Review of The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley

March 6, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review
The Providence of Fire by Brian StaveleyThe Providence of Fire (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne #2)
By Brian Staveley; Narrated by Simon Vance
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 13 January 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 23 hours, 37 minutes

Themes: / fantasy / brothers / monks / assassins / barbarian hordes /

Publisher summary:

Brian Staveley’s The Providence of Fire, the second novel in the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, a gripping new epic fantasy series in the tradition of Brandon Sanderson and George R. R. Martin The conspiracy to destroy the ruling family of the Annurian Empire is far from over. Having learned the identity of her father’s assassin, Adare flees the Dawn Palace in search of allies to challenge the coup against her family. Few trust her, but when she is believed to be touched by Intarra, patron goddess of the empire, the people rally to help her retake the capital city. As armies prepare to clash, the threat of invasion from barbarian hordes compels the rival forces to unite against their common enemy. Unknown to Adare, her brother Valyn, renegade member of the empire’s most elite fighting force, has allied with the invading nomads. The terrible choices each of them has made may make war between them inevitable. Between Valyn and Adare is their brother Kaden, rightful heir to the Unhewn Throne, who has infiltrated the Annurian capital with the help of two strange companions. The knowledge they possess of the secret history that shapes these events could save Annur or destroy it.

I gave this book the same rating as The Emperor’s Blades, and I think in many ways it’s better. But I also had higher expectations coming in. I had none for the first book, and found myself pleasantly surprised. So I was looking forward to this.

This book started off slow. With how the last one ended, I guess I was sort of expecting the book to hit the ground running. The last book is largely the “magic school” trope, although there isn’t a whole lot of magic. But there is rigorous training and rivalries and the like. And some of the characters can do magic.

Maybe my love of that trope, or the fact that they were “in training” made me less aware of just how STUPID The Emperor’s kids are. There was no hiding that here. I’m not a big fan of the super smart, super capable protagonist who can’t seem to do any wrong, but I hate the “I’m going to pull a plan out of my ass and somehow things will work out mostly right in the end” protagonist even worse. It would d be bad enough if only one of them did, but all three of them did, and continued to do it. They didn’t learn from their mistakes. They didn’t really seem to grow as characters. They just kept being idiots. And selfish. It got pretty frustrating.

So why did I give this 4 stars? Well two reasons mainly. One the story is interesting. The world building Mr. Staveley does in this book is especially intriguing. The pieces he put in place in this novel look to make for a really interesting third (and final?) book in this series.

Secondly he has some great supporting characters. Some are returning from the first novel, and some are new. In particular I really enjoyed the POV chapters from a former supporting character who was given a chance to shine. They were easily my favorite chapters in the book. I only wish they had started sooner. Maybe even in the last book, but it wouldn’t have made too much sense, so I understand the reasoning.

Overall this book is better, but with higher expectations, I found myself a bit disappointed at the same time. But I’m looking forward to the next book. I think for a middle book there is a lot to like. Hopefully the Emperor’s kids will get a clue by then.

As a narrator, Simon Vance is excellent as always. He was one of the main reasons I decided to try out The Emperor’s Blades. His performance is such that this series remains a must audio for me, even if it means waiting a bit longer to get my hands on the next book.

Review by Rob Zak.

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.

The SFFaudio Podcast #279 – NEW RELEASES/RECENT ARRIVALS

August 25, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: New Releases, Podcasts, Recent Arrivals 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastDowncastThe SFFaudio Podcast #279 – Jesse, Jenny, Tamahome, and Seth talk about NEW RELEASES and RECENT ARRIVALS.

Today’s podcast is sponsored by Downcast, a fantastic podcast app for iPhone and iPad.

Talked about on today’s show:
A long time since we new released or recent arrived, our SPONSOR: Downcast, Seth’s daily routine, NPR News, Writer’s Almanac, Composer’s Datebook, changing playback speed, customizability, no more syncing, app developers being podcast listeners, an app by podcast listeners for podcast listeners, a one man operation?, ads on podcasts, razor blades, clothing clubs, internationality, Audible, a Science Fiction skin, Luke Burrage’s, Dan Carlin, Jenny is thinking of switching to Downcast, adding and dropping with swipes, categories, short stories!, wisdom in literature: first contact, “a lot of self-help literature is crap,” Understanding by Ted Chiang, Flowers for Algernon, wisdom vs. intelligence, Hansel and Gretel, Mercerism in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, wisdom in StardustMagic for Beginners by Kelly Link; Aimee Bender; Reflection by Angela Carter; Joe Hill; Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland by Eric Shanower with art by Gabriel Rodriguez; Rogues edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, featuring a Song of Ice and Fire novella, not strictly genre; Year’s Top Ten Tales of Science Fiction; Hugo Awards going to A Dribble of Ink and SF Signal; time travel mashup category!; The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne; The Drowned World and other strangeness of J.G. Ballard; Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer; Interlopers by Alan Dean Foster; Interlopers b y Saki a.k.a. H.H. Munro; slipstream, portal fantasy, archaeological fantasy?; Close your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian; Ilium and Olympus by Dan Simmons, Homer in spaaaaaace!; HyperionBoneshaker by Cherie Priest; chaos theory in A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury; The Last Ship on TNT based on a novel by William Brinkley, “perfect for watching while you’re eating your cereal”; Martian Time Slip by Philip K. Dick; The Dark Between the Stars by Kevin J. Anderson, a follow-up to his epic The Saga of Seven Suns series; Kevin J. Anderson dictates his novels while hiking, influences his writing style?; William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return by Ian Doescher; Jesse prefers Isaac Asimov’s Robots trilogy to his Foundation series; Sarah A. Hoyt’s Ill Met by Moonlight is “Shakespeare with elves”; we try unsuccessfully to care about any of the new epic fantasy titles; a heady discussion about how an author’s gender influences his or her writing; are some books just for women?; Somewhere in Time a.k.a. Bid Time Return by Richard Matheson; The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman concluding his trilogy; the etymology of demimonde; Felix Gilman’s The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman; Curse of the Wolf Girl by Martin Millar; Koko Takes a Holiday by Kieran Shea; Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews; Spyder Robinson’s Callahan series; Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Steakhouse series; Mr. Mercedes, not really genre, is Stephen King losing his edge?; The Shunned House by H.P. Lovecraft; Lovecraft’s writing does not prominently feature tentacles!; Guillermo del Toro’s The Strain is a Dracula retelling; Hello Cthulhu!

Little Nemo Return To Slumberland

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Garden of Stones by Mark T. Barnes

December 28, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

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
Filed under: Reviews 

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
Filed under: Reviews 

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

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