Review of The Shield-Maiden by Michael Tinker Pearce and Linda Pearce

February 13, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

The Shield-MaidenThe Shield-Maiden (The Foreworld Saga: A Foreworld SideQuest #4)
By Michael Tinker Pearce and Linda Pearce; Narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 4 January 2013

Themes: / Mongoliad / Vikings / fantasy / warriors /

Publisher summary:

Sigrid is a Shield-Maiden who yearns to break free of the restrictions of her father’s home and join the Sworn Men in an actual raiding expedition. When a small diplomatic party that includes members of the Shield-Brethren lands at her family’s holding on Göttland, the party’s second in command, Halldor, sees in Sigrid a vision of beauty and power that might challenge – and even destroy – many men.

And when bloody chaos ensues at a nearby Viking fishing village, Sigrid proves she has more than mere talent: she has Vor – the fate sight – an astonishing focus in fighting that sets her apart from nearly all who have ever lived and puts her in the rare company of the finest Shield-Brethren.

But as Sigrid and her family confront her otherworldly ability, will it prove to be a gift to be celebrated, or an affliction to be cured?

Review:

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, The Beast of Calatrava: A Foreworld Sidequest, and this story.

As with The Lion in Chains and The Beast of Calatrava: A Foreworld Sidequest, 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. As with The Beast of Calatrava: A Foreworld Sidequest, this story seemed to be farther removed from the main crusades in The Mongoliad world, taking place in the north sort of near where the Shield Brethren have their main training facility, though one of the characters, Halldor, may have been a minor character in the main series (his name was familiar, at least).

This short story explores the mysterious “Vor,” the somewhat mystical “force” that overtakes many of the Shield Brethren when they fight. In this story, we see that this force, which is often mentioned in reference to the visions that some of them have (notably, Percival), can also afflict female warriors, and that it is also attributed to feats of amazing bravery and strength, that it is what enables the Shield Brethren to be victorious even against crazy odds. The main character in this story is a young woman, Sigrid, the daughter of the land owner where the story occurs. She has trained as a Shield Maiden, though still lives on her father’s lands, hasn’t been allowed (by her father) to join any of the local skirmishes, even though she’s taken a vow to be a Shield Maiden. Things change, however, when her people find themselves under attack by some Danes, where Sigrid’s ability in battle helps win the day–plays a key role in the victory, in fact. Suddenly, her family, her people, and Sigrid herself, must come to terms with what she is and what she can do. This story was refreshing in that it was primarily about a female warrior, though some of the reactions from the other characters were all too familiar.

Narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal, it was fitting to have a female voice narrate the story of the female warrior. Kowal’s narration was quite good, far superior to the narrator in Siege Perilous (the only other Mongoliad-world story I’ve listened to not narrated by Luke Daniels). That said, sometimes the pronunciation was odd, for places or things mentioned in this book and in others. For example, the island where the Shield Brethren do their initiation was pronounced by Kowal as “Tear’s Hammer” where Daniels pronounced it “Tear-shamar). This sometimes made it confusing to keep the entire world in my head as I listened, but did not detract from the overall story.

All in all, it was a nice diversion for a Saturday afternoon. Read more

Review of Mage’s Blood by David Hair

January 7, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

mages blood coverMage’s Blood (The Moontide Quartet #1)
By David Hair; Performed by Nick Podehl
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 25 hours
Themes: / fantasy / crusades / religion /
Publisher summary:

Most of the time the Moontide Bridge lies deep below the sea, but every 12 years the tides sink and the bridge is revealed, its gates open for trade. The Magi are hell-bent on ruling this new world, and for the last two Moontides they have led armies across the bridge on “crusades of conquest”. Now, the third Moontide is almost here, and this time the people of the East are ready for a fight… but it is three seemingly ordinary people that will decide the fate of the world.

Overall, 2.5 stars. I prefer character driven stories, and this is definitely that. So why didn’t I enjoy it? The answer for me at least is the characters. I found most of them unenjoyable. If I have no one to really root for, the story has to be that much better or I’ll be bored. Don’t get me wrong, there are things to like about Alaron and Elena, but there is a lot not to like. I don’t need perfect characters who fall into the chosen one trope, but something about their faults really just rubbed me the wrong way and I often found them frustrating and unlikable.

The best character in the book was Alaron’s friend Ramon, who while he was basically a walking trope, was brought excellently to life by Mr. Podehl’s narration and added some nice comic relief to the story. Most of the other characters are flat, or too trope heavy. We have some mustache twirling bad guys, and the helpless Ramita who seems to merely be there to drive the plot as a goal/pawn for the other characters in the book.

The world building here was alright, but seems to borrow too heavily from actual cultures (in particular the Middle East, and religion of Islam) that it didn’t feel much like being transported to another world apart from the magic. And that was another issue I have. I guess Brandon Sanderson spoiled me for poorly developed magic systems, but it all felt just a bit too hand wavy to me.

Overall this book was just too uneven. There were some parts I really enjoyed, and there are questions I’d like to keep reading to get the answers too, but it’s just not worth it for me. There is too many other things I’d rather be reading.

This is my first audio book read by Nick Podehl. I’ve heard mixed, though mostly positive things about him as a narrator, especially for the Kingkiller series.

I thought he was excellent here, and really helped me get through the unenjoyable parts of this book. I think if I was reading this rather than listening, I might have quit the book without finishing.

I look forward to listening to other books read by him in the future, just not the other books in this series.

Review by Rob Zak.

Review of Ilium by Dan Simmons

December 16, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Ilium by Dan SimmonsIlium (Ilium #1)
By Dan Simmons; Narrated by Kevin Pariseau
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 25 Discs; 30 hours
Themes: / Mars / gods / ancient Greece / scholars / Shakespeare / fantasy /
Publisher summary:
From the towering heights of Olympos Mons on Mars, the mighty Zeus and his immortal family of gods, goddesses, and demigods look down upon a momentous battle, observing—and often influencing—the legendary exploits of Paris, Achilles, Hector, Odysseus, and the clashing armies of Greece and Troy.Thomas Hockenberry, former 21st-century professor and Iliad scholar, watches as well. It is Hockenberry’s duty to observe and report on the Trojan War’s progress to the so-called deities who saw fit to return him from the dead. But the muse he serves has a new assignment for the wary scholic, one dictated by Aphrodite herself.With the help of 40th-century technology, Hockenberry is to infiltrate Olympos, spy on its divine inhabitants…and ultimately destroy Aphrodite’s sister and rival, the goddess Pallas Athena. On an Earth profoundly changed since the departure of the Post-Humans centuries earlier, the great events on the bloody plains of Ilium serve as mere entertainment.Its scenes of unrivaled heroics and unequaled carnage add excitement to human lives devoid of courage, strife, labor, and purpose. But this eloi-like existence is not enough for Harman, a man in the last year of his last 20. That rarest of post-postmodern men—an ‘adventurer’—he intends to explore far beyond the boundaries of his world before his allotted time expires, in search of a lost past, a devastating truth, and an escape from his own inevitable ‘final fax.’ Meanwhile, from the radiation-swept reaches of Jovian space, four sentient machines race to investigate—and, perhaps, terminate—the potentially catastrophic emissions of unexplained quantum-flux emanating from a mountaintop miles above the terraformed surface of Mars.

If someone were to describe this book to me (if they even could), I don’t know if I would believe how much I absolutely enjoyed it. Dan Simmons is a mad genius.

Shakespeare-quoting humanoid robots, Greek Gods, post-humans, and old-style humans somehow make the craziest awesome story imaginable.

Ilium is a story told through essentially three unrelated viewpoints. First, there’s Hockenberry. This is told in first person. Hockenberry is called a “Scholic,” a human from our the 20th century (our time) who was rebirthed in a future where Homer’s Trojan War is being fought. His job is to report on the war … to the Greek Gods.

At first, this is completely confusing. Why? is a question I asked myself over and over, but it begins to make sense with time. Plus, it’s hard not to be fascinated with the events of the Iliad. It’s also impressive how much research went into it, though that’s only an assumption since my knowledge of the Trojan War is essentially from the movie, Troy (but I have read the Odyssey!).

The second viewpoint is the humans, mainly Daemon. Daemon is a self-involved fool who is unlikeable to say the least. But who wouldn’t be when you have everything handed to you on a silver platter by robots called servitors (sp – I did listen to the audio so forgive me), like all humans everywhere. Pleasure is their life, knowledge … is lacking.

The third viewpoint is that of a sonnet-loving humanoid robot called a “moravec” and named Mahnmut. Specifically, and only, Shakespeare’s sonnets. It’s work consists of exploring the moon of Jupiter called Europa. Mahnmut is called in on a mission with a group of moravecs to explore some occurrences on the planet mars.

At first, I was highly entertained, though confused, with the events of the Trojan war and the other parts were just above boring. Slowly, the story takes hold and it had me hook, line, and sinker.

Listening to the audiobook, I was looking forward to my morning and evening drives and not too sad to do errands on my lunch hour either. Somehow, it ALL makes sense even though it sounds like the oddest collection of classics to make up a cohesive story all its own. What does Shakespeare have to do with the Iliad or Proust (his work makes appearances too) for that matter, all set in the future with technology that gives humans everything they ever want or need?

It’s crazy I tell ya. Crazy! How did I like this book this much? I’m telling you, Simmons is a mad genius. I will just sit back and let him take me on his journey. It’s amazing. I question not.

Kevin Pariseau is the narrator of this audiobook and while at first I thought he over-acted the part of Hockenberry, though somehow not the other parts, I really grew to like him and found out that it was literally just the character of Hockenberry that he was playing. And it’s impressive given how many Greek words and names he’s got to …erm… name.

The only problem is that Ilium is only half the story. It stops at a huge cliffhanger and I’m already heading to Olympos to see how this ends.

5 out of 5 Stars (Mind … blown)

Posted by Bryce L.

Review of Impulse by Steven Gould

December 12, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Impulse by Steven GouldImpulse (Jumper #3) \
By Steven Gould; Narrated by Emily Rankin
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 Discs; 12 hours
Themes: / teleportation / off-the-grid / jumpers / teenage angst /
Publisher summary:

Cent has a secret. She lives in isolation with her parents, hiding from the people who took her father captive and tortured him to gain control over his ability to teleport. Her parents are also hiding Cent from the government agencies who want to use them for their own purposes. She’s connected; movies, TV, Internet, but Cent’s parents are absolutely firm: no one can know where they live. There can be no images of them, or of Cent, anywhere.Cent has seen the world, but only from the safety of her parents’ arms. Her mother has not neglected her daughter’s education. She’s been all over, met people rich and very poor, has worked on her mother’s global relief projects. Cent has teleported more than anyone on Earth, except for her parents, Davy and Millie, but she’s never been able to do it herself. Her life has never really been in danger. Until the day she went snowboarding without permission and triggered an avalanche. When the snow and ice thundered down on her, she suddenly found herself in her own bedroom. That was the first time. The second time will change all their lives forever.

Progression of the Jumper series:

Book 1, Jumper: Let’s take a simple concept and weave a cool story that’s brilliant in its simplicity.

Book 2, Reflex: Let’s take that simple concept and add to it by restraining it, but while also pushing boundaries. Also, let’s add a cool mystery and some spies.

Book 3, Impulse: Let’s take all the great things we’ve built up so far … and add teenage angst! A forced romance! A holier-than-thou attitude for all the characters!


(Okay, these are misleading, cause it’s not teen angst in the hilarious or awesome way.)

Impulse takes up a number of years after Reflex, enough time for the jumping couple to have a daughter, Cent, who is now a teenager. She’s repressed to say the least, especially owing to the family’s understandable obsession with secrecy. Cent doesn’t even have a birth certificate, they’re so afraid of word getting out about them.

Also understandable. However, she’s a teenager now and she’s dying for friends, so she finally convinces her parents she can go to school without screwing things up.

Of course, there are bullies, and love interests, etc. and it’s just about impossible to not screw things up like we already knew.

First, I felt judged much of the time. This family of jumpers spends most of its time doing humanitarian things, keeping all it’s actions green and reducing it’s carbon footprint. Usually, I’m all for this stuff, but I felt like the message was, if you stray in the least you’re the worst person in the world.

Second, it was a little hard to believe the tale from Cent, who is this shut-in who immediately befriends some girls, has guys crushing on her, and is the absolute best at everything in the world. And add to that the paragraph above and it gets a tad annoying.

Third, there wasn’t really any plot going on. Midway through the book, nothing’s really happening because Cent’s just barely getting things going at school and facing bullies and whatnot, but nothing that amounts to an overall plot to keep you glued. Nothing that pushes you to keep going because you have to find out what happens!

At the very end, I was finally entertained, and that’s why I can’t completely hate this book. If I weren’t listening to it on audiobook, I probably would have given up at the midway point. It’s a case of too little too late.

Speaking of audio, I thought the narration was great, though a bit jarring at first. It’s been the same male narrator for the first two books and now it switches, again understandably, to a female narrator. It’s just weird hearing a woman do Davy and even Milli for that matter, but only for the first disc or two. It’s quickly forgotten.

Posted by Bryce L.

Review of The Dream-quest of Unknown Kadath by H.P. Lovecraft

December 11, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Dream-quest of unknown kadathThe Dream-quest of Unknown Kadath
By H. P. Lovecraft; Performed by Jim Roberts
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 6 hours
Themes: / cats / ghouls / dark shapes that meep / a lost city / horror /
Publisher summary:
Three times Randolph Carter dreamed of the marvelous city, and three times was he snatched away while still he paused on the high terrace above it.” Randolph Carter embarks on an epic quest across a world beyond the wall of sleep in search of an opulent and mysterious sunset city. When he prays to the gods of dream to reveal the whereabouts of this magical city, they do not answer, and his dreams stop altogether. Undaunted, Carter resolves to go to Kadath, where the gods live, and beseech them in person. However, no one has ever been to Kadath, and no one even knows how to get there—but that won’t stop Randolph Carter from trying.
We all love the quest story. Without some sort of a quest, the story falls into introspective navel gazing, and becomes as interesting as reading about someone’s cup of tea growing cold near a rain-soaked window overlooking a drab landscape of bent grass fading in the waning light of gloaming. Quests are good, in literature, games, and life. H.P. Lovecraft gives us a quest, and I liked it, for the most part. Those of you familiar with Lovecraft will undoubtedly nod your chin when I suggest that this story is a little weighted with those wonderfully complex names of gods, of places, of rites practiced in secret darkness. If you can overlook the name thing and concentrate on the story, it’s nice enough. While I don’t believe this is Lovecraft at his best, I do feel it’s a must for those Lovecraft enthusiasts.The audiobook is roughly four and a half hours, and I’ll admit it, I increased the speed by a factor of three, sometimes four. Jim Roberts is the narrator, and I feel this is an example of mismanaged casting. Roberts is a competent narrator, and I have enjoyed some of his readings in the past. But his voice sounds like your grandfather’s brother, which is just fine if the narrative follows such a gentlemen. But it doesn’t work well when the protagonist is for all intensive purposes, a younger man full of vigor and drive. It’s a minor grouse, but I never managed to rid myself of this incongruity between reader and main character.

Posted by Casey Hampton.

Review of Fool’s Fate by Robin Hobb

November 29, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Fools FateFool’s Fate (Tawny Man Trilogy #3)
By Robin Hobb; Performed by James Langton
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 35 hours
Themes:  / fantasy / Farseer / assassin / dragon /
Publisher summary:

FitzChivalry Farseer has become firmly ensconced in the queen’s court. Along with his mentor, Chade, and the simpleminded yet strongly Skilled Thick, Fitz strives to aid Prince Dutiful on a quest that could secure peace with the Outislands—and win Dutiful the hand of the Narcheska Elliania.The Narcheska has set the prince an unfathomable task: to behead a dragon trapped in ice on the isle of Aslevjal. Yet not all the clans of the Outislands support their effort. Are there darker forces at work behind Elliana’s demand? Knowing that the Fool has foretold he will die on the island of ice, Fitz plots to leave his dearest friend behind. But fate cannot so easily be defied.

Disclaimer: This is a review of the third book in a trilogy and the review will likely include spoilers from preceding books. I’d strongly recommend starting with the first book in the trilogy (Fool’s Errand) or better yet, Assassin’s Apprentice since the Farseer trilogy is very good and all these books are related.

Fool’s Fate is the last book of the Tawny Man trilogy. The story picks up immediately where Golden Fool left off as the Farseers are preparing to travel to the island Aslevjal to kill the dragon Icefire. The Fool has also told FitzChivalry that they must save Icefire to put the world on a better path. Which will Fitz decide: his oath of loyalty and allegiance to the Farseer throne or his role as the Catalyst of the White Prophet? I’ve really enjoyed all of the books in this trilogy leading but this book stands out as something special.

The whole premise of the book is based on a challenge Prince Dutiful was goaded into and that the adults don’t particularly want to do. It’s pretty obvious that something else is at play with the Outislanders in making this challenge and the result is a fantastic conclusion to the Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies. As already stated, FitzChivalry’s struggle with his role as the Catalyst while also serving his realm have you wondering what will happen all the way up to the climax.

As I listened to this story, I really felt like a full story was being told in which I couldn’t see the seams. I normally can’t help my mind picking a story apart into its elements to determine what’s going to be important later in the story but things weren’t so obvious here. There are so many things going on that it just feels like an active world as opposed to having just a few conveniently introduced devices to be used later (for instance, you know when Harry Potter learns a new spell that it will almost certainly be the sole thing that gets him out of trouble later. Expecto Patronum!). What will be important here? New understandings of the Wit from Webb? The newly forming Skill coterie? Chade’s blasting powder? Something old Elderling tools? Hobb does a great job working everything together into a good ride.

If there is one weakness in this book, it’s that it wraps things up too well. When I say too well, I mean that the falling action and conclusion of the book feel like the resolution to both the Farseer and Tawny Man trilogy as so much of what happens even concludes questions you may not even realize you had. The falling action and conclusion also take up about 1/3 of the book which kind of threw me. I was avidly consuming the story through the climax but then felt like things dragged out a bit afterward. Don’t get me wrong – I loved all of it, I just thought it was worth mentioning.

As with the previous installments of this trilogy, James Langton does a fantastic job with his narration of this book. There were times I forgot I was even listening to an audio book because I was just so into it. If I had one gripe it would be that some voices sound quite similar but those that do rarely have scenes together (Hap, Dutiful, Swift). I would definitely look for Langton reading other books.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Next Page »