adult literature to be ridiculous. I am someone who has met the legal age requirement to become president of the United States, and have no issue admitting I read The Hunger Games, and enjoyed it. The idea that some novels are less worthy of my attention because of how they are marketed is ridiculous. For me, in essence, that is what Young Adult literature is, a marketing choice. Sure, there are style and content choices to be made when writing a novel for a young adult audience, but in the end the ultimate designation of that label is a marketing choice. For example, I recently listened to Joe R. Lansdale’s Edge of Dark Water. Brilliant novel which has been marketed as an adult novel, despite the fact it is a coming of age story centered on three teenagers that deals with some classic YA themes and has been compared to Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Stephen King’s Stand By Me. So, in the end, should I really base the suitability of a book on an arbitrary label? When I have ventured into the YA market, I find these novels to offer a lot to adults, in sociological and entertainment value. The Daughter of Smoke and Bone is an Audie nominee in Fantasy and the only Young Adult novel in the three speculative fiction categories, but it easily holds its own against the adult novels nominated along side of it.

The Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the tale of Karou, a 17 year old art student in Prague, with natural blue hair, tattooed palms and a necklace that grants her small wishes. While maintaining the trappings of a normal life, she is at the beck and call of her chosen family, an underground group of seemingly monstrous Chimera who traffic in teeth. Laini Taylor paints the opening of her young adult fantasy novel with brilliant color, from the blue of Karou’s hair, to the black hand prints burned into secret doorways across the world. Despite the novel being set in modern day Prague, you feel the novels otherworldliness in each sentence. With this vividly drawn world and compelling setup, Taylor pulls you instantly into the story, creating a true desire to learn the secrets behind Karou and her strange family. The Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a novel in two stories. There is a very specific moment in this novel, a game changing event that creates a distinct delineation in plot. There is measured change in tone and feel of the novel. I absolutely loved the first half of the novel, with Taylor’s lush prose and original manipulation of fantasy tropes creating something with a truly unique feel. I didn’t feel as effusive about the second half of the novel. I liked it, but its contrast in tone and the brilliance of the first half had me longing for when the two halves would again merge. There is a sort of inevitability of plot in the second half, you generally know where it’s going, just not too sure what route it will take. This contrasts sharply with the first half which is full of potentialities you can only dream of.  One of my favorite aspects of the novel was the complicated familial relationship between Karou and her Chimera family. The Chimera, as a race, are a blending of man and beast, and, at least on the surface, reminiscent of the monsters of legend. Yet, to Karou these are the people who raised her, gave her the attention she needed, and in their own mysterious ways loved her. I did struggle with the romantic elements of the novel, which is typical for me. Personally, I prefer romance to be a byproduct of a tale and not it’s driving force, and I don’t find myself overly concerned with two incredibly attractive people discover that they are attracted to each other. Yet, that is a personal preference, and not a reflection on the writing. All together Taylor has created a vivid world, lush in color and grand in scope. The Daughter of Smoke and Bones blends together aspects of mythology, fantasy and science fiction to create something that fits together comfortably but feels quite unique.

I am a big fan of narrators who create a unique and consistent voice for their characters and the worlds they reside in and Khristine Hvam does this wonderfully in The Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Hvam infuses her voice with character, giving Karou more than just a default teenage voice, but adding an exotic spin that fits so well with her personality. I think what will stand out for many listeners, and is a big reason this title has been nominated for an Audie, is Hvam”s ability to capture some of the unique characters in this novel. She transitions from the incredibly creepy to the soft and beautiful with organic ease. Yet, for me, it was her narrative voice, and ability to bring Taylor’s vivid world to life that stood out. I have listened to a few titles now that Hvam has narrated, and in each of them, you can tell she understands the characters and tailors her voice to fit them. This ability is what separates the truly good narrators from the greats. The Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a vivid fantasy that truly comes alive in the hands of this gifted narrator.