Review of Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders

July 11, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Romulus Buckle and the City of the FoundersRomulus Buckle & the City of the Founders (Chronicles of the Pneumatic #1)
By Richard Ellis Preston; Narrated by Luke Daniels
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 2 July 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 11 hours, 38 minutes

Themes: / post-apocalypse / snow / zeppelin / steampunk / airship /

Publisher summary:

In a postapocalyptic world of endless snow, eighteen-year-old Captain Romulus Buckle and the stalwart crew of the Pneumatic Zeppelin must embark on a perilous mission to rescue their kidnapped leader, Balthazar Crankshaft, from the impenetrable City of the Founders. Steaming over a territory once known as Southern California—before it was devastated in the alien war—Buckle navigates his massive airship through skies infested with enemy war zeppelins and ravenous alien beasties in this swashbuckling and high-octane steampunk adventure. Life is desperate in the Snow World, and death is quick. Buckle and his ship’s company must brave poisoned wastelands of Noxious Mustard and do battle with forgewalkers, steampipers, and armored locomotives as they plunge from the skies into the underground prison warrens of the fortress city.Captain Romulus Buckle must lead the Pneumatic Zeppelin and its crew of ne’er-do-wells on a desperate mission where he must risk everything to save Balthazar and attempt to prevent a catastrophic war that could wipe out all that is left of civilization and the entire human race.

Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders is a wonderful example of why books should never be judged by their covers. Because while the cover looks polished and interesting with a mysterious but kick ass hero, the story is actually pretty boring. It reminded me of the movie The Expendables. It throws in everything that typically makes an exciting steam punk adventure, but doesn’t use any of the elements to their advantages which just leaves a lot of forgettable explosions.

From the start I felt lost, like maybe I had actually started listening on the second disk because the story starts in the middle of things. Not in the middle of a fight or a heist or a battle. In the middle of the plot. Captain Buckle and crew are flying to the City of the Founders (formally Los Angeles) to break his father out of prison where he is being kept by the nefarious and secretive Founders clan. After all, why have boring Act I world establishment and character building, when you can just start at the beginning of Act II action and fill your readers in on things only as needed? As a result, I never really understood the day to day of this post-war future. In fact, the only things we are told is that civilization has devolved into family clans, all of whom specialize in a trade but none of whom really get along. At some point aliens invaded earth and mingled with humans long enough to leave half-alien children behind, but they are gone now. And humans may or may not be limited to Southern California. The elusive Founders Clan, who has been kidnapping people from other clans, seems important and everyone seems wary of them but I was never really clear on their role in society. It is defiantly not a world in which you can lose yourself.

But I can forgive mediocre world building for some great swashbuckling characters. After all, our hero is named Romulus Buckle and captains a zeppelin. But don’t have your heart set on Errol Flynn, because Buckle, like the rest of the cast are all straight from a mold. Buckle is dashing, brave and heroic because we are told he is, not because we are shown it. His half-alien stepsister is aloof because she’s an alien. There are goofy, well-meaning sidekicks, wise, old mentors, and mustache twirling villains, but none of this paper doll cast has the panache to hold my attention much less carry a story that is ninety percent action scenes. I’m not sure Preston would have bothered with the dialogue necessary to string the action together if it wasn’t the only way to publish a book. It was not until the last chapter that sets things in motion for the sequel that things became more interesting.

Overall, this is a pretty mediocre book that will a appeal more to teenage boys and diehard steam punk fans. Luke Daniels, the narrator, has a nice, manly voice that does the tone of the book justice but I found it difficult to keep track of what was happening when listening to lengthy action scenes. This is Preston’s debut novel and it feels like it, so be prepared for some clumsy storytelling.

Posted by Rose D.

 

Review of Dragon Blood by Patricia Briggs

July 9, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

dragonbloodDragon Blood (Hurog Duology #2)
By Patricia Briggs; Performed by Joe Manganiello
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours
Themes: / fantasy / dragons / Hurog /

Wardwick of Hurog wishes to live in peace. Destiny has other plans. He is about to be arrested and imprisoned in the Asylum for Nobel Embarrassments and Inconveniences. Worse still, Ward has learned that the same man bent on his imprisonment, Jakoven Tallven, High King of the Five Kingdoms, is seeking Hurog blood to activate the supernatural equivalent of a weapon of mass destruction.Once again Ward must play the fool to survive. Yet, that will not suffice. Ward’s closest companions all must risk their lives and fortunes to keep Jakoven and his malevolent mage Jade Eyes from destroying their world.

After finishing Dragon Bones I was left with some lingering questions and looking forward to this book. For some reason this story wasn’t as much fun. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly why.  My best guess is the pacing. For such a short book, it felt like the plot meandered too much on unimportant details. The beginning was strong. It pulled me right back in again, and I thought everything was good to go. But then it got slow in middle, and felt sort of rushed at the end. I was sort of underwhelmed by the final confrontation especially.

I guess since I wasn’t having as much fun with the story this go around and it made the quality of the writing more noticeable. I’m not one to spend much time commenting on the writing too much. I tend to leave that for English teachers/literary types. I care a lot more about story and character development than I do about how elegant the prose is. If you’re entertaining me, I’m not going to notice bad sentence structure/dialogue.

If I had to sum this book up with one sentence it would be “Hurog means Dragon.” Why you ask? Well because it’s said at least once per chapter. Often more than once. Or at least that’s how it felt. Eventually I groaned every time another character said it.  I wonder if the writing was just as bad in the first book and I didn’t notice. “Hurog means dragon” was said a few times in that book as well, but it didn’t seem nearly so frequent. I didn’t really find the dialogue or prose that bad.

Glancing over other reviews it seems like I may be in the minority. It’s quite possible that if you liked the first book, you may enjoy this as well, but I mostly found it to a disappointing sequel.

As far as the audio goes, Joe Manganiello once again does a fine job without really adding or subtracting from the story.

Review by Rob Zak.

Review of Steel World by B. V. Larson

July 2, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Steel World steelworldSteel World (#1 in Undying Mercenaries)
By B. V. Larson; Performed by Mark Boyett
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 3 December 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours

Themes: / dinosaurs / regeneration / military sf / alien bean counters / science fiction /

Publisher summary:

In the twentieth century Earth sent probes, transmissions and welcoming messages to the stars. Unfortunately, someone noticed.The Galactics arrived with their battle fleet in 2052. Rather than being exterminated under a barrage of hell-burners, Earth joined their vast Empire. Swearing allegiance to our distant alien overlords wasn’t the only requirement for survival. We also had to have something of value to trade, something that neighboring planets would pay their hard-earned credits to buy. As most of the local worlds were too civilized to have a proper army, the only valuable service Earth could provide came in the form of soldiers…someone had to do their dirty work for them, their fighting and dying.

I’d recommend this to anyone looking for a soft and accessible military SF walk-through. If tropes don’t pose a nuisance, this might just graze your fancy.

B. V. Larson’s Steel World is passable military SF, but it’s not a genre standout. If you’re looking to scratch that itch, this will do the trick, but it may not satisfy. All the ingredients are here. We have humans from Earth fighting on a distant planet inhabited by aliens, futuristic weapons, and the technology to make death nearly nonexistent. All the trope-trappings are here of course too, a young recruit, training, deployment, battles, technology, spaceships, etc. But what we don’t have? Genre originality. But it should be said that one doesn’t need break the mold of military SF to have good military SF. In Larson’s case though, it may have helped to step outside the lines in order to make a memorable impression.

For the most part I enjoyed the ride, but I was ready for it to end. The writing affected a forced feel. I was disappointed with the glossed over battle scenes, stereotypical gruff commander, manor in which the recruits fraternized, and the abrupt ending reinforcing the soldier’s inability to “come home” again all felt too prepackaged to ring that bell of authenticity. I struggled with the at times awkward anachronisms. Similes sporting pigs at county fairs, and basic phrases referencing the Internet, the act of brown-nosing, shopping cart wheels, horseshit, and people being pricks kept pulling me out of the future and plunking me back in the contemporary.

Mark Boyett narrates the audiobook, and does a nice job. Boyett has a clean yet slightly senior sounding voice that is incongruous with the main character’s youthful inexperience. While this is feasible to overlook, it never fully leaves the listener’s consciousness. Boyett sounds more like an old man on a porch than a jacked up soldier full of bloodlust and vitality who never stops checking out the backsides of female officers.

Posted by Casey Hampton.

Review of William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return

June 29, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Jedi Doth ReturnWilliam Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return
By Ian Doescher; Narrated by Marc Thompson, Jonathan Davis, Daniel Davis, Jeff Gurner, January Lavoy, and Ian Doescher
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 1 July 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 3 hours, 35 minutes

Listen to excerpt: | MP3 |

Themes: / Shakespeare / iambic pentameter / full cast / Star Wars /

Publisher summary:

Return to the star-crossed galaxy far, far away as the brooding young hero, a power-mad emperor, and their jesting droids match wits, struggle for power, and soliloquize in elegant and impeccable iambic pentameter. Illustrated with beautiful black-and-white Elizabethan-style artwork, these two plays offer essential reading for all ages. Something Wookiee this way comes!

The jedi doth return indeed. The final book of the Shakespearean Star Wars trilogy keeps pace with the first two books with regard to author Ian Doescher’s ability to come up with interesting rules for his writing. I enjoyed this book as much as the first and highly suggest experiencing the full performance of the audio book as it works quite well in the form of a radio play.

If you really want to follow all that’s going on, listen to the author’s note after the story first. Doescher explains all of the rules he came up with in previous books and the ones he added for himself in this play. Some rules are more obvious like writing in iambic pentameter and Boba Fett’s prose but others are more interesting. For your assistance and enjoyment, here is a list of those I can remember:

  • Most lines are written in iambic pentameter (including the last two lines of a scene rhyming).
  • Han and Leia speak to each other in rhyming couplets when alone.
  • Boba Fett speaks in prose.
  • Yoda speaks in haiku.
  • Ewoks speak in a mix of Ewok and broken English

Doescher adds a decent amount of literary mechanisms like foreshadowing, aside, foils, and soliloquy to really give this play the Shakespeare feeling. I could go on more about this but a cool benefit these gave is that he’s able to get into character’s heads to show what they’re thinking at times I’ve never thought about while watching the movie. For instance, what is Han thinking when he’s woken up from his carbonite sleep? What is Leia thinking when Luke breaks the news of his family tree? I really like how this was used to highlight the inner struggles that Luke and Darth Vader have during their final confrontation.

The audio book performance is great. All the character voices are done superbly, the sound effects are all there, and the music is well used. The use of a cast definitely lends well to the presentation of this as a play. There are even a few…musical surprises. The note on the audio version is that the lines are read for performance and not to emphasize the iambic pentameter…so Doescher’s efforts in keeping the pattern aren’t really noticeable (you remember from English class right? da-DA-da-DA-da-DA-da-DA). This isn’t a detractor since most would prefer this to be acted but just noting it.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of The Beast of Calatrava

June 25, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Beast of CalatravaThe Beast of Calatrava: A Foreworld SideQuest
By Mark Teppo; Read by Luke Daniels
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 26 February 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 4 hours

Themes: / Mongoliad / knights Templar / alternate history / fantasy / Foreworld /

Publisher summary:

After a battle left Ramiro Ibáñez de Tolosa’s face terribly disfigured, the knight of the Order of Calatrava abandoned his sword for a pastoral existence. But his beastly appearance horrifies all those who cross his path — with the exception of his adoring and pregnant wife. Can he keep Louisa and their unborn child safe from the war that is coming to Iberia? As Ramiro prepares for his child’s birth, Brother Lazare of the Cistercian order searches for a means to inspire men as he travels with the crusading Templars. He seeks swords of legend — named blades carried by heroes of old — believing such symbols have the ability to rally men in a way no king could ever accomplish. But when he learns of the stories told of the mysterious monster that haunts the Iberian battlefields, he wonders what sort of power this new legend might contain — the legend of a man whose scarred face and cold demeanor cannot hide his heroic soul. 

Note: This book is available individually (as I listened to it) or as a part of the book SideQuest Adventures No. 1, which includes The Lion in Chains, this story, and The Shield-Maiden: A Foreworld SideQuest.

As with The Lion in Chains, this story is a “SideQuest” in the Foreworld Saga, basically a side story to the main-line books intended to give readers more information on certain characters. Unfortunately, unlike The Lion in Chains, even after I finished the book, I wasn’t 100% certain where this fit within the grand scheme of the world. The main characters in this story were not in the main Mongoliad books, and without taking some time to look at the print/ebook versions of this and the other books, I’m not sure I could draw a straight-line reference. I’m equally uncertain as to when, relatively speaking, this book takes place (relative to the events in The Mongoliad: Book One).

More frustratingly, I found myself lost while listening to this story. As happened other times during my reading of the Mongoliad main-series books, it was easy to get confused as to which character was which and who was who. If I haven’t said it before, this is a series begging for a good wiki with a character roster, and possibly a map. While these things may show up in a print/ebook edition, they were not easy to find on the web for quick perusal while listening (at least, I couldn’t easily find anything). The overall thrust is that it’s a story about a former knight, abandoned for dead when his order was defeated, who has turned into “The Beast of Calatrava,” basically a disfigured killer, killing to protect his property and the people (generally) of Iberia, no matter their creed. In parallel, the Templars have arrived in Iberia on a crusade, and brought with them some other soldiers, including some monks, on the search for a legendary weapon. Much of the book is dedicated to The Beast’s personal demons and the growing tension in the “Christian Army” that includes the Templars, monks, and other religious figures, and moves these characters around like chess pieces in seemingly unrelated matches. In the last 30 minutes or so of the audiobook, the story lines somewhat converge, and the ending comes more or less as might be expected.

I don’t know what to say about this story. It really seemed to wander, and was hard to follow along. While I was somewhat used to this in the main Foreworld books, I was able to accept temporary confusion, knowing it would get brought together later, and that my persistence would pay dividends. In this story, with everything being self-contained, that payoff wasn’t there, and in the grand scheme, I’m not sure why much other than the last 30 minutes of the story made any difference…and, since this story doesn’t relate directly to the main-line books, it didn’t feel like it made “sense” in the bigger picture. Without the tie-in to the larger world, this could have been any story set in the same world, so therefore didn’t feel as satisfying.

It will be interesting to see how the final book in SideQuest Adventures No. 1 plays out, whether it will be more like the first story (which was great) or this one (which was unsatisfying).

Posted by terpkristin.

Review of Dragon Bones by Patricia Briggs

June 24, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Dragon Bones by Patricia BriggsDragon Bones (Hurog #1)
By Patricia Briggs; Read by Joe Manganiello
Publisher: Brilliance Audio (print 2002)
Publication Date: 1 May 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 8 discs, 10 hours

Themes: / fantasy / dragons / Hurog /

 Publisher summary:

We all play roles at times. Wardwick of Hurog played the role of a fool till he reached adulthood, just to keep his father from murdering him. Now he must overcome the image he so carefully built and fight not simply for his birthright but to free the five Kingdoms from tyranny and the rising tide of darkest magic that threatens his world.

Riding into a war that’s heating up on the border, Ward is sure he’s on the fast track to glory. But soon his mission takes a deadly turn. For he has seen a pile of magical dragon bones hidden deep beneath Hurog Keep. The bones could prove to be dangerous in the wrong hands, and Ward is certain his enemies will stop at nothing to possess them.

This is my first novel by Patricia Briggs. The name was familiar to me, but I wouldn’t have been able to have named you any books or series by her.
I couldn’t tell you if this is her usual style of book, but if it is, I’ll definitely be interested in reading more. This doesn’t seem to be as popular as some of her other series though. I found this a quick and enjoyable listen.

It’s a play on the chosen one trope, but there is more of a focus on politics. Our protagonist has been playing stupid for years in an effort to reduce the chances his father finds him a threat and killing him. Unfortunately for him, this means that his father also doesn’t trust him to take over after he’s gone and names his uncle to rule in his place, at least until his 21st birthday. So of course our hero sets out to make a name for himself and show his uncle that he’s not really the fool he’s been pretending all these years. He gets swept up into events bigger than himself and must rise to the occasion or see his friends, family and home suffer.

In a worlds where dragons are long extinct and magic is dwindling, this is more political than fantastical overall, but there is certainly enough in there to make it more than a historical fantasy.

This is book one of a duology, but I feel like it came to a pretty good stopping point where I don’t feel I need to rush out right away to read the second book, or (given it’s shorter length) like it was simply one book that was split in half.

Joe Manganiello is a fine reader, though nothing special. He neither adds nor detracts from the story at all.

Overall, I found this a fun and lighter book and I’m looking forward to listening to the conclusion soon.

Review by Rob Zak.

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