Review of The Kingmakers by Clay and Susan Griffith

October 30, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

The KingmakersThe Kingmakers (Vampire Empire #3)
By Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith; Narrated by James Marsters
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 29 January 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 14 hours, 49 minutes

Themes: / vampires / steampunk / fantasy / post-apocalpyse /

Publisher summary:

The Kingmakers is the long-awaited climactic end to the Vampire Empire trilogy.Bogged down by winter warfare in Europe, humans are suffering crushing losses to the surprisingly well-organized vampire clans of the north. The courage and commitment of the Equatorian troops and their allies cannot hold out against the overwhelming onslaught of the enemy.Treachery from within deals the Equatorian forces greater damage than any delivered by the vampire hordes. The only weapon left capable of smashing through enemy lines and annihilating the packs is the Empress Adele herself. Her geomantic talent and skills are formidable, but she is just one person, and the very forces she can bring to bear are also slowly draining her of her life-force.Prince Gareth, the vampire lord of Scotland, known as The Greyfriar to the humans, both slave and free, is at a loss. His brother, Cesare, has outmaneuvered him at every turn. Brilliant, ruthless and without honor, Cesare is confident in his ability to control destiny. His goal is to become king of kings and ruler of the world. Unless the rightful heir, Gareth, can prevent him from assuming their father’s throne, Cesare’s unified vampire clans will destroy Equatoria’s forces and set humanity, if it survives, back a hundred years.

This is the third book of what we could call a steampunk vampire trilogy. I still like the first book the best but this one competes with the second as far as things go. The story once again carries a strong sense of Beauty and the Beast mixed with Romeo and Juliet with a strong steampunk flair. If you liked the first two books, you’ll like this book since everything wraps up rather nicely in the end. One ding I had was that I still didn’t think there was a satisfactory explanation of why Gareth is different from the other vampires. More on that…

This book is very similar to the previous two books to the point that they kind of blur together in my mind when I think back on it. The steampunk aspect is kicked up a notch with some mech suit / tanks in this one but you’ll mainly see lots of swordplay, gunfire, goggles, and airships again. These are some of the things that kind of run together on me mainly because many of the same characters are involved in similar scenes but the overall plot obviously moves forward to a satisfactory conclusion.

Don’t get me wrong – there are many good things that have carried over from the previous two books. The language and prose used in the previous books still give the feel of characters stuck in the past caused by the vampire attack. The action is crazy and fun with lots of epic battles ranging across Europe. The characters are likable for the most part, although Gareth can be a bit one-dimensional sometimes (His primary motivation seems to be his love for Adele to the discount of everything else).

Speaking of Gareth, I still don’t understand why he is different from all other vampires (I guess you could say his manservant shares his values but he also seems kind of like he’s reluctantly dealing with a neurotic master). There was this whole explanation about how Gareth’s father didn’t like wasting things but that doesn’t seem to explain how he could go from seeing people as food to loving a human to the level he does. Even his friend in Paris held similar values but not to the extremes Gareth does. I’d hoped for something like what happened with Angel on Buffy but it was kind of left out there.

As for the audio side of things, I still enjoyed James Marsters’ performance this third time around. He speaks well, uses recognizable voices, and is a pleasure to listen to. I would say that I’d go out looking for books narrated by him, but that’s why I listened to this trilogy in the first place ;-).

Posted by Tom Schreck

 

Review of Fool’s Errand by Robin Hobb

October 29, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Fool's Errand by Robin HobbFool’s Errand (Tawny Man Book 1)
By Robin Hobb; Narrated by James Langton
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 15 July 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 24 hours, 47 minutes

Themes: / fantasy / Farseer / assassin / witch /

Publisher summary:

For fifteen years FitzChivalry Farseer has lived in self-imposed exile, assumed to be dead by almost all who once cared about him. But now, into his isolated life, visitors begin to arrive: Fitz’s mentor from his assassin days; a hedge-witch who foresees the return of a long-lost love; and the Fool, the former White Prophet, who beckons Fitz to fulfill his destiny.

Then comes the summons he cannot ignore. Prince Dutiful, the young heir to the Farseer throne, has vanished. Fitz, possessed of magical skills both royal and profane, is the only one who can retrieve him in time for his betrothal ceremony, thus sparing the Six Duchies profound political embarrassment – or worse. But even Fitz does not suspect the web of treachery that awaits him – or how his loyalties will be tested to the breaking point.

Fool’s Errand takes place years after the events of Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy and does not disappoint. The story is as well written as Hobb’s previous works and is great from beginning to end. The story kind of fills the gap between the trilogies and explains in greater detail the events concluding the Farseer trilogy while also building into this new adventure.

The story is kind of broken into a summation of past events and then embarking on something new. The summation works great as a device to those of us who read the Farseer trilogy to remind us where things left off and gives some greater closure to the events concluding that trilogy. The summation would also work well for those new to the Farseers to introduce the world and explain a bit of the back story that defines FitzChivalry’s motives. That said, if you haven’t read the Farseer trilogy and don’t like spoilers, definitely read that trilogy before Tawny Man.

Robin Hobb’s writing flows so well that even seemingly mundane tasks and everyday things are a joy to experience. She really knows how to make you care about the characters and builds a plot that pushes those characters. There are some truly great and terrible moments in this book that I just can’t say without ruining so much of the story. There were a few times that I didn’t think things made total sense but the story is just so enjoyable it really didn’t matter.

On the audio side of things, James Langton did a great job. It was really hard going from Paul Boehmer’s performance in the Farseer Trilogy to James Langton in this trilogy. I loved Boehmer’s performance and his voice became the characters’ voices to me. Even though it was jarring at first, Langton’s voices and narration became natural to my ear after only a few hours. He does a great job doing voices that fit the different characters and his sulky/sullen cat voice has to be one of the most fitting voices I could imagine. Some of his pronunciations threw me a bit too but overall I enjoyed his performance.

Everything together makes a story that really takes you places. By the end of this story you’ll be back in the intrigue of the court at Buckkeep and want to go on to Golden Fool.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of Slimy Underbelly by Kevin J. Anderson

October 15, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Slimy UnderbellySlimy Underbelly (Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I., Book 4)
By Kevin J. Anderson; Narrated by Phil Gigante
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 26 August 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 8 hours, 19 minutes

Themes: / zombies / detectives / urban fantasy / humor / wizards / thieving lawn gnomes /

Publisher summary:

There’s something fishy going on in the Unnatural Quarter. Bodies are floating face-down, the plumbing is backing up, and something smells rotten – even to a zombie detective like Dan Shamble. Diving into the slimy underbelly of a diabolical plot, Dan comes face-to-tentacles with an amphibious villain named Ah’Chulhu (to which the usual response is “Gesundheit!”). With his snap-happy gang of gator-guys – former pets flushed down the toilet – Ah’Chulhu wreaks havoc beneath the streets. While feuding weather wizards kick up storms and a gang of thieving lawn gnomes continues their reign of terror, Dan Shamble is running out of time – before the whole stinking city goes down the drain.

The cases don’t solve themselves so Dan ‘Shamble’ is back with a whole new set of cases to solve in the unnatural quarter. Many familiar faces make appearances as in previous novels but this can be read on it’s own with no prior knowledge of the series. If you can’t tell from the cover and premise, this is a supernatural humor novel with a diverse cast of supernatural creatures, chock full of puns that could even make your crazy uncle groan. If that sounds like something fun to you or you’ve enjoyed previous novels in this series – you will like this novel. If that doesn’t sound great to you or you’re on the fence….you’ll probably hate this book because it doesn’t take itself seriously at all.

You can tell Kevin J. Anderson probably had fun writing this novel. He puts a lot of tongue-in-cheek commentary about book writing, publishing, and the nature of best sellers in here (more than previous novels). He goes to great lengths to set up a scene for things happening just to slip a one liner in there.

As for the audio side of things, Phil Gigante continues to shine in this series. The cartoony nature of the characters lets him use a wide range of voices. He really handles the comedic nature of the novel well and puts a good amount of inflection in his tone.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of Sand by Hugh Howey

October 2, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

SandSand: Omnibus Edition
By Hugh Howey; Narrated by Karen Chilton
Publisher: Broad Reach Publishing
Publication Date: March 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours, 15 minutes

Publisher summary: / post-apocalypse / sand / survival /

We live across the thousand dunes with grit in our teeth and sand in our homes. No one will come for us. No one will save us. This is our life, diving for remnants of the old world so that we may build what the wind destroys. No one is looking down on us. Those constellations in the night sky? Those are the backs of gods we see.

In his first book book since finishing his Silo trilogy, Mr. Howey does a good job creating another interesting post-apocalyptic world.  In this one the world is buried under sand and water is scarce. The daring and (maybe a bit crazy or stupid) use specialized equipment to dive deep under the sand and recover anything deemed valuable to be traded for money and supplies and just to get by.

The story is once again split up into multiple parts. The early books seems to each focus on a single POV, while the later ones jump around between them. All of our POV characters are from the same family. The children ranging in age from 10 to late 20’s, or so it seems. The oldest, Vic (short for Victoria not Victor) is probably my favorite though all of her younger brothers are interesting in their own right.

It’s a dangerous world full of thieves, murders and revolutionaries. Like his Silo books, the central story is a bit of a mystery. What happened? Why is the world buried under Sand? And on a smaller scale, what happened to the father of kids who walked off into the desert one night 10 years ago and never returned?

This was a short and enjoyable read. As it’s post-apocalyptic it’s more on the dark side so I’m reluctant to call it “light”, but it can certainly be called an easy read. There isn’t a ton of depth here, but it moves along at a quick pace. I’d say if you enjoyed his previous books you’ll likely enjoy this one as well.

Karen Chilton is a fine but mostly unexceptional reader. However I listened at 1.3x speed, which I don’t normally do, so that may played into it slightly. She’s clear and easy to understand, but didn’t really add or detract from the story itself.

Review by Rob Zak.

Review of Edgar Allen Poe Collected Stories and Poems

October 1, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Poe Stories and PoemsEdgar Allan Poe – Collected Stories and Poems
By Edgar Allen Poe; Performed by Ralph Cosham
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 4 hours
Themes: / short stories / poems / horror / classics/ locked door mystery / suspended animation / mesmerism /
Publisher summary:

Hundreds of books and articles have been written about Edgar Allan Poe. Even so, no one is really sure who Poe was. Many people say that he was as crazy as the characters he wrote about. Others say that Poe was a driven man with a simple wish. He wanted to write and to make a living by his writing. Even though Poe lived a miserable life, he wrote some of the most interesting and original literature ever created. This collection of his stories and poems includes:“The Raven”“The Cask of Amontillado”“The Fall of the House of Usher”“The Pit and the Pendulum”And more!

Table of Contents:
* The Raven
* The Cask of Amontillado
* The Tell-Tale Heart
* The Black Cat
* The Bells
* The Fall of the House of Usher
* Manuscript Found in a Bottle
* The sleeper
* The Man of the Crowd
* The Pit and the Pendulum
* Annabel Lee
* The Man that was Used Up: A Tale of the Late Bugaboo and Kickapoo Campaign
* The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether
* The Oval Portrait
* Eleonora
* The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar
* Berenice
* The Murders in the Rue Morgue

This Edgar Allan Poe collection is accessible, and leans heavy to the short story with a smattering of poetry. Readers will recognize many of the titles, but some may discover new Poe within this volume.

One of my favorite Poe works to contemplate, “The Cask of Amontillado,” still resonates. Two new pieces that struck a pleasing chord were the poem “The Bells” and the short story “Manuscript Found in a Bottle,” which made me grin in readerly delight. I enjoyed most of the selections, and only a few felt soured with age or redundant verbosity.

The audiobook is both wonderful and slightly choppy. Ralph Cosham is the narrator, and his pacing, his timbre, his ability to capture and project Poe’s atmosphere of the strange and macabre renders an intimate listening experience. But it sounds as if the various pieces were lifted from separate audio productions and then spliced together. I distinctly heard discrepancies between selections in recording clarity, recording volume, and the sense that Cosham’s voice reflected the reader at different ages. In one piece, Cosham sounds like a vigorous young man barely out of his thirty’s; in another his voice sounds as if two decades vanished. You should definitely give this a listen, and come to your own conclusions.

Posted by Casey Hampton.

Review of Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews

September 30, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Clean Sweep by Ilona AndrewsClean Sweep
By Ilona Andrews; Narrated by Renee Raudman
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: March 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 8 hours

Themes: / urban fantasy / Texas / magic / bed and breakfast / werewolves / vampires /

Publisher summary:

On the outside, Dina Demille is the epitome of normal. She runs a quaint Victorian Bed and Breakfast in a small Texas town, owns a Shih Tzu named Beast, and is a perfect neighbor, whose biggest problem should be what to serve her guests for breakfast.

But Dina is…different: Her broom is a deadly weapon; her Inn is magic and thinks for itself. Meant to be a lodging for otherworldly visitors, the only permanent guest is a retired Galactic aristocrat who can’t leave the grounds because she’s responsible for the deaths of millions and someone might shoot her on sight. Under the circumstances, “normal” is a bit of a stretch for Dina. And now, something with wicked claws and deepwater teeth has begun to hunt at night….

Feeling responsible for her neighbors, Dina decides to get involved. Before long, she has to juggle dealing with the annoyingly attractive, ex-military, new neighbor, Sean Evans—an alpha-strain werewolf—and the equally arresting cosmic vampire soldier, Arland, while trying to keep her inn and its guests safe. But the enemy she’s facing is unlike anything she’s ever encountered before. It’s smart, vicious, and lethal, and putting herself between this creature and her neighbors might just cost her everything.

Clean Sweep is an urban fantasy-type book with some interesting twists. Unfortunately, the narrator of the audiobook had a voice that didn’t fit the character and was so out of place that it made the book very difficult to listen to.

Dina is an innkeeper, a woman who runs a B&B in Texas. Her inn has magical properties and she has magical capabilities, her role being that of a neutral protector in a version of Earth/USA that includes normal humans but also has vampires, werewolves, and other magical beasts. The main thrust of the story is that Dina’s inn becomes the site for a showdown between two sides in a big family disagreement, though the book was more than halfway through before any of this became evident. The first half (or slightly more) of the book was world building and character introduction more than it was purely essential to the plot.

In Clean Sweep, Ilona Andrews has some interesting ideas about magic. I think I might be persuaded to read another book set in this world/series, assuming it was quicker to get to the point/didn’t do as much world-building, and assuming that I read it, not listened to it (or that the narrator was someone else). In Ms. Andrews’ world, the magical entities are by and large aliens from other worlds who find themselves on earth for a variety of reasons. What appears to be magic to “normal” people is actually uber nanotechnology or other futuristic technologies at work from alien worlds. There are many aggressive entities, such as the werewolves and vampires, but there are also places like the Inns, the Switzerland’s of the magical world. Innkeepers are to take no sides and to protect whoever signs the contract and pays to be a guest at the inn.

All of this goes awry when some creatures known as stalkers start killing dogs in the town where Dina’s inn is. At first, she believes that a local werewolf named Sean is to blame, but after killing two (with the help of Sean) and studying them, she comes to find out that these creatures may have been hired by vampires as part of a massive (and deadly) family feud. The world-building is mainly done by Dina explaining how the “magic” came to be to Sean, who knows nothing of the history of his species’ home planet or how his species came to earth. Through these explanations and through Dina’s preparations to help protect the vampires who are staying at the inn, the reader learns about other worlds, wormholes, and the true source of “magic.”

The book also has a side plot that was touched briefly upon, a story of Dina’s parents’ inn vanishing one day. Dina does a bit through the course of the narrative to try to find them, but it seems fairly obvious that it’s a side thread to be explored in later books/as a series arc. While most of the book is purely urban fantasy, there are also some hot and steamy scenes that are typically found in romance novels. Many urban fantasy books these days seem to have these scenes, whether they add to the story or not (in this case, not). There is also a possible threat, the local police officer thinking Dina is up to no good, but that thread is unceremoniously dropped just before the main thread of the story picks up, about halfway through. It’s not clear if this topic will be revisited in later books or if it was just an editing miss.

Clean Sweep is a fairly typical, action-packed urban fantasy story. There aren’t any deeper themes or morals to be had from it, though the idea of magic as uber technology is kind of fun. The book, once the actual plot started, was pretty quick to go through and fairly simple/straight-forward. This isn’t a book that’s going to make you think, or require lots of focused reading time to enjoy.

The only major negative is with the audiobook specifically. Dina is supposed to be a 23 year old woman living in Texas. Unfortunately, she sounds like an old grandmother from the deep south. The voice and the description of the character just don’t align. The narrator’s voices for the men were surprisingly good, but her overall voice just sounded old and tired. In parts where there was a lot of action, she actually sounded even worse, over dramatizing her voice acting. I actually thought she was going to die a few times. It was downright uncomfortable and annoying to listen to, and I cannot recommend the audiobook. If another book in this series is released, I may give it a go in print/Kindle, but won’t be listening again unless the narrator changes.

Posted by terpkristin.

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