Audiobook Review: The Twelve by Justin Cronin

15 10 2012

The Twelve (Book 2 of The Passage Trilogy) by Justin Cronin

Read by Scott Brick

Random House Audio

Length: 26 Hrs 24 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic Fiction

Quick Thoughts: The Twelve is a giant step in moving The Passage Trilogy forward to its eventual place as one of the top Post Apocalyptic series of all time. Cronin’s writing is hauntingly beautiful and his plotting precise, making The Twelve a novel that feels comfortable on anyone’s shelves. The worst part of The Twelve is knowing you have another lengthy wait until the final chapter is released.

Grade: A-

Two years ago, the hype machine introduced us to Justin Cronin and his novel, The Passage. As a long time book nut, rarely had I seen a book given so much press, almost to major motion picture level. I, of course, being human and easily manipulated by well produced press segments was quite intrigued. Justin Cronin, who before this, it seems was a mid level literary writer, has produced a masterpiece of post apocalyptic horror. People all over where comparing it to Stephen King’s The Stand and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, which to me is like comparing anything edible to peanut butter and chocolate. Yet, it also made me a tad bit skeptical. As a huge Post Apocalyptic geek, every time there is a relatively popular novel in the genre released it is compared to either The Stand, or The Road, or both and almost never lived up to these comparisons. Yet, Stephen King himself had endorsed it as a great novel, even surprising Cronin on a morning show, praising him directly. So, I got swept up in the hype machine. The Passage was one of the few novels in the past 5 years or so that I purchased both as a hard copy and an audiobook. I spent over 40 hours in the midst of its story sometimes moved, sometimes horrified, and sometimes a bit annoyed, but always engaged. In no way was I disappointed by its rich use of language, its complex and rewarding plot and its wonderful characters. Yet, it wasn’t the same life changing experience I had with novels like The Stand and The Road. There are a lot of reasons for this, its focus, its jumping in time and mood, but mostly, because it wasn’t complete. The Passage may end up being one of the top tier Post Apocalyptic epics of all time, yet it entirely depends on the rest of the story. That is why the arrival of Book 2, The Twelve was one of the most anticipated novels of the year for me.

In The Passage, a government experiment goes wrong, releasing a group of 12 Death Row inmates changed into vampire like creatures into the world. Yet, along with these twelve, two others are released, The Zero, and Amy. As the world falls into chaos and The Twelve spread the vampire curse turning normal humans into viral monsters, Amy joins up with the last bastions of humanity to try to hunt down and bring an end to The Twelve. Once again, Cronin tells parallel stories, one taking place during the initial outbreak and the other in year 97 AV among many of the players introduced in The Passage. The early portions of this novel where simply amazing. From Cronin’s biblical opening, to his exploration of characters attempting to survive the virals as well as the government’s attempts to contain the outbreak, this was truly Post Apocalyptic fiction at its best. It was full of haunting images and disturbing situations, particularly in the tale of Survivors traveling on a bus driven by an autistic man across the country looking for a place of safety.  Cronin is one of the best writers at giving his prose a feeling of poetry, pulling out the beauty in the darkest situations. The latter third of the novel, where the character’s battles in a strange Vampire controlled city to take out The Twelve comes to a thrilling conclusion, was also quite strong. It’s the middle part of the novel that suffers just a bit. Cronin’s use of mysticism and his tying together of character’s past sometime stretched credulity, even though it was very well plotted. This is where Cronin’s poetic flair may have done his a bit of disservice, giving a dreamy quality that created a strange lull in the pacing. There are some wonderful scenes in this segment, particularly a tale of a massacre within a field, and Cronin sets up a lot that pays off later in the book, but the stylistic nature of his writing makes it just a bit of a slog to get through. Yet, when through, Cronin pulls off a wonderful, intricately plotted ending that completes the tale, while setting us up for the final chapter. The Twelve is a giant step in moving The Passage Trilogy forward to its eventual place as one of the top Post Apocalyptic series of all time. Cronin’s writing is hauntingly beautiful and his plotting precise, making The Twelve a novel that feels comfortable on anyone’s shelves. The worst part of The Twelve is knowing you have another lengthy wait until the final chapter is released.

I am a huge fan of Scott Brick’s work, but I have to admit, after listening to Brick’s performance of the over 36 hour long audiobook version of The Passage, I definitely had Brick fatigue. Brick has a very specific style that works well with Cronin’s writing. Brick is one of the better narrators at finding the poetic rhythms within straight prose and accentuating it in his reading. While this is often beautiful to listen to, it also can have an almost lullaby like feel. I sometimes find my self almost hypnotized by Brick’s style, and have to force myself to go back and relisten to a passage I may have missed. This fact, along with the way that The Passage ended, in an almost dreamlike sequence, had me needing to take a break from Brick’s reading for a few months. With The Twelve, there were moments, particularly during the more mystical stream of consciousness segments, that I felt lulled again by Brick’s voice, but for the most part, Brick’s reading had me fully engaged.  I have to say, the opening segment, with Brick reading a Biblical style recap of Book 1 was maybe one of the best individual audiobook segments I have ever listened to. I could do a whole book written in that style, being narrated by Brick. Upon completing The Twelve, I have no residual Brick fatigue, I could very easily grab another Brick narration right now. Brick is the perfect narrator for Cronin’s style, combining poetic stylings with crisp pacing and wonderful characterizations. Fans of The Passage will not be disappointed in The Twelve, and should be energized for the final chapter of this trilogy.

Note: Thanks to Random House Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review. The Twelve will be released Tuesday, October 16th.

Advertisements




Audiobook Review: V Wars edited by Jonathan Maberry

11 10 2012

V Wars edited by Jonathan Maberry

With stories by Jonathan Maberry, Nancy Holder, John Everson, Yvonne Navarro, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Scott Nicholson, Gregory Frost, and James A. Moore

Read by Stefan Rudnicki, John Rubinstein, Gabrielle de Cuir, Roxanne Hernandez, Lisa Renee Pitts, Arte Johnson, Cassandra Campbell, Wil Wheaton and Grover Garner,

Blackstone Audio

Length: 18 Hrs 28 Min

Genre: Vampire Shared World Anthology

Quick Thoughts: V Wars is a must for all horror fans, especially those seeking Vampires that are truly monsters. Maberry creates a horrific tapestry and then sets loose some of the most twisted minds of the horror genre. Each story works both as a self contained vision of some variant of Vampire mythos, while also expanding the overall world.  I for one hope that V Wars is only the first shot in the War to reclaim the Vampire.

Grade: A-

Is there any monster more polarizing within Horror fandom than the Vampire? Personally, I don’t think so. I, like many other horror fans, went through a period where I totally wrote off Vampires. Many people point at Stephanie Meyer’s as the Antichrist of Vampires, destroying a once beloved monster, but, in all honestly, I was pretty much off Vampires well before Twilight came out. As a kid, I loved Vampires. I read and reread Salem’s Lot and I Am Legend throughout my teenage years. Yet, I think seeing Tom Cruise being interviewed, as just one in a long line of charming, Euro-Vamps began my plummeting opinion of the inhuman bloodsucking beasts. I really didn’t want my monsters to become sex symbols. I think, this is why I turned full forced into a Zombie guy. Zombies are a monster that just is simply not sexy at all. There is no need for teen angst about whether that hot new boy that showed up in school may be a Zombie. If he’s not shambling, easting your tasty insides, and moaning while smelling like month old lunch meat, well, you probably just got one of the normal boys. Yet, I think recently, for me at least, The Vampire has had a bit of a resurgence. I think there has been a concerted effort among those who love Vampires, and remember them before they became the gothy crush worthy boy toys, to bring back the monsters that lurks at night. Jonathan Maberry is a big reason for my happy return to The Vampire legend. His Pine Deep Series reminded me that the stereotypical Vampire is only one example in a huge cache of Vampire Mythology. This resurgence of the monstrous Vampire is good, because it gives authors the ability to examine the humanity that still resides in these monsters, while not forgetting what they truly are. This is why Maberry’s shared world anthology V Wars, was a must have for me.

I think, with its title, and the imagery it brings, there will be a lot of people comparing V Wars to Max Brooks hit Zombie novel World War Z. While this comparison is quite apt, I feel V Wars is more in line with George Martin’s Wildcard series. As a shared world anthology, Maberry creates the ground rules with his set piece “Junk.” In “Junk,” Global Warming leads to the melting of the ice caps. A virus long frozen into the Glaciers is released, affecting human’s on a genetic level, triggering long dormant Junk DNA that contains codes from offshoots of humanity. These offshoots are the variants of Vampires that exist in our lore and legends. With this setting, Maberry has created a smorgasbord of opportunity for some of the top horror writers working today. There are eight stories within the pages of V Wars, and while they all stand alone, they connect together creating an overall vision of the world now changed by the introduction of these monsters.  My favorite stories include John Everson’s “Love Less”, where a tabloid TV anchorwoman discovers she in now a Wurdulak, a Russian Vampire variant that can only feed off people they have a close bond with.  In James A. Moore’s  “Stalking Anna Lei” we meet a Jiangshi, or Chinese hopping Vampire who is searching for his sister who he believe was captured by a green ghoulish Vampire that has been brutally murdering it’s opponents. This is a great example of what is so good about this anthology. When we think of Vampires, we don’t picture hairy, shape shifting cat faced monsters who are forced to hop due to rigor mortis, but this is one Vampire variant that has been forgotten in the slew of emo vampire stories.  Perhaps my favorite story of the collection is “The Ballad of Big Charlie” by Keith RA DeCandido. “The Ballad of Big Charlie” explores the changing political landscape of this new world, through the eye of those involved in the campaign of a Bronx DA, who discovers he is a Lugaru. I found this story to be fascinating because it examined the human reaction to the new offshoots more so than any other story in the novel. Now, I could go on a list all the other stories, because, there really isn’t a week one on the batch, but I won’t. V Wars is a must for all horror fans, especially those seeking Vampires that are truly monsters. Maberry creates a horrific tapestry and then sets loose some of the most twisted minds of the horror genre. Each story works both as a self contained vision of some variant of Vampire mythos, while also expanding the overall world.  I for one hope that V Wars is only the first shot in the War to reclaim the Vampire.

V Wars contains a virtual Dream Team of Rock Star narrators, who wondrously bring this tale to life. I was so excited to see some of my favorite horror authors finally get a chance to have their stories finally brought to audio. I practically geek squealed when I discovered one of my favorite horror authors, James A. Moore, was going to have his story read by one of my favorite audiobook narrators, Wil Wheaton. Stefan Rudnicki was the perfect choice to narrate Maberry’s Junk. Rudnicki sets the bar for each narrator high, and they all seem to rally around their leader and give wonderful performances. Gabrielle Du Cuir brings just the right amount of cold bitchiness to her reading of “Love Less” creating one of the more memorable characters of the anthology. Cassandra Campbell once again shows off her talent at accents and characterization in her reading of Gregory Frost’s “Vulpes.” V Wars also contained a new discovery for me in Lisa Renee Pitts, who gave a flavor filled performance of “The Ballad of Big Charlie” that had me scanning audiobook sites to see what else she has narrated. Add to this the excellent work of Roxanne Hernandez, John Rubinstein, Arte Johnson and even a brief appearance by Grover Gardner, and V Wars should be the audiobook event of the Halloween season.

Note: Thanks to Blackstone Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review. V Wars is currently available at Blackstone’s new download site, Downpour.





Audiobook Review: Carpathia by Matt Forbeck

22 08 2012

Carpathia by Matt Forbeck

Read by Ralph Lister

Brilliance Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 20 Min

Genre: Horror

Quick Thoughts: Carpathia is an effective horror tale that blends history and Vampire Mythos into a truly frightening experience. Forbeck has created some wonderful characters and infuses his tale with an unsettling mood that really makes this horror tale work.

Grade: B

Sometimes, for some strange reason, I forget that Vampires are scary. Vampires have become a huge part of our culture. We can find Vampires as teenage love interests, declaring the number of the day on Sesame Street, and on the boxes of our children’s cereals. None of these images are scary. Yet, I can remember as a child being scared out of my mind the first time I watched Dracula on TV. I mean, scared, can’t sleep at night, noise is a monster coming to eat me scared. Vampires are scary because, for a species pretty much on the top of the food chain, they are predators. Somewhere, in the archetypical genetic memories of our distant past, the ideas of being stalked and eventually consumed is terrifying. With all the different versions of Vampires around today, the ones that only really scare me are the one that replace us on the top of the food chain. To me, it doesn’t matter so much what rules they follow, what tools can kill them, and just how smooth and suave they are. If they plan to hunt me down and kill me, well, that’s a bit scary. So many accoutrements have been placed on the vampire. I’m fine with that. The can be seductive, if they want, as long as their seductiveness is used to eat me.  Yet, I have to be a bit honest, the classic Stoker Vampire is probably the one that scares me the most. Maybe it comes from the time I was traumatized as a child by Bella Lugosi, but the classic, Euro-Trash, bat turning, blood sucking predator scares me every time.

The Titanic was supposed to be indestructible, but that tragic day when the largest ship in the world met its ill fated end, three friends, Lucy, Abe and Quin manage to save themselves and find their way to The Carpathia, a Steamship that had been heading to Eastern Europe. Rescued, and safe from the disaster, Quin is now attempting to let Lucy know his true feelings, despite the fact that she happens to be his best friend Abe’s girl. Yet, unbeknownst to most, within the bowels of the ship is a legion of Vampires, heading back to Europe in order to conceal their existence from the world. One Vampire, though, doesn’t want to conceal his existence. He wants to feed. Carpathia is old school horror that draws on Stoker’s classic Vampire mythos to create a truly frightening experience. Forbeck’s mix of History and legend is wonderfully conceived and effectively executed. I really enjoyed his often naive, yet well drawn out main characters. Forbeck manages some dark humor as Lucy, the young college bound suffragette, fights against the “woman and children first” mentality of her two competing beaus. The give and take of the characters, while dealing with an extremely unbelievable situation, gives the tale grounding in reality. Carpathia is full of action, and although I occasionally lost track of things and had to regroup, the scenes were relatively well executed. What Forbeck does well is infuse his tales with a sense of unease. He builds a mood that allows the terror of the tale to blossom. The concepts of being stuck on a boat with Vampires is pretty unsettling as it is, but Forbeck’s understanding of the mythology, and ability to draw out particularly tense moments enhanced the fright. While I am not as big as a Titanic buff as some others I know well, I thought his choice to set this tale at that time and places was inspired. His characters, having already gone through a tragedy, are already at wits end before the Vampires even begin their feeding. Carpathia is an effective horror tale that blends history and Vampire Mythos into a truly frightening experience. Forbeck has created some wonderful characters and infuses his tale with an unsettling mood that really makes this horror tale work.

Ralph Lister gives a solid performance in his reading of Carpathia. I found his handling of the ethnically diverse cast of this novel to be spot on. He manages such a strong array of accents and tones that all the characters are given their own life. Lister has an accessible reading style. He doesn’t try to do too much with the tale, just allows it to find its own organic pace. A few times, particularly during the extended actions scenes, I thought his pacing was just a bit fast, and I found myself needed to rewind the books just a bit to make sure I didn’t miss a key point. Now, this could also be due to my mood and distractibility at that moment, so I can’t entirely blame the narrator. Any little problems I may have had were more than made up by the other aspects of his reading which were impeccable. Carpathia definitely works well in audio, although I can’t promise pleasant dreams after listening.

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





Audiobook Review: Red, White and Blood by Christopher Farnsworth

7 06 2012

Red, White and Blood by Christopher Farnsworth (Nathanial Cade Series, Bk. 3)

Read by Bronson Pinchot

Penguin Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 16 Min

Genre: Horror

Quick Thoughts: Red, White and Blood is a thrill a minute supernatural horror tale that is only made scarier by the author’s ability to make it feel authentic. With fully realized characters, high tension scenarios and deeply rooted conspiracies, Farnsworth hasn’t just written an exciting book but has created a truly frightening world whose true horror comes from how much it resembles our own.

Grade: A-

Very few things go together as well as politics and horror. Horror movies foster a sense of futility, characters trapped in situations they cannot escape, knowing no matter what they do the monster in the room will eventually destroy them. Horror character’s stupid mistakes and past indiscretions come back to haunt them. They think they are prepared, think they will stay true to themselves, protect those they are sworn to protect, yet when the reality of the situation presents itself, in full, they find that they may not be as strong as they believed themselves to be. Yes, horror characters and politicians have a lot in common. I used to be a political junkie, back in the days when CNN was the only 24-hour news station, and I didn’t have cable. My news came to me through reading newspapers and local broadcasts at 6 and11 PM. Yet, as I got older, and the sources of news grew, displaying all the inherent flaws of out political system, I began to hate what I was watching. So, instead I turned to horror movies. Yet, politics is still an old love, and every election season, I find the campaigning, mud smearing and machinations of the process slowly begin to revitalize that interest, despite the horror I feel at its actual execution. I can’t say I ever thought about just how horrific that process would be if added to the down and dirty political brawling was a battle between an ancient spirit, the patron saint of serial killers, and a vampire. This is why I’m a reviewer instead of a writer.

Red, White and Blood is the third entry in Christopher Farnsworth’s Nathan Cade aka The President’s Vampire series, and it’s easily my favorite. In some ways, Farnsworth series reminds me of a really well done Comic Book movie series. Each edition offers new characters and old vendettas but the true driving force is a new enemy who pushes our hero in new directions. Yet, unlike less well executed movie series, Nathaniel Cade’s new enemies are fresh and inventive, and completely break away from what we expect from our baddies in terms of actions and motivations. In Red, White and Blood, the new baddie is The Boogeyman, who is like your deepest childhood fears and hundreds of urban legends rolled up into one seemingly invincible package. To add to the tension, the conflict between The Boogeyman and Cade is set within the high stress situation of a struggling Presidential Campaign, with the ever-present Press hanging like Vultures, waiting for one fatal misstep in order to leap on the carcass. Farnsworth continues to develop his characters in interesting ways. It was great to see Cade, while not truly vulnerable or weak, but fallible. Also, by infusing more political elements in the story, we got to see more of a glimpse into the person who Zach was before his disgrace, and assignment to serve as Cades keeper. Farnsworth moved Zach in some interesting directions, highlighting who he was, using that as a contrast to truly show us what he is becoming. One of my favorite aspects of this series is the author’s creating of a secret history of the United States, using news articles, true crime, and writings to show the supernatural influences on the counties growth. Red, White and Blood is a thrill a minute supernatural horror tale that is only made scarier by the author’s ability to make it feel authentic. With fully realized characters, high tension scenarios and deeply rooted conspiracies, Farnsworth hasn’t just written an exciting book but has created a truly frightening world whose true horror comes from how much it resembles our own.

Listening to Bronson Pinchot’s narration of Red, White and Blood highlights how much choices by a narrator can affect the overall mood of a novel. Pinchot reads this novel with a slow, deliberate pace that increases the tension of the plot. Pinchot creates aurally what the best horror movies create with music and images, an atmospheric mood that keeps the listener on edge, never knowing what will be around corner. His characterization of Cade is perfect, using an economy of inflection in the same way Cade uses an economy of emotional display. When Cade does show fear or doubt, and you can hear the slight evidence of it in his tone, it becomes doubly effective because it is so unexpected. Bronson’s choices are always well reasoned and affective, and his performance in Red, White and Blood proves again that the right narrator can bring a novel to life in so many unexpected ways.

Note: A special thanks to Penguin Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.





Audiobook Review: Gil’s All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez

29 05 2012

Gil’s All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez

Read by Fred Berman

Macmillan Audio

Length: 6 Hrs 48 Min

Genre: Supernatural Horror

Quick Thoughts: People looking for a unique, clever and highly entertaining supernatural tale will find Gil’s All Fright Diner fits the bill. It’s a great change of pace book for when you’re stuck in a bit of a rut, and are looking for something which is simply pure entertainment to clear your palate.

Grade: B+

I think we as a society tend to stereotype our monsters. All too often our vampires are displayed as eccentric and fascinating, with more than a touch of sexiness. They are pale and mysterious, often with European roots, and a seductive tone. Also, unless they are teenage boys who sparkle, they tend to be evil. While I can accept this for the most part, sometimes I look for a bit of diversity in my monsters. We are living in a society that teaches us to embrace our different cultural heritages. We shouldn’t fear that which is not like us. So, shouldn’t we celebrate diversity in our monster fiction? While, in essence, vampires and werewolves are monsters, can they not also be heroes? I feel it’s time for us to remove the stigma from the word Monster. There are many things that may be hiding in our closets or under our beds. When we walk down a dark alley, wouldn’t running into a petty criminal or rabid raccoon be just as frightening as encountering a Wendigo or chupacabra? We like to put the label of monster on our most heinous criminals, yet wouldn’t this be like mythical creatures labeling their evil doers humans? We also place such a value on beauty, while ogres and ghouls are considered monsters, other mythological creatures like unicorns and fairies are heralded, despite their potential for devastation. Should we really be judging mythological beings based on their looks, or what they like to eat? Well, maybe if what they like to eat is us… but I digress. Monsters, maybe it’s time to rise up and… well, maybe I need to think about this a bit more.

Gil’s All Fright Diner introduces us to two weary travelers named Duke and Earl who are just looking for a quick bite to eat before heading back on the road. Yet, they are not surprised while eating some of Loretta’s pie to find themselves under attack by zombies. You see, according to Earl, they live under the Law of Anomalous Phenomena Attraction where supernatural events are drawn so supernatural creatures, and Earl is a Vampire and Duke a werewolf. Gil’s All Fright Diner reads like a southern fried comedic version of Being Human. Duke and Earl are instantly likeable and the antitheses to the mysterious emo-monsters that all too often occupy our supernatural horror tales. These two everyman stay on to help the robust Loretta solve her zombie problem, as well as the other strange events plaguing the town of Rockwood, before the local Sherriff, Marshall Kopp is forced to close down Loretta’s business. So, quick aside, I totally had one of those embarrassing, "is he crazy" audiobook moments when snorting out loud when discovering the local Sheriff’s name was Marshall Cop. In fact, Gil’s All Fright Diner is full of clever comedic gems, as well as lots of action, a touch of romance, and zombie cows. It’s sometimes hard to remember the dark Lovecraftian, potentially apocalyptic danger the Rockwell is in, because of all the great characters and hilarious moments the book is full of. Yet, Martinez pulls it all together with world bending, unconventional ending that doesn’t fail to thrill. People looking for a unique, clever and highly entertaining supernatural tale will find Gil’s All Fright Diner fits the bill. It’s a great change of pace book for when you’re stuck in a bit of a rut, and are looking for something which is simply pure entertainment to clear your palate.

I really enjoyed Fred Barman’s performance in Gil’s All Fright Diner, and this was definitely a performance. Berman hit’s all the right notes and you can tell he just goes all out in bringing this tale to life. In fact, I would say that it is worth the price of admission just to hear Berman’s Zombie Cow moan. It is an audiobook highlight for me that I won’t soon forget. Berman handles all the characters well, bringing about the distinctiveness in their personalities in the voices he crafts for them. He paces the narrative crisply, bringing the weird and wild aspects of Rockwood to light. This is the third audiobook I’ve listened to from A. Lee Martinez, and it won’t be my last. Each of his novels has such a distinctive tone and unique, wonderfully drawn characters that translate so well into the audio format with the right narrator, and here, Berman was definitely an excellent choice.





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.





Audiobook Review: The Night Eternal by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

2 12 2011

The Night Eternal by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan (The Strain, Book 3)

Read by Daniel Oreskes

Harper Audio

Length: 13 Hrs 54 Mins

Genre: Vampire Apocalypse/ Horror

Quick Thoughts: The Night Eternal, and the Strain trilogy in total, may not live up entirely to what I expected, but if you can trudge through the rough patches early in the novel you will be rewarded with a well plotted final confrontation which leaves the series on a high note.

Grade: B-

I remember when I first found out that a new post apocalyptic vampire series was coming out that I was quite excited. This series offered a lot of reasons to be excited, being that is was co-written by Guillermo Del Toro, director of some excellent movies including Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth, and Chuck Hogan, and excellent thriller writer who has also had some Hollywood success. To make things even better, the first novel of the series was being narrated by actor Ron Pearlman. Yet, when The Strain came out, I was a bit under whelmed. It was quite original, well narrated and full of some stunning images, but I just really didn’t connect with the story.  The Vampires were just too odd, and it just took me too long to adjust to the mythology. I did appreciate the novel, and enjoyed the historic interplay but it just didn’t grab me as I had expected. I chalked that initial reaction to the fact that is was the first book in a trilogy, and that is spent a lot of time building up a unique world and mythology. When book two came out, The Fall, I still didn’t really engage with the story, yet I began to become more attached to the characters. There was a side story in The Fall that dealt with a masked luchador named Angel that was excellent and probably saved the novel for me. The Fall changed narrators, which I was skeptical about, but the story tightened up, and I began to see that there was hope for a great finale. Still, I was skeptical. My overall feeling was that the final installment would make or break this series for me.

The Night Eternal is the final book of the trilogy. In the two years since the Strain was released, The Master has created a dystopic paradise for Vampires. For humans, well things pretty much suck. Humanity has been relegated to cattle, and the Vampires, and their human capitulators control all aspects of their lives. Our heroes from the first books, Eph, Vassily, Nora and Gus are still fighting to bring down The Master, yet their alliance is incredibly shaky. I need to be completely honest, the first half of The Night Eternal is brutal, and not in a good way. The characters are whiney and completely frustrating. Now, you’re in the midst of a Vampire Apocalypse so I don’t expect you to be singing Mary Poppins songs, but I found their bitterness and mistrust of each other to be quite petty. Eph, who son was kidnapped by the Master, is a borderline junkie and full on depressive. Worst, his friends are totally unsympathetic and, in my opinion, cruel towards him. He is beat up about being obsessed with his lost son, by people who have their own issues, including one who has his own Vampire mother chained in a secret chamber. If I wasn’t so invested in the characters and the story I may have given into my temptation to just stop listening. I’m glad I didn’t, because in the second half, things actually start to happen. The second half of this novel is excellent, full of action and brutal confrontations. There was even some heart touching moments. The highlight of the novel for me is the historic and mythological elements, giving us the story of how the Vampire came to be in a stunningly original way. The Night Eternal, and the Strain trilogy in total, may not live up entirely to what I expected, but if you can trudge through the rough patches early in the novel you will be rewarded with a well plotted final confrontation which leaves the series on a high note.

I was quite concerned and a bit disappointed when the switched narrators after the first book. I remember after listening to the second book feeling that Daniel Oreskes did a decent job replacing Ron Pearlman. I’m not sure what changed but I really struggled with his narration in The Night Eternal. His voice is nice enough, he just brought absolutely no energy to his reading. There was little to no attempts to differentiate between characters, outside of a random accent. I had a hard time with the any dialogue between Nora and the main characters because Oreskes voice for Nora basically matched his narrative voice. Sadly, Oreskes came off bored with the reading, like he was just plodding through the narrative, and I think that was a significant factor in my dislike of the first half of the book. So, perhaps, with a better, more energetic narrator, things may have been a bit better for me. Or maybe in print. If you are looking for an alternate view of the Print version of this novel, check out Jenn’s Bookshelves review of The Night Eternal.