Review of The Garden of Stones by Mark T. Barnes

December 28, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

The Gardens of StoneThe Garden of Stones (The Echoes of Empire #1)
by Mark T. Barnes, read by Nick Podehl
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 14 CDs; 16 hrs, 53 min.

Themes: / epic fantasy / dynasties / civil war / warrior-mage /

Publisher summary:

An uneasy peace has existed since the fall of the Awakened Empire centuries ago. Now the hybrid Avān share the land with the people they once conquered: the star-born humans; the spectral, undead Nomads; and what remains of the Elemental Masters.

With the Empress-in-Shadows an estranged ghost, it is the ancient dynasties of the Great Houses and the Hundred Families that rule. But now civil war threatens to draw all of Shrīan into a vicious struggle sparked by one man’s lust for power, and his drive to cheat death.

Visions have foretold that Corajidin, dying ruler of House Erebus, will not only survive, but rise to rule his people. The wily nobleman seeks to make his destiny certain—by plundering the ruins of his civilization’s past for the arcane science needed to ensure his survival, and by mercilessly eliminating his rivals. But mercenary warrior-mage Indris, scion of the rival House Näsarat, stands most powerfully in the usurper’s bloody path. For it is Indris who reluctantly accepts the task of finding a missing man, the only one able to steer the teetering nation towards peace.

I was a little hesitant approaching The Garden of Stones by Mark T. Barnes in audiobook form as I’d heard it was a bit akin to Steven Erikson (more than Garden in the titles) where the reader is simply thrown into the action without much, if any explanation. It turns out my fears were not unfounded and yet I would still highly recommend this book.

I’ve noticed in reading books or listening to audiobooks, there are some books I have a harder time with given the medium through which I am experiencing them. I had the hardest time getting into Dune by Frank Herbert when I tried it in paperback because I kept feeling like I had to look up every single word I didn’t understand and I quickly grew tired of it and gave up.

Later, I picked up the audiobook thinking I needed to at least finish this classic of the genre and not only did I do so, I loved the crap out of it. It’s still one of my favorite books and I’ve been meaning to go back and read it in paperback again.

I know, this isn’t a Dune review, but it illustrates the point that some books are more accessible if you just let go, trust that the author will lead you where you need to go, and leave your worries behind. You’ll get it, even if it’s tough. And audiobooks allow you to do so because you don’t have that handy dandy glossary to look through. That’s also not to say that all books and stories work this way.

With The Garden of Stones, I wonder if I would have stalled in my reading. I’m no stranger to being thrown into the action having survived (and thoroughly enjoyed!) Erikson’s masterpiece, The Malazan Book of the Fallen, so that probably wouldn’t have been a problem. I did, however, have a difficult time keeping a lot of the characters, names, and races straight through listening only. Had I had my eyes on this one, I probably would have enjoyed it even more than I already did.

I’m sure I missed a lot of the connections that were being made early on, but I did get my bearings by the end and quite enjoyed this world that Barnes has created. It’s full of wonder and imagination, tons of creatures, and races that were well-crafted and constantly interesting. I enjoyed exploring each new thing in this world and many kudos to Barnes for that. The characters are also highly interesting, Barnes even plays with an Erikson-like main character who is supremely powerful and someone you really don’t want to mess with. I love a good character like that and feel many shy away because it’s easier to write about characters with many weaknesses.

In the competition between paper and audio, I really do think The Garden of Stones would probably work better in paper, though it’s definitely enjoyable in audio.

Another hesitation I had when starting this audiobook is that it’s read by Nick Podehl. The only experience I had with Podehl prior to this was his reading of Kemp’s A Discourse in Steel. In Discourse, there’s quite a bit of banter and it’s overall a light-hearted piece with lots of jokes and humor even in the most deadly situations.

Hearing that same voice again brought back those memories of slapstick from Discourse, when Garden is actually a serious piece lightly sprinkled with humor if at all. It was about midway through the book when I realized that I no longer thought of Podehl that way, as the joke-telling, razzing narrator, but instead I heard him as the serious purveyor of piety. Okay, not that far, but suddenly I was sucked into Podehl’s storytelling and the story itself. I think that says a lot about both Podehl’s strengths as a narrator and the book’s story as well.

4 out of 5 Stars (highly recommended)

Posted by Bryce L.

Review of Sons of the Oak by David Farland

September 13, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Fantasy Audiobook - Sons of the Oak by David FarlandSons of the Oak (Book Five of The Runelords)
By David Farland; Read by Ray Porter
13.5 Hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2012
Themes: / Fantasy / Epic Fantasy /

This is the fifth book in the Runelords series and the first book of the Scions of the Oak.

It feels like a fast read. The book is well-paced, one chapter flowing into the other and the story is engrossing. The end of each chapter was a chance to catch your breath but at the same time, you wanted to keep going to find out what would happen next.

Sons of the Oak begins with the death of Gaborn Val Orden, the Earth King and protagonist of the first four books. He sends his sons to the woods to rescue a girl who had been kidnapped by the Strenge Satz.

With the death of the Earth King, shadowy creatures from the Netherworld and the enemies of Gaborn attack the castle to kill the boys. Queen Iome abdicates her throne and goes into hiding with her sons and a few close friends to save their lives.

It is their flight into exile and their fight against Axkaroth and Shadoath – evil beings that have taken over humans — that encompasses this book. As with all Farland’s books, not everyone makes it, but that is part of what adds to the suspense.

This is a great book. The characters are well developed and imperfect (I am not a fan of perfect heroes). You never know from one scene to the next what will happen – although you’re assured by the existence of more books that the boys survive. Still, the narrative works well in audiobook format and Ray Porter does a great job with the voices and characterizations.

I loved the book and recommend it highly.

Posted by Charlene Harmon

Review of Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson

June 2, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Deadhouse GatesDeadhouse Gates (Malazen Book of the Fallen #2)
By Steven Erikson; Performed by Ralph Lister
34 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Themes: / epic fantasy / magic / desert / empire /

Publisher summary:

In the vast dominion of Seven Cities, in the Holy Desert Raraku, the seer Sha’ik and her followers prepare for the long-prophesied uprising known as the Whirlwind. Unprecedented in size and savagery, this maelstrom of fanaticism and bloodlust will embroil the Malazan Empire in one of the bloodiest conflicts it has ever known, shaping destinies and giving birth to legends…. Set in a brilliantly realized world ravaged by dark, uncontrollable magic, this thrilling novel of war, intrigue, and betrayal confirms Steven Erikson as a storyteller of breathtaking skill, imagination, and originality — a new master of epic fantasy.

This book was pretty amazing.  I want to say that right off the bat.  This book is something special.  Steven Erikson has a wonderful way of writing about things that we know nothing about as readers but by the end of the book you look back and have a whole new appreciation for everything you read previously.  His foreshadowing is so subtle and wonderfully done that you don’t even realize that you realize that it’s coming, until in comes.

The characters are all very cool, including a few characters who return from Gardens of the Moon.  Kalam is a real favorite of mine; I really like his progression in this book as he is originally from Seven Cities and it affects him on an emotional level.  I also absolutely love Mappo and Icarium.  Those two were by far in my opinion the most interesting characters, and their relationship is memorable.

We get to see a whole new continent in this book in Seven Cities, with a middle eastern, desert feel.  The Whirlwind is an interesting concept; there is no doubt that this is another world that is extremely dangerous and volatile.  There is no safety anywhere and almost every decision made is one of life or death.

This book ends in a truly epic fashion and I think that anyone who enjoyed Gardens of the Moon will undoubtedly love Deadhouse Gates.  It has awesome magic, epic sword fights, political intrigue, and some truly horrifying monsters.  This book in my opinion surpasses Gardens of the Moon and sets the stage for a truly epic series that I can’t wait to finish.  This is only the second book of ten and I just can’t wait to see where this story is going to go.  I cannot recommend this book enough.

This book is read by Ralph Lister who really brings these characters to life in a way that is truly believable.  It’s as if there are a whole cast of people reading this book.  He does such a wonderful job.  I look forward to listening to Memories of Ice.

Posted by Scott Russell

Review of Wizardborn by David Farland

March 13, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Fantasy Audiobook - Wizardborn by David FarlandWizardborn: Book 3 of the Runelords
By David Farland; Read by Ray Porter
19.5 Hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2010
Themes: / Fantasy / Epic Fantasy / Magic / Battle /

Book three in the Runelords series is far better than book two, in my opinion. Although you should read all the books in order, as it’s one story in four parts, this book (like the others) can stand alone.

Wizardborn begins immediately after the Battle at Carris where Gaborn is regrouping and preparing to chase the Reavers back to the Underworld. He has lost the ability to warn his Chosen of danger and must do what he can to save mankind from the dark times to come.

Binnesman discovers that Averan is wizardborn and an Earth Warden and takes her on as his apprentice. In addition to learning how to be an Earth Warden, Averan must find the Waymaker, a Reaver who knows the paths in the Underworld and can tell her who to get to the Lair of Bones.

The book follows four storylines that all break off from the Battle at Carris. Gaborn’s fight against the Reavers, Borenson and Myrrima’s journey to Inkarra, Erin Connall and Prince Celinor’s journey north and Raj Ahten’s return to Indhopal.

I like how each chapter in this series begins with a title and a quote from an historical figure or book. It gives the world a sense of history and depth beyond the immediate story. The characters know their legends and heroes and their stories so the narration only touches on them, which lets the reader see enough to understand without feeling preachy. Indeed, it gives you the feel that this world is complex and has a living, vibrant history. The pacing is good and each chapter ending leaves you wanting to know more.

The book builds the tension of each story, cutting from one group to another until the end, where everyone is at a life-or-death crossroad and you can’t wait to see how it resolves.

The book is very well written. The narrator does an excellent job of keeping you engrossed in the book and separating the voices. He’s a good reader and suits the story well. On a scale of 1 to 10, I give it an 8.

And now, on to read book four…

Posted by Charlene Harmon

Review of Brotherhood of the Wolf by David Farland

December 11, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Fantasy Audiobook - Brotherhood of the Wolf by David FarlandBrotherhood of the Wolf (Runelords, Book 2)
By David Farland; Read by Ray Porter
18 CDs – 22.5 hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2009

Themes: / Fantasy / Epic Fantasy / Attributes / Magic / War /

In Hollywood there’s an old saying: The sequel is never as good as the original. Sadly, the same can be said for book 2 in “The Runelords” series.

It’s a dark book about war and destruction. Characters make choices, for good or ill, that change them. In my opinion, the changes are not always for the better.

I frequently found myself putting the iPod down because I didn’t like where the story was going, only to pick it up again later, hoping the ending would be satisfactory. It wasn’t. It left me feeling dissatisfied, depressed and in need of something that would get rid of the distasteful feeling.

The book reminded me a lot of “The Empire Strikes Back” where the movie ends with Han in Carbonite, Luke with an artificial hand and Vader on the loose. It’s a dark ending with some hope, but a lot of trouble for all the main characters. Or the second Back to the Future movie where I didn’t like the story went and I didn’t like what the characters did.

That’s how I feel about Brotherhood of the Wolf.

However, because I loved book 1 so much, and I know what a brilliant writer David Farland is, I’m going to give Book 3 a chance. And hope that, like many a third movie, it will be much better than the second.

This book is not without its virtues. It’s well written. The plot draws the listener from point to point as the story progresses. It is entertaining, in a dark, brooding sort of way. I just don’t happen to like dark stories. I also don’t like books and movies that make me cry. At many points I was afraid this was going to be one of those books. I was grateful it was not.

Posted by Charlene Harmon

Review of The Sum of All Men by David Farland

October 22, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Fantasy Audiobook - The Sum of All Men by David FarlandThe Sum of All Men: Runelords, Book 1
By David Farland; Read by Ray Porter
17 CDs – 20.4 hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2008
Themes: / Fantasy / Epic Fantasy / Attributes / Magic / War /

I’ve read other works by this author, written under a different name, and I knew coming into this one that he was an excellent writer and storyteller. Indeed, I’ve heard him speak at conventions and workshops and have nothing but praise for him as a person and a writer.

That being said, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. Reading the dust cover is not always enough to know if you’ll end up satisfied at the end of the book or if you want to throw it across the room. (Okay, I’ve only thrown ONE book across the room. It was a paperback. I was so displeased with the denouement that I threw it away. I didn’t want to inflict that book upon anyone else.)

So, with a little trepidation I began to listen to the book. Could it live up to my high expectations? Would I be satisfied with the resolution? Would I want to read the next book? The answer was a resounding yes!

The book centers on Prince Gaborn Val Orden, son of Mendellas Draken Orden, king of Mystarria. He travels to Herredon to ask King Jas Laren Sylvarresta of Herredon for the hand of his daughter, Iome Sylvarresta. While en route he learns that Raj Ahten, king of Indhopal, who is also referred to as “The Wolf Lord” plans an attack on Castle Sylvarresta. Raj Ahten has taken over a number of minor kingdoms and is intent of conquering all of Rofehaven, taking endowments from as many people as he can so that he may become “The Sum of All Men,” a man who is invincible and immortal. As such, he wants to live forever and rule the world.

It is up to Gaborn, with the help and support of Iome, the Earth Warden Binnesman, Gaborn’s bodyguard Borenson and as many soldiers as he can gather, to stop Raj Ahten from achieving his goal.

Is the book good? Definitely. The characters are well developed. They have depth and personality. They are flawed. The world is rich in legends, heroes and chronicles of past events.

From time to time there will be an insert of a story from this history. It is a teaching moment, so the reader understands who the person is and why they are mentioned, or why an event is important, but it does so in a way that adds to the richness of the story. It builds on it, making the world live and breathe as much as the characters do.

The magic system is also impressive. Those who have the ability and training for magic can use the power of the elements to create magic. Runes are used to give endowments. A king or lord can take endowments from his subjects. Strength, stamina, wit, brawn, metabolism. In so doing they themselves have greater abilities, but the subject that gives an endowment must be cared for the rest of their life, or the life of their king. Such rulers are called “Runelords.” But the cost of such power is great and the reader gets a very real idea of what it costs the people who give such endowments.

There are few books that take the time to create a world that feels as real as this one does. Farland is so good at it that it feels effortless. He doesn’t beat you over the head with his world. Instead, it simply IS. You learn only what is necessary for the story, but you are left with the belief that there is so much more to the world if you had the time to explore it. He also uses herbs and herb lore to great effect. This is a world of magic, but it is also a world unique to itself.

I highly recommend this book. It’s a rich experience that will leave you both contented and wanting more. Which is a very good way to end the book. The book is not quite perfect, but on a scale of one to ten, I definitely give it a near-ten. Although I honestly don’t know if it could be improved upon.

Get the audiobook, get the book, and experience the magic of David Farland for yourself.

Posted by Charlene Harmon

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