Audiobook Review: Feedback by Robison Wells

29 10 2012

Feedback by Robison Wells (Benson Fisher, Bk. 2)

Read by Michael Goldstrom

Harper Audio

Length: 7 Hs 13 Min

Genre: Young Adult Thriller

Quick Thoughts:Feedback is an effective follow up to Variant, bringing it all together with an ending that works. Even if you struggle with the ending, the journey there is impressive, full of great characters, disturbing situations and an overall feeling that you never know what’s behind the next turn. There will be people out there who may nitpick it to death, but, for me, I just enjoyed the heck out of this fun story.

Grade: B+

I have mixed feelings about cliffhangers. I understand why they are used so often. They create not just a sense of anticipation, but a need for the next book to come out so that some plot point can be resolved. Yet, in my opinion, I find most cliffhanger endings to be frustrating. I think it’s because, as the name suggest, most cliffhangers end in the manner of some character hanging from a cliff. The characters are left in a situation that is dire, or one character may possibly be dead. Often time, cliffhanger endings are more of a sense of suspense for the characters within a book. The fate of a character is left up in air, but often times, the reader is pretty well sure that the character is alive, or will survive. It’s more just a matter of how. Yet, occasionally, there are just some really good cliffhangers. I think a good cliffhanger changes the very nature of the book. An affective cliffhanger will not just leave you questioning about where the story is going, but has you reevaluating the current book. It doesn’t take some life threatening situation, but often just a subtle occurrence. For example, despite how it turned out, I thought that the Hatch cliffhanger at the end of season one of Lost was great. It left you not just anticipating the next season, but wondering about the very nature of the island itself. One of my favorite cliffhanger endings of last year was in Robison Well’s Variant. It was a wonderful reveal, leaving many questions not just about what will happen in Feedback, but challenging any assumptions you may have made about Variant. Of course, no matter how skilled the cliffhanger ending, the writer still needs to make it payoff.

I always hate when an author will create an open ended situation at the end of one novel, then pussy foot around before getting us back where they left us off. Well, luckily, Robison Wells doesn’t waste any time in Feedback, he throws us right back into the story where he left us off. I really don’t want to get too much into the plot of Feedback, because Variant is a novel you should experience fresh, and I don’t want to risk any spoilers, however minor. That being said, there is a markedly different tone in Feedback. Wells moves us from the school setting, to an almost frontier town feel. While the Lord of the Flies feel of the tale still exists, it obviously has moved in a new direction, adding an almost budding rebellion element that you can experience in dystopian novels. While neither Variant nor Feedback is a true dystopic tale, there are common elements that exist, and fans of dystopian novels will find a lot to love in this series. Fans of Variant may struggle with the new setting. I for one loved it. It gave the story a new angle instead of repeating the old themes, yet it used elements of Variant skewed in an interesting new way. There is an almost dissonant feel to Feedback. It feels like a new pair of shoes, comfortable, but maybe just a bit off. Many of the characters you knew in Variant return, but in a slightly altered way, that leads to a sense of uncertainty that permeates the whole story. This was something I loved about Feedback. You could never be comfortable, and even when you feel you have it all figured out, you just know you can’t trust your instincts. Now, the ending. I feel the ending itself will be controversial. It requires a bit of open mindedness and suspension of disbelief, but I feel that the twists in Variant prepped the reader for this well. While I didn’t love the ending, I did like it. It felt to me like the only way the book could really end. It answered all my nagging questions, at least in a way that you can argue a way around any inconsistencies. In fact, there was a point where I said to my self, "Really, the only thing it could be is _______," then talked myself out of it. Feedback is an effective follow up to Variant, bringing it all together with an ending that works. Even if you struggle with the ending, the journey there is impressive, full of great characters, disturbing situations and an overall feeling that you never know what’s behind the next turn. There will be people out there who may nitpick it to death, but, for me, I just enjoyed the heck out of this fun story.

Narrator Michael Goldstrom has a great narrative voice, and uses it to effectively bring Robison Well’s world to life in vivid detail. It’s strange, sometimes I find the narrators with the “Golden Voice” or whatever you want to call it, can sometimes give a novel a cold feeling. I like a narrator to have a pleasant voice, but I don’t want to feel like I am just being read to by a professional voice over actor. With Feedback, I never felt like I was simply being told a story, but experiencing a world. Goldstrom perfectly voices a cast full of young adult characters with authenticity. There is a large cast here, yet it seems like each character’s voice came through. The reading was also well paced, especially one frantically paced disturbing scene that still leaves me with chills. While I was happy that Wells offered us a completed series, with a satisfying ending, I really think I will miss these characters that Wells and Goldstrom have brought to life over the course of these two entertaining books.

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





Audiobook Review: Variant by Robison Wells

18 11 2011

Variant by Robison Wells

Read by Michael Goldstrom

Harper Audio

Length: 8 Hrs 5 Mins

Genre: Young Adult Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Variant is a wonderfully unexpected thrill of a novel, which never allows readers to settle into their assumptions. A novel that should appeal to teenagers and adults, it is full of quirky characters, and ripe with an overriding mystery that will keep you guessing even after the last page is turned.

Grade: B+

There are a lot of reasons I may choose a novel. Most of them are pretty typical, I like the author, good reviews, recommendation from a friend, peer pressure, demonic possessions, mind control, subliminal advertisements, or I saw an attractive woman reading it on the subway. Yet, none of these are the reason I decided to read Variant by Robison Wells. I choose Variant because I am a big fan of the author’s brother. Dan Wells wrote one of my favorite series, and its conclusion, I Don’t Want to Kill You may just be my favorite audiobook of 2011. Another of my favorite authors, Larry Correia, recently did a very successful "book bomb" for Variant, where he encouraged his fans to purchase this novel to give it a boost in its Amazon ratings. I took part in this literary explosion, purchasing a few copies as Christmas gifts. Of course, doing this meant I needed to listen to it as well. Variant is a novel for Young Adults about a teenager named Benson Fisher who accepts a scholarship to a mysterious school to escape his life in the Pittsburgh foster care system. I have seen many reviews who label Variant as a Young Adult Dystopian novel along the lines of The Hunger Games. Personally, I wouldn’t label Variant dystopian for the same reasons I won’t label Lord of the Flies dystopian.  While it deals with an oppressive ruling system of sorts, it isn’t a large scale oppression but a very intimate one. I can understand the linking of this novel to books like The Hunger Game and The Maze Runner series, because it shares an overall feel with these novels. So, while not a classic dystopian novel, fans of Young Adult Dystopian series will definitely embrace this title. 

For me, Variant is easily the best Young Adult novel I have read this year. Of course, I should temper that statement by saying that I have only really read four other novels that I consider Young Adult. Variant is full of everything the 15 year old version of me would have loved, an eerie unsettling setting, quirky characters, a sense of injustice brought on by oppressive administration, and a grand sense of adventure. Wells doesn’t spend a lot of time setting up the world, but thrusts you right into the mystery. From the opening you know there is something very wrong with Maxfield Academy. Variant isn’t an easy novel to tag with labels, every time you become comfortable in your assumptions about the novel, what secrets Maxfield Academy holds, the true motivations of the various groups of the school and even the actual genre of the novel, Wells throws you for a loop. Yet, while Wells keeps you off balance with the flow of the novel, he grounds it in a likeable, yet authentically teenage main character. I love the fact the Benson isn’t your typical uber-teenager that seems to appear so often in science fiction, young adult or otherwise. He is a typical 17 year old, full of flaws, and tempted by the lure of the school. He doesn’t show up and dominate the school academically, socially or athletically, but struggles to find a place. This allows the reader to experience the mystery of the story in a way they can truly relate to. Variant is the first novel of a series, so don’t expect a lot of closure at the end because Wells definitely leaves you wanting more. Overall, Variant is a wonderfully unexpected thrill of a novel, which never allows readers to settle into their assumptions. A novel that should appeal to teenagers and adults, it is full of quirky characters, and ripe with an overriding mystery that will keep you guessing even after the last page is turned.

This is my first experience with narrator Michael Goldstrom. I feel Goldstrom gave a solid reading of the novel. His narrative voice fit the overall theme of the novel well and his characterizations were well done. As someone who listens to a lot of audiobooks, I may have been spoiled by some amazing performance. Part of me wishes Goldstrom would have taken a few more risks with his characters. There are a lot of colorful characters at Maxfield Academy, yet his reading didn’t highlight the individual quirkiness of some of them. Michael Goldstrom is a good narrator, but I think if he does takes some of those risks, he has the potential to become a great narrator. Robison Wells has created a great canvas for a narrator to showcase their art, and I am quite interested to see what Goldstrom can do with the next edition to this series.