Audiobook Review: Warbound by Larry Correia

13 08 2013

Warbound, Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia

Read by Bronson Pinchot

Audible Frontiers

Length: 17 Hrs 1 Min

Genre: Alternate History Urban Fantasy/Steampunk Superheroes.

Quick Thoughts: Larry Correia brings the arc than began in Hard Magic to a natural and completely satisfying conclusion in Warbound. With a combination of amazing storytelling, wonderful characters and one of the best narrator performances I have experienced, The Grimnoir Chronicles has earned it place as perhaps my favorite all time Speculative Fiction Audiobook series.

Grade: A+

Warbound is the third book in Larry Correia’s Grimnoir series about an alternate 1930’s where a secret society of magical superheroes called the Knights of the Grimnoir protect humanity against the use of magically enhanced powers for evil. I’m not exactly sure what Larry Coreia’s plans are for the world he created here, but as far as overall story arcs, Warbound serves as the end of the trilogy that began with  Hard Magic. If Correia decided to never again visit the world, I would be disappointed, but in no way left hanging. It’s about as complete of a story as you can get in the series heavy environment of speculative fiction. This being so, it’s hard to simply evaluate Warbound on its own. In order to truly review it it must be examined for how it completes this trilogy. I have used a lot of hyperbole in describing this series. I have called it things like "breathtaking" and "brilliant" and felt tempted at times to chant "THIS IS AWESOME" like some rowdy fan at a wrestling match while listening. In my reviews, I called it "mind-boggling good" and reiterated a fellow reviewer’s comment that this series is "A Perfect example of how good audio can get." I even have called the narration by Bronson Pinchot "my favorite performance by a male narrator this year."  Yet, I have resisted the urge to place it in any overall context until I felt the series has reached some sort of natural conclusion, which in Warbound it has. I mean, endings are very important, and while a bad ending may not affect the fact that I got a lot of enjoyment out of the previous audiobooks, it would affect where I would put this series in my personal pantheon. Now, having listened to Warbound, I can easily declare that the Grimnoir series is high among my favorite speculative fiction series of all time. But wait, there’s more, people. The Grimnoir Chronicles may be my favorite speculative fiction audiobook series of all time. Now, I can think of books and series I may like a bit more, but I can think of no series that has combined an amazing story full of awesome characters with one of the best narration performances of all time. Larry Correia has created an amazing story, and Bronson Pinchot takes this story to a whole other level that I may not have even believed possible until i heard it for myself.

In Warbound, Jake Sullivan, a Heavy who can literally control Gravity, has put together a secret mission to hunt down the Pathfinder, and interdimenrional being that, upon gaining enough power, can lead the great enemy, a predator that eats magic, to earth. With a crew combining Grimnoir Knights and Pirates, they must take a revolutionary new airship into the heart of the Imperium under the control of an imposter Chairman to find and destroy this creature. Back in the USA, magical humans are being forced to wear marks indicating their powers, while being enticed to move into their own cities under the protection of FDR’s government. Meanwhile, Faye, believed by the Knights to be dead, must enter the Dead City of Berlin to find the animated corpse of fallen Grimnoir Knight who can predict the future, to learn the consequences of being The Spellbound. Again, Larry Correia has taken multiple speculative fiction subgenres and blended it with history to create something that is both comfortable, yet utterly unique. The stakes are now greater, and the events spread out across the globe, yet somehow Correia managed to make it feel more intimate and personal than the first two novels. While Jake and Faye are fighting for the world, they are also dealing with their own personal demons. These personal struggles are potentially even more important to their quest to save the world than any actual individual confrontation. Yet, the ultimate confrontation is looming, between the Knights and a creature so powerful that the entity that brought magic to the world and is the greatest force in human history, is the prey to this predator. I love that Correia doesn’t set up the typical good vs. evil, black vs. white scenario, but instead shows on many different scales the true grayness that is inherent in any conflict. Sometimes doing what you believe is right can lead to great atrocities and the corruption of power will often distort even the best of intentions. Every character must evaluate their own essence, and often overcome their own conflicts in preparation for the coming battle. There are so many epic moments in Warbound that they won’t all fit in this review. In any grand finale, there must be some key casualties, and while to the readers will be saddened by it, Correia knows how to make a character go out in a way that has you hollering and cheering between the tears.  Like in almost all his other books, Correia manages to make the epic finale confrontations so huge, that even the combined talents of Peter Jackson, Michael Bay and Joss Whedon couldn’t fit it on their big screens. These are beyond cinematic. Yet, while these finales are full of awesome, perfectly choreographed action, there is an intimate intelligence to it as well. In Warbound, you have a big multiplayer action sequence that is so thrilling and intense it may have sucked a few years off my life, yet you also have a brilliant one on one showdowns, a showdown so big that it quite possible may have been too big for my earthly imagination.  It’s monumentally huge, yet in its own way, quite small. With Warbound Larry Correia brings this trilogy to a natural conclusion that fans will rejoice in yet have them long for more trips to this wonderfully envisioned world. 

I honestly don’t know how Bronson Pinchot does it. He manages to take what is simply an amazing piece of storytelling, and make it even better. On its own, Warbound and the other novels of this series are amazing, yet Pinchot makes this a series that you absolutely need to experience in audio to truly experience it at its best. It amazes me how much depth can bring to these characters just with is voice and pacing. Each character doesn’t just get it own voice, but its own rhythms and cadence that accentuates their attributes. Pinchot proves that there is so much more to narrating than saying the words in a voice that generally matches the characters. He creates with his voice in ways that few others can. He takes a huge cast of characters and makes each one stand out in memorable ways. He brings the action to life in with a visual acuity that rivals any visual medium. The Grimnoir series is, for me, the best meeting of wonderful storytelling with transformative narration I have ever experience. If Warbound doesn’t manage to pull in yet another Audie nomination and win, I will be completely shocked.





Audiobook Review: Agatha H and the Airship City by Phil and Kaja Folio

18 04 2013

Agatha H and the Airship City by Phil & Kaja Folio (Girl Genius, Book 1)

Read by Angela Dawe

Brilliance Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 15 Min

Genre: Gaslight Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Agatha H and the Airship City is a wonderful tale that blends a unique and fascinating world with comfortable tropes and recognizable character creating the perfect canvas for a rollicking adventure. The story is full of uproarious humor, and clever dialogue that more than makes up for the sometimes confusing action and strangely developed romantic subplot. I really enjoyed my first trip into this world, and am quite looking forward to the next entry in this series.

Grade: B+

At this point in my life, I haven’t been blessed with children and being that I am closer to 40 than I am to 37, well, it’s not something I see happening. That being said, I think I would be a good father. I know I would go to elaborate means to make sure my child has the best upbringing. Case in point, I think developing a sense of self esteem is important. Every child should feel special. So, one day, I’d like to adopt a child. I would then gather my resources and move to a country with a monarchy. I would tell my child tales, stories of fallen kings, and great betrayals. I will tell of rumored heroes and a prophecy that one day a descendent will rise to restore order to the kingdom. Some times, late at night, I would wake my child up, telling them we need to leave now, not to ask any questions, just gather your things and hurry. I would give my child an archaic piece of jewelry, perhaps a ring or broach, and tell them never to lose it. Every time the royal family is mentioned, I would make cryptic comments under my breath, about how their crimes will one day be repaid. I would hide old maps, strange trinkets and journals written in old languages around the house, and purposely avoid any questions about them, quickly locking them away whenever my child notices them. And, when they get old enough, I would get drunk one night, and ramble about how their parents would be so proud, then fall asleep in my own filth. The next day, I would have myself arrested by the royal police, screaming at my child to run, to find the old wizard and take him the ring or locket, that he would know what to do. This, of course, would make my child feel special, like every child should.

Agatha H and the Airship City is an audiobook version of the novelization of the popular Hugo winning Girl Genius Webcomic series by Phil and Kaja Folio. It tells the story of young Agatha Gray, a student and assistant at the Transylvanian Polygnostic University, who gets swept up in the politics of the region, and finds herself under the thumb of the ruthless Baron Wulfenbach. Agatha H takes place in an alternate history world that blends Steampunk with magical fantasy, where Sparks, mad scientists with almost magical genius, create all types of intricate creations that both help, and wreak havoc on civilization. One legendary family of Sparks is the Heterodynes, great adventurers who battles many of the more dangerous creations and attempt to restore order, but have mysteriously disappeared and their stories are chronicled in popular adventure novels. To be honest, the world is sort of confusing, Brilliant, and colorful and full of so much awesomeness, but initially quite confusing. The novel begins with a bit of exposition that really doesn’t do much for settling the confusing, but as you get to know the characters more, the world begins to fill out, and make a bit of sense. I think that translating between a visual medium and prose contributes somewhat to the confusion. Fans of the Webcomic series should have a bit more ease transitioning into the prose, but those like me who haven’t experience this world before may have to work at it a bit first. Luckily, the book is full of such engaging, wonderful characters and recognizable fantasy tropes, that there is enough to keep you embedded in the story while figuring out the world as a whole. My favorite part of the book is the humor, especially with some more outrageous characters and monsters. There are a group of altered soldiers called Jagermonsters, who are simply hilarious, and Agatha’s interactions with an imprisoned Othar Tryggvassen, Gentleman Adventurer who viewed all events as if they were immersed in the pages of an adventure novel had me bursting out with inappropriate public laughter. The story plays out well, with lots of action, and while many of the twists were telegraphed (hell, the title of the book is a major spoiler) the build up to them was worth the lack of real surprises. My main complaint about the story is the very long action sequence building up to the finale. So much was happening, with so many characters involved, it was tough to keep it all straight. One moments they were trying to escape the airship, the next they are battling magical wasp constructs, then some kissing, some cool inventions, some weird weapons, the Baron discovers Agatha secret, mad scrambles, talking cats, sudden appearances of characters from earlier, a bit of this, some of that a boom, a bang… wait… let me catch my breath. Honestly, part of me is quite tempted to go back and reread theses parts in print because I’m still not sure I got them all straight. Yet, besides this complaint, Agatha H and the Airship City is a wonderful tale that blends a unique and fascinating world with comfortable tropes and recognizable character creating the perfect canvas for a rollicking adventure. The story is full of uproarious humor, and clever dialogue that more than makes up for the sometimes confusing action and strangely developed romantic subplot. I really enjoyed my first trip into this world, and am quite looking forward to the next entry in this series.

There really were lots of challenges in this audio production. Taking a world created in comic book form, and turning it into a prose novel is tough enough, but doing it in such a way that translates well to audio must have been even more of a challenge. There were definite moments where I feel reading the print version of this would have been a better choice, but, then I would have missed out on the wonderful performance by Angela Dawe. She is simply brilliant in her narration, infusing this tale with charm, spunk and so much humor. This book is full of over the top characters, and Dawe never fails to embrace that. I especially love her voices for the Jagermonsters. Not only does she create a voice and pattern of speech for these altered creatures, but gives each individual monster its own twist. The novel is full of a wide range of accents, and Dawe nails them all. She gives Agatha a wise beyond her years, but still naive sort of voice. At first I was a bit worried, because there were moments that Agatha was a bit whiney in the beginning, and Dawe didn’t really pull of the whiney very well, but this was very early in the novel, and by the time we really got it going, she had it all nailed down tight. While the action was at times overwhelming, she paced it well, never racing too far away from the listener. She gave the whole production a comic book feel, with just the amount of over the top antics, without making it feel like a cartoon. It was such a fun and beautiful performance that I am really not shocked she was nominated for an Audie for the next book in the series, which I cannot wait to get my hands on.





Audiobook Review: All Men of Genius by Lev AC Rosen

18 03 2013

All Men of Genius by Lev AV Rosen

Read by Emily Gray

Recorded Books

Length: 17 Hrs 2 Min

Genre: Steampunk Romantic Comedy

Quick Thoughts: All Men of Genius is a mad capped screwball comedy of manners flipped on its head and infused with mad science, gender politics and of course, robots, or, well… automatons. It was just so much fun, with layers upon depths upon layers yet never becoming even the tiniest bit pretentious. I enjoyed All Men of Genius so much that I don’t think my words have even done it half the justice it deserves.  So, go, listen yourself. You’ll like it.

Grade: A

2013 Audie Nomination for Fantasy

One of the things I love about Armchair Audies is that even though I chose to take on the categories that most match my typical genre reading, there are always selections well outside my typical comfort areas. This year, it is especially true of the Fantasy category which has six titles I had not read or listened too previously and only one author I have read before. One of the most intriguing titles for me, because it was simply something I probably never would have selected on my own was All Men of Genius by Lev AC Rosen. If this is the first time you have stopped by the old ‘lobe, let me explain. My typical niche in the reading world surrounds dark horror and fantasy, science fiction and violent thrillers with an obsession with post apocalyptic, and dystopian fiction and of course, zombies. Sure, I am perfectly willing to step outside of my comfort zone, but there is typically a hook to it, some catalyst that points me in the direction of a book. I have personally never been a fan of Jane Austen or the modern day romantic comedy which I personally believe owes a lot to Austen. I tend to be outwardly skeptical towards plots that surround romance, although I’ve been known to get caught up in it from time to time like anyone else with a soul. While I have read some Cherie Priest, a little Tim Powers and others that fall into the Steampunk subgenre, it’s usually some other aspect of the tale that hooks me in. So, honestly, a Victorian Steampunky Romantic Comedy was probably never going to walk a natural path into my mountainous "To Be Listened To" pile no matter how many robots may appear. Yet, this is why I take on such projects. Not just because I am an audiobook uber-fan, but because sometimes, pushing my boundaries is a good thing. Plus, well… robots.

Illyria College was the most exclusive scientific college, where the brightest young minds gathered to explore the sciences in creative ways. Well, the brightest young male minds. More than anything, young Violet Adams wanted to attend Illyria to further train her gifted mind in the mechanical sciences, so, of course, as all brilliant young minds do, she hatched a scheme. She would apply to Illyria, and most certainly attend, under the guise of her twin brother Ashton. Yet, while she planned for many a pitfall, she never even considered the greatest of all complications… love. First off, I want to tackle my biggest issue with this novel, and that, of course was me. I don’t think I was properly prepared for the mad hijinks, the pure fun, and the surprising depths of this tale. I also felt like Rosen crammed this tale full of tributes to a genre I am dreadfully unread in, which includes not just Austen, but Oscar Wilde and William Shakespeare and that for ever level I of this novel I so very much enjoyed, there were two that I simply missed. All Men of Genius is a mad capped screwball comedy of manners flipped on its head and infused with mad science, gender politics and of course, robots, or, well automata. At times, I felt like I was listening to two separate novels intertwined by some strange experiment, yet, somehow manage to perfectly fall together, against all my expectations. At the core, this was a novel about relationships, and Rosen packs it full of so many colorful untraditional relationships, you couldn’t help but find one or more to really cheer for. What I liked about his style of entanglement, is it was just as much about caste and station as it was about gender roles and sexuality. You had Ashton, who worried about the propriety of romance with one of his servants, and a conniving actress finding more than she expected in her romantic schemes. Rosen told tales of young love and old love, and even some young/old love, with class, race and gender all pushed and smooshed and tangled together, in ways that made it show that sometimes these things don’t matter in love, except when they do. Yet, all this is peripheral to a tale of romance, science, revenge and egomaniacal madness involving a brilliant young women whose deception and genius affects the lives of the master of Illyria and his young ward. It has all the brilliance and frustrations of your typical romantic comedy, including the misconceptions, misapprehensions and miscommunications inherent to the greatest of over the top schemes. Rosen explores many themes you find in many modern day movies and televisions series, yet in a bright new twisted way, that you just can’t help but love. Add to all this one of the craziest, robot filled action sequences as a cap to the all the fun that you couldn’t help but feel all types of giddy thrills experiencing it. I so loved the pure mad fun of the ending that I could even accept the Hollywoodeque style epilogue, because, really, it just felt it had to end that way. I enjoyed All Men of Genius so much that I don’t think my words have even done it half the justice it deserves.  It was just so much fun, with layers upon depths upon layers yet never becoming even the tiniest bit pretentious. And, also… have I mentioned the automata. Because call them robots or automata or whatever your little heart desires, I still call them awesome.

Emily Gray, the narrator of All Men of Genius really had her work cut out for her. This novel was full of so many characters, some of them low keyed and restrained while others wildly over the top. Add to this a protagonist who was a maybe not quite proper young British Lady of some standing attempting to speak as a young British man of some standing, although at times slipping and sliding through the ranges of her voice. So, yeah, this wasn’t an easy task, and really, with a narrator who was too over the top, or two low keyed, or who just really didn’t grasp the characters, this production had every chance of being an audiobook trainwreck. Well, it wasn’t. It was a wonderful performance by a talented narrator. I truly believe that the key element to Gray’s narration was her understanding of the characters. She manages to portray each character as I feel the author intended. I believe each character had a battle between outward appearance and their true essence, and Gray captured this important struggle perfectly accentuating the themes of the novel. Also, I was happy to see, that with such a crazy final sequence, Gray kept the train well on the tracks, allowing the action to come alive, but never to get away from the listener. All Men of Genius was wonderful melding of performance and material, and one that can appeal to a wide range of listeners. Yes, even you. So, go, listen yourself. You’ll like it.





Audiobook Review: Spellbound by Larry Correia

11 12 2012

Spellbound by Larry Correia (Book 2 of the Grimnoir Chronicles)

Read by Bronson Pinchot

Audible Frontiers

Length: 16 Hrs 25 Min

Genre: Alternate History/Steampunk/Superheroes

Quick Thoughts: Spellbound left me simply breathless. Larry Correia has taken classic fantasy tropes and blended them into something that is almost its own new genre. The Grimnoir Chronicles with its blending of Superheroes, Steampunk and Alternate History is a series you simply cannot miss.

Grade: A+

2013 Audie Nomination for Paranormal

It’s no secret that I love a good superhero tale, as long as I don’t think about it too much. I have always been one who hasn’t let inconsistencies in fiction bother me too much. I mean, honestly, I love zombie books, and other goofy science fiction type things, if I let plausibility and consistent mythology bother me too much I probably would have to resort to nonfiction. That being said, those rare occasions when my mind is working too hard, Superhero origin stories hurt my brain. Now, I’m mostly a casual superhero fan. I’ve never been a big comic book guys, so all my issues have probably been addressed multiple times by multiple people. Yet, I never understood why more people haven’t had themselves bitten by irradiated, genetically engineered spiders, or exposed to top secret gamma rays. If superheroes are a real part of your world, wouldn’t more idiots be trying to throw themselves in front of meteors? Then, there’s Superman. He is biggest, strongest superhero of them all, who somehow gets his power from a yellow sun. I’m not exactly sure how the rays of a yellow sun would allow you to fly, or shoot beams out of your eyes. I mean, maybe if we could already float or have low powered eyebeams, then sure, yellow sun, amps us up. I’m down. Plus, Superman can fly into space, through the galaxy where not all suns are yellow. What’s up with that? Wouldn’t he lose his power? So, whenever I go into a tale involving superheroes I plan to sort of roll my eyes and go with the origin story’s flow, which hopefully is dealt with then pushed into the background. Yet, Larry Correia, in his Grimnoir series, has done something I really didn’t expect. He has created a fascinating origin for the force behind the rise of magical powers and integrated it into the mythology of the series in a way that I find quite fascinating.

Spellbound is the second entry in Larry Correia’s Grimnoir Chronicles, the direct sequel to the Audie award winning Hard Magic, an audiobook that would have been in my top 20 last year, except I listened to it after making my list. After the events of Hard Magic the Grimnoir Knights find themselves is a bad position when they are framed for an assassination attempt on FDR. Now, hunted by a mysterious new government agency, the magical group must try to clear their name while preparing to battle an ancient force that could devastate the world as they know it. It’s common practice in action series that with each new edition  the hero or heroes takes on progressively worst badies. After defeating the most powerful and oldest magical human in the last book, I really wondered where Correia could take the story. Well, in Spellbound everything is amped up exponentially. Spellbound is Hard Magic on blue meth, full of inter-dimensional demons, vast conspiracies, and some of the unlikeliest of allies. Spellbound made my brain spin. I have often commented on the cinematic quality of Correia’s action scenes. Yet, in Spellbound the action scenes are still meticulously choreographed and highly visual, but they are so big that I don’t think a film screen could hold it all. Picture the big battle in The Avengers, throw in Gozer, give it a Steampunk edge, then multiply it by ten, and maybe you have an idea how the finale of this novel felt. Yet, it’s not just the action scenes that hold this book together. Correia has developed characters with amazing death and creates a complex mythology and detailed plot, yet reveals it in a way that is highly accessible. It’s easy to place a sort of sort of pulpy, gun porn label on Correia, but in all honesty, this guy can write with the best of them. Spellbound left me simply breathless. Larry Correia has taken classic fantasy tropes and blended them into something that is almost its own new genre. The Grimnoir Chronicles with its blending of Superheroes, Steampunk and Alternate History is a series you simply cannot miss.

In her review, one of my favorite fellow bloggers, Kat Hooper of Fantasy Literature, said that Spellbound is “A Perfect example of how good audio can get.” She is absolutely right. Bronson Pinchot’s performance in Spellbound is easily my favorite performance by a narrator this year. It really is mind boggling how good this book is in audio. Pinchot delivers a master class in pacing of a multiple POV novel. Most good narrators create a pace for each characters inner and external dialogue, yet with each perspective shift, Pinchot tailors his reading to the pace and tone of each character. There is never any question when you are looking at something from Faye’s kinetically paced point of view, or when things slow down to the ponderous pace of the underestimated Heavy Jake Sullivan. Pinchot is one of the few narrators that can actually enhance the author’s character development with his voice. His handling of the international cast was flawless, and tailored each voice to its character’s origin, personality and magical skill. Let’s face it, I listen to lots of audiobooks, and I have listened to more than a few books narrated by Pinchot, but what he does with Spellbound just amazed me. Each character comes alive, each scene jumps from the page to my ears in a masterful way, and it was one of the most engaging and pulse pounding audiobook experiences I have ever had. I have said this before, but I truly believe Correia must have sacrifice some goats or something to the gods of audiobooks to be given two of the best in the business to read his words. In Spellbound he must have gone the extra step and sacrificed an ancient polka dotted virgin goat or something, it was just that good.





Audiobook Review: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

29 06 2012

Leviathan (Leviathan Series, Bk. 1) by Scott Westerfeld

Read by Alan Cummings

Simon & Schuster Audio

Length: 8 Hrs 20 Min

Genre: Steampunk/ Alternate History, Young Adult

Quick Thoughts: Leviathan has some beautiful concepts, and Westerfeld’s knowledge of history definitely shine through , yet I found the immaturity of the main characters distracting me from the overall plot. Yet, there is enough here to interest me in trying the sequel, where I hope the situations brings growth to the characters making them less frustrating, allowing me to place my full focus where it should be in the novel.

Grade: C+

Since I transitioned from an Audiobook enthusiast to an Audiobook blogger, I have seen a real change in my listening. One of the things I never realized before blogging is how big of a phenomenon Young Adult books have become. I am amazed at the sheer number of Young Adult bloggers who are out there showing their love for all sorts of Young Adult literature. Before becoming a blogger, I read Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, and someone recommended Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Last Survivors Trilogy to me, but beyond that, I didn’t know much about Young Adult titles. Now, I have begun listening to many more of these titles based on the influence of many of these passionate and ummm… persistent voices.  Today I am reviewing the Young Adult Steampunk novel Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld.  I have seen this title recommended by many fans of Young Adult literature, including my brother who is a Youth Minister. Since I am on the peripheral of fandom of both Young Adult novels and Steampunk, I thought this would be an interesting title to explore. Also, it is narrated by Alan Cummings who I have heard raves about from many audiobook loving sources. So, here I was able to upset two monkeys with one banana, experience a popular Young Adult novel, and introduce myself to a much love audiobook narrator.

Sadly, in this occasion, I think I may have placed too many expectations on this audiobook, and it ended up falling a bit flat for me. While I enjoyed Westerfeld’s use of history, and his concepts are really quite intriguing, I found that the characters kept me from truly enjoying this book. One of the issues I have with Young Adult novels, particularly series, is that they tend to have a coming-of-age component as an essential aspect of their story. I love coming of age stories, mostly because I can’t stand the obnoxious brats, before they realize that they must change, and enjoy watching them  begin to understand the world in a new way. This transition moves way too slowly for me in series entries. In Leviathan there are essential plot elements particularly about the main characters that are not fully explore, because these issues create tension for the next in the series. Yet, I wanted to see much more growth than I got. I was frustrated and annoyed with the two main characters, Alek, a Austro-Hungarian Prince in hiding and Deryn, a young girl posing as a boy to achieve her goal of becoming a pilot, that it took me away from the plot. Yet, I am also a bit hopeful. I had a similar reaction to Jonathan Maberry’s Rot & Ruin, and when I finally moved on to the second book in the series, Dust & Decay, I loved it and where he took the characters. I think Westerfeld has proven himself to be an intricate plotter, and has created a world that definitely interests me, and if he develops his characters along the expected path, I think I will began to really embrace his creation. Leviathan has some beautiful concepts, and Westerfeld’s knowledge of history definitely shine through , yet I found the immaturity of the main characters distracting me from the overall plot. Yet, there is enough here to interest me in trying the sequel, where I hope the situations brings growth to the characters making them less frustrating, allowing me to place my full focus where it should be in the novel.

Alan Cummings definitely has skills as a narrator, but I wasn’t incredibly impressed with this performance. He did a wonderful job with the British characters, particularly the crew of The Leviathan, but I felt the Austro-Hungarian characters were not given the same level of careful attention. I did like how Cummings gave Alek a different cadence to his speech when speaking his non-native English. This is something not often seen in audiobook narration, the different is vocal style when using you native language, versus a non-native language, when both of them are presented in the text as English for us English readers. I also found Cummings to have a weird usage of dramatic tone when reading the action scenes. He would often use what I will call and dramatic Harrumph, at the end of some sentences, but it seemed to be applied at random and for inconsistent reasons. As I was listening, my thoughts would be, “Oh, there is Cummings getting all dramatic” then “Hmmm… wonder why that sentence didn’t merit the dramatic Harrumph.” I think this is one of those situations where I am overly picky, and perhaps my inability to engage with the characters led me to have more time to nit pick the narrator. Overall, I can see why this audiobook and its narrator is well loved, unfortunately, it just wasn’t the right fit for me at the right moment.





Audiobook Review: Hard Magic by Larry Correia

10 04 2012

Hard Magic by Larry Correia (Book 1 of the Gimnoir Chronicles)

Read by Bronson Pinchot

Audible Frontiers

Length: 15 Hrs 59 Min

Genre: Alternate History/Fantasy/Super Powers Saga (heck, throw in a bit of everything)

Quick Thoughts: Hard Magic is a blend of science fiction, fantasy, superhero tales, Steampunk and alternate history told with a Noir flair that makes it greater than the sum of its parts. Full of intensely visual action and set in a well researched and intriguing altered America, Correia has created something that will resonate with listeners long after the adventure is over. Bronson Pinchot’s narration is proof that a well performed and produced audiobooks can sometimes take a novel beyond the written word better than almost any other kind of medium.

Grade: A

Hard Magic is nominated for two 2012 Audie Awards in the Paranormal and Solo Narration – Male categories.

I have to admit, sometimes I can be a moody listener. This occurs mostly when I’m stressed with work, or everyday life or actually ill. There are a few audiobooks I have listened to that seems like something I would love, yet, for one reason or another, the listen conflicts with my mood, and I end up switching it up for something else. This happens with music as well, sometimes I want something folksy, while other times I just want to band my head and scream. Matching your listens with your moods can be a challenge. The problem for me comes when I choose something that doesn’t reflect my mood and end up putting it aside, I rarely ever go back to it. Like most book addicts, I have a huge pile of books both past, present and future that I want to listen to, and a limited amount of time to listen, so I find it hard to restart an audiobook. This is something that occurred to me with Larry Correia’s Hard Magic. I am a big fan of his Monster Hunter International series, and I remembered the first book started with this huge, hard knuckled violent altercation between an accountant and a werewolf. About 6 months ago or so, I was having a particularly stressful time at work, and needed some major carnage. I downloaded Larry Correia’s Hard Magic without really doing much research. Instead of starting off with a bloody, face ripping, limb rending bang, the book started with things like complex world building and character development. About an hour or so into it, I knew I just wasn’t in the right mindset for it, and turned to something involving cannibalistic undead hordes. One of the reasons I was excited about the Armchair Audies was that I knew that Hard Magic would be in one of the categories I selected and it would give me the motivation to pick up this title that I had neglected, due to no fault of its own. I have to say, I am really glad I did.

Hard Magic is the first book of Larry Correia’s Grimnoir series. It is an alternate history of our world in which magical talents begin developing sometime in the 1800s. The novel takes place during the Great Depression, when J. Edgar Hoover was just beginning to exert his power, and thousands of Okies where escaping the Dust Bowl and heading to California. Hard Magic focuses on two main characters, Jake Sullivan, a Heavy who can seemingly control gravity, and a young, naive teenager name Faye, who is just beginning to understand her powers of teleportation. As one may expect, these two get mixed up in an international conspiracy involving secret magical institution, a powerful hidden weapon and some twisted Eugenics. It’s hard not to sound pat describing Hard Magic, because Correia fully embraces the tropes of superheroes sagas, and alternate history, but he blends and butchers them as he sees fits creating something that feels unique and exciting. Correia writes some of the meanest action sequences around, and the second half of this novel is a never ending ever escalating action sequence that manages to keep you enthralled the entire time. But, it is the first half of this novel that had me realizing I had underestimated Correia as a writer. Correia builds a brilliant world and fills it with fully realized characters. It was as if Harry Turtledove actually finally began meeting actually people, and writing about them, besides just having cardboard cutouts interacting with historical figures. I really think that is one of the hardest parts of alternate history, creating a world that stays true to the history, but populating it with fresh, real characters, and Correia pulls it off. By the time the action really takes off, I feel like I actually know those in jeopardy, and care about what happens to them. Hard Magic is a blend of science fiction, fantasy, superhero tales, Steampunk and alternate history told with a Noir flair that makes it greater than the sum of its parts. Full of intensely visual action and set in a well researched and intriguing altered America, Correia has created something that will resonate with listeners long after the adventure is over.

So, about the narration. It’s Bronson Pinchot. Bronson friggin’ Pinchot. Come on, do I really need to say more. I have now listened to a bunch of his narrations, and somehow each time he manages to surprise and amaze me. I mean, he takes this novel, from a writer with a reputation for pulp filled action tales, and gets it nominated for the an Audie Award not just within its genre, but for Male Solo Narration up against authors like Arthur Conan Doyle, James Baldwin, Joseph Conrad, and the novel that inspired an Academy Award winning movie. No disrespect to Larry Correia, but Pinchot transforms this novel. He creates a voice for each character as lovingly as the novelist who breathed life into them. He gives the soft, underestimated Jake Sullivan such a true authentic voice, that it allows the violence that Jake is forced to resort to, seem that much more jarring. He captures the impulsiveness, and naiveté of Faye perfectly, allowing for some genuinely touching and funny moments, making you want to protect her while she’s out there unrepentantly kicking ass. And just thinking of the Pale Horse gives me the willies. Everything about this reading is proof that a well performed and produced audiobooks can sometimes take a novel beyond the written word better than almost any other kind of medium. The only complaint I had is that my listening schedule is so full right now, I won’t be able to get to the next book in the series, Spellbound, until sometime this summer.





Audiobook Review: The Greyfriar: Vampire Empire Book One by Clay and Susan Griffith

20 03 2012

The Greyfriar (Vampire Empire Book One) by Clay and Susan Griffith

Read by James Marsters

Buzzy Multimedia

Length: 10 Hrs 41 Min

Genre: Alternate History Steampunk Vampires

Quick Thoughts: The Greyfriar is a rollicking fun start to a series with great potential. With a lot of vicious Vampires and adventurous derring-do, the first installment of the Vampire Empire lives defies expectations and breaths new life into the Vampire subgenre. Marsters’ narration combined with the fun feel of this novel makes its translation to audiobook seamless, and should win the authors whole new slew of loyal fans.

Grade: B+

2013 Audie Nomination for Paranormal

I’ll admit, I never heard of The Vampire Empire series or of Clay and Susan Griffith until last summer when it was announced that James Marsters was going to narrate the trilogy. I had just been coming off the 7 stages of grief due to Marsters scheduling conflict that left him unable to narrate the latest Dresden Files audiobook, finally accepting that John Glover’s performance wasn’t a sign of the apocalypse, I gasped aloud when I read the words Marsters and audiobook in the same sentence. When I read the description, discovering that the first novel The Greyfriar was an alternate history Steampunk Vampire novel, I was all “meh.” Not that there is anything wrong with alternate history Steampunk Vampire novels. I am a big fan of alternate history, especially the works of SM Stirling and Harry turtledove. While Steampunk isn’t my favorite, I have read and enjoyed works by Cherie Priest and Theodore Judson. It’s the Vampire thing that holds me up. I don’t hate Vampires, one of my all time favorite novels, I am Legend is about Vampires, and Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot was a novel I read multiple times as a teenage. In fact, there are plenty of books where Vampires play a supporting role in that I love. Yet, recently books featuring Vampires have disappointed me. Sure, everyone cam complain about those sparkly vampires, and if it was just those I would be cool, but it seems like every time I get excited by a novel about vampires I get let down. I found Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s Strain trilogy to be ho hum. I enjoyed The Passage, but they are about as far away from Vampires as you can get in fiction. Even Stirling, who can typically do no wrong in my opinion, put out an Urban Fantasy Vampire novel that I found just dreadful. So, despite my excitement of a new series narrated by Marsters, I went into my listening of The Greyfriar with many reservations.

In 1870, Vampires, believed to be only figures of myth and Legend, rose up in mass to slaughter the majority of the world’s civilization. The surviving humans are driven South to the tropical climates where the Vampires aversion to heat keeps them from going. Now, 150 years later, as the two Human Great Empires of Equatoria and America begin contemplating an alliance to bring War to the clans of Vampires occupying the great lost cities, an ill-fated mission to the borderlands leaves the Princess Adele in the hands of the most vicious of Vampire rulers. Yet, the legendary Greyfriar, the champion of the free humans will risk his life, and secrets to rescue the Princess and bring her to safety. The Greyfriar was not what I expected in the least. For some reason I had expected an intricately detailed political saga, with the major players maneuvering themselves for an upcoming war. Instead, The Greyfriar is an exciting, almost pulpish action thriller full of wonderful characters and harrowing adventure. The Greyfriar is not A Game of Thrones with Vampires, but instead has an old time feel of classics such as The Scarlet Pimpernel, the Zorro pulps and Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. To make things better, Clay and Susan Griffith have breathed new life into Vampires. These are not the undead Euro-Vamps you see too much of in fiction. These Vampires are a living, breathing subspecies of humanity. In stripping away much of the mythos of Vampires, the authors make them even more monstrous. Even the exception, the one Vampire who is fascinated by humanity and sympathetic to their plight, only highlights the brutality of his kind.  Some of the characters fall victim to a bit of cardboard stereotyping, with the pompous American blowhard, and the priggish bureaucrat, yet even those characters have potential for interesting development in the upcoming sequels. The main character of the story Adele is a fun update to the classic damsel in distress trope. She is a strong, yet often frustrating woman full of secrets even she is unaware of. The Greyfriar is a rollicking fun start to a series with great potential. With a lot of vicious Vampires and adventurous derring-do, the first installment of the Vampire Empire lives defies expectations and breaths new life into the Vampire subgenre.

I was quite interested in how James Marsters narration would play out in a third person, multi-character novel. For me, he has become the signature first person voice of Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden character. His ability to become an engaging first person voice was what impressed me most about his narration, and kept me listening to a series with some rough spots. Marsters’ performance in The Greyfriar truly displays his growth as a narrator. He reads the prose with a confidence voice, handling the early world-building exposition smoothly, guiding us quickly into the meat of the novel. His pacing on the many action scenes is crisp, and never rushed, allowing us to fully envision the scenarios the authors had set up. He handles the multiple accents well, giving Princess Adele an exotic flavor and filling the bombastic of Senator Clarke with an almost sardonic humor. Marsters narration combined with the fun feel of this novel makes its translation to audiobook seamless, and should win the authors whole new slew of loyal fans, including me.

Note: A special thanks to Buzzy Multimedia for providing me with a copy of this title for review. This Audiobook will be released March 22, 2012.