The Companions (Forgotten Realms: The Sundering, Book 1)
By R.A. Salvatore; Narrated by Victor Bevine
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 15 hours
Themes: / fantasy / magic / Forgotten Realms / wizard /
On the dusty plains of Netheril, a young Bedine girl spins a web of forbidden magic, obliterating a pair of assassins with a single lightning strike. On the banks of the Sea of Fallen Stars, a tiny thief walks willingly into battle with a ruthless killer, a wide grin upon his face. In the tunnels of Citadel Felbarr, a dwarfling is ambushed and strikes back with an attack well beyond his apparent strength and years. These three seemingly unrelated commoners, growing up across the far reaches of the Forgotten Realms®, hold the fate of Faerûn’s most famous dark elf, Drizzt Do’Urden, in their hands. But that fate is far from certain. For in the shadows a cunning cabal of wizards is watching, intent on hunting Chosen—mortals blessed by the gods. These wizards know something mere commoners do not: Long-forgotten gods have begun to stir. Long-lost lands have begun to tremble. The world around them is about to change. And these wizards will do whatever it takes to turn the coming chaos to their advantage. In this first book of the six-book Sundering series, New York Times bestselling author R.A. Salvatore launches a major world-shaping event that will revive old favorites, introduce new complications, and move his signature hero Drizzt into a restored era of the Forgotten Realms.
Oh, Salvatore. Never change.
Drizzt Do’Urden is back in The Companions, although in a very limited fashion. The bulk of the story focuses on Cattie-brie, Bruenor, and Regis as they are (I am not making this up) sent back to live again, from birth onwards, in order to help Drizzt far after their original deaths.
Yep. They have adult consciousness in baby bodies. They’re aware of the sensation of being birthed. They have completely adult, mature minds trapped in little toddler dwarf/human/halfling bodies. They have to struggle through relearning how to walk, eat, be toilet trained…let me back up.
Mielikki, a goddess of nature, allows the Companions to chose whether to be reborn in order to help Drizzt in a time of great need. Wulfgar appears to chose not to, electing to go to his heavenly reward instead, but the others are all reborn and go through childhood. They constantly work to hide their identities while being somewhat torn in their loyalties. The story culminates with their reunion with a wounded Drizzt and his magical panther, Guenhwyvar. Even Wulfgar shows up at the end, and it’s nicely set up for the next book in the series.
Did I mention the vampire drow? Or the dolphins? This book has it all.
Except for the beginning and end, Drizzt is not part of the action. He has escaped capture and is considered lost, so instead each chapter begins with a letter of his, a seeming memoir, on a theme that is then touched upon in Cattie-brie, Bruenor, and Regis’s new lives.
I’m not sure I’d necessarily recommend this book, as it was very odd. I did enjoy it, even as I laughed at some of the parts, and would definitely listen to the next one.
The narrator did a really good job, even managing to pull off a falsetto for the female characters voices without it turning off-putting. There was a short bit of music in between each disc, and they repeated the first few sentences from the last disc in the first track of the next disc.
Posted by Sarah R.
Themes: / fantasy / golem / magician / magic / faery /
Heraclix was dead and Pomp was immortal. That was before Heraclix’s reanimation (along with the sewn-together pieces and parts of many other dead people) and Pomp’s near murder at the hands of an evil necromancer. As they travel from Vienna to Prague to Istanbul and back again (with a side-trip to Hell), they struggle to understand who and what they are: Heraclix seeks to know the life he had before his death and rebirth, and Pomp wrestles with the language and meaning of mortality. As they journey across a land rife with revolution and unrest, they discover that the evil necromancer they thought dead might not be so dead after all. In fact, he might be making a pact to ensure his own immortality….
There are some books that are just magical, that are written in such a way that you can’t help but be drawn into a new world even if it’s set against our own. Neil Gaiman writes this way and so does Susanna Clark in Johnathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.
Forrest Aguirre, World Fantasy Award winner for his editorial work in the Leviathan 3 anthology, has created such a tale. The story of Heraclix and Pomp is magical before the magic even begins, or possibly just at the same time.
Because this is the story about a golem, who has been fabricated by a magician, and Pomp, a faery.
They go on a journey to find out what exactly Heraclix is made of … in more ways than one. Being a golem, he’s been formed from different parts of various bodies and some behave abnormally to say the least.
I knew I would enjoy this tale right away, however, my main problem actually has nothing to do with the writing or the story itself, it’s the audio narration.
I almost put the book down because the narration was just plain hard to listen to. Brandon Massey’s narration was dull and monotone, almost robotic even, with words over-pronounced so that each letter is sounded out. I don’t like listening to audiobooks on faster speeds, because I like to appreciate the acting and the reading itself, but 1.75 speed actually made this much better to listen to. At least there was a reason for the robot-sounding voice.
As much as I wanted to love every moment of the book, I was so off-put by the narration that it made it really hard to enjoy the story. I didn’t look forward to my car rides and sadly I don’t have the time to go back and read, which I’m sure I will enjoy much more.
Despite these facts, I could still see the glimmer of lyrical beauty in the narrative. It’s a great story and wonderfully written and my reduced rating is mainly a factor of the audio presentation.
3.5 out of 5 Stars (recommended, but not on audio)
Posted by Bryce L.
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 /
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.
The Magician’s Land (The Magicians #3)
By Lev Grossman; Read by Mark Bramhall
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 5 August 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 16 hours, 27 minutes
Themes: / Fantasy / Magic / Wizard School / Meta Fiction / Alternate Worlds /
Quentin Coldwater has been cast out of Fillory, the secret magical land of his childhood dreams. With nothing left to lose he returns to where his story began, the Brakebills Preparatory College of Magic. But he can’t hide from his past, and it’s not long before it comes looking for him.
Along with Plum, a brilliant young undergraduate with a dark secret of her own, Quentin sets out on a crooked path through a magical demimonde of grey magic and desperate characters. But all roads lead back to Fillory, and his new life takes him to old haunts, like Antarctica and the Netherlands, and buried secrets, and old friends he thought were lost forever. He uncovers the key to a sorcerous masterwork, a spell that could create magical utopia, a new Fillory – but casting it will set in motion a chain of events that will bring Earth and Fillory crashing together. To save them he will have to risk sacrificing everything.
This series gets better book by book. I liked the story of the first but didn’t like any of the characters. I liked the story of the second and the characters grew on me quite a bit. This third book to the trilogy is definitely my favorite of the three. The story is interesting and has some throwbacks to the previous installments, Grossman’s dry humor is completely on point, and the characters are the best of this trilogy yet. My favorite part is Grossman’s use of humor throughout the book and his breadth of imagination with the use of magic throughout the book. Grossman brings the trilogy to a satisfying conclusion that you should definitely experience if you’ve already read the first two books of the series.
If you’re even considering reading this book, I’m sure you’ve already read the first two (if not, I’ll wait here while you go take care of that). Quentin is left shut out from Fillory so what is he to do with himself? Surprisingly enough, he does NOT turn into the miserable wreck of a creature he became after graduating in the first book – thank goodness for that. Quentin seems to have grown quite a bit from his past adventures and finds more purpose in his life. It’s really cool to see him develop that way across the books.
Grossman adds a few other point of view characters in this novel and all were nice additions to Quentin’s typical somber tone. You get to find out what other members of the old gang are getting up to as Grossman approaches the climactic conclusion of the trilogy. I particularly like Plum, a brilliant student at Brakebills that also gets involved in the adventure. Those who read Dangerous Women will recognize part of her story from Grossman’s submission to the anthology.
Grossman’s writing comes off smooth and natural. His dry tone and humor stand out as in the first two books and the book was completely enjoyable. He makes references to other works of fiction and modern influences like Harry Potter without feeling forced or making the book feel like it will be dated. There are some points in the plot where things come together far too well by happenstance, but that doesn’t hurt the story too much if you don’t focus on it.
As for the audio side of things, Mark Bramhall continues to perform his role as narrator superbly in this book. He handles the tone of the book so well – executing the voices of characters with all the sarcasm or droll tone you’d expect from these characters. Such simple ways of saying the lines Grossman has written actually made me laugh out loud in some places (“Wands out Harry”). I will definitely be looking for other books narrated by Bramhall.
Posted by Tom Schreck
Themes: / Dresden Files / urban fantasy / parkour / magic / winter queen / mab / faerie /
Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, is about to have a very bad day….
Because as Winter Knight to the Queen of Air and Darkness, Harry never knows what the scheming Mab might want him to do. Usually, it’s something awful.
He doesn’t know the half of it….
Mab has just traded Harry’s skills to pay off one of her debts. And now he must help a group of supernatural villains—led by one of Harry’s most dreaded and despised enemies, Nicodemus Archleone—to break into the highest-security vault in town so that they can then access the highest-security vault in the Nevernever.
It’s a smash-and-grab job to recover the literal Holy Grail from the vaults of the greatest treasure hoard in the supernatural world—which belongs to the one and only Hades, Lord of the freaking Underworld and generally unpleasant character. Worse, Dresden suspects that there is another game afoot that no one is talking about. And he’s dead certain that Nicodemus has no intention of allowing any of his crew to survive the experience. Especially Harry.
Dresden’s always been tricky, but he’s going to have to up his backstabbing game to survive this mess—assuming his own allies don’t end up killing him before his enemies get the chance….
It’s been 18 months give or take since Cold Days came out and I’ve been in withdrawal. While not quite as good as that book, Jim Butcher once again shows why he’s the king of Urban Fantasy and one of the best fantasy writers out there.
I tried to hold myself over with an Iron Druid and a Libriomancer. They just didn’t do the trick. In fact, I’ve decided that apart from Dresden Files, Urban Fantasy just really isn’t for me. Nothing else compares. Not even close.
I barely made it halfway through the first track and I was already laughing out loud. I had to spend an extra ten minutes deciding which one-liner was best to use for my status update, and just opted for one of the shorter ones because I had already stayed up too late listening.
We see a return of the Nicodemus and Order of the Blackened Denarius. By far one of the best villains of the series, if not all of fantasy. I was yelling at my book and Jim Butcher a few times. My only real complaint is that many of the questions and issues created by Cold Days go largely unanswered. It almost feels like things were put on hold for a side story. That said, the book once again combines great characters, great dialogue and great action in a way that makes it nearly impossible to put down. I always hate waiting between books, but I can’t help myself from spending every free minute reading until I finish. It’s just that good.
James Marsters once again makes this series a must listen. It’s not even the fact that he does voices for the characters that makes it great. It’s the WAY he does the voices. The emotion when Harry casts a spell. Or him actually yelling PARKOUR! instead of simply reading it. He may not be the voice I originally expected for Harry, but he sure is now.
Anyone who reads the first few books and wonders what all the fuss is about, or balks at having to read a few books before the series “gets really good” is just missing out. If for some reason you still haven’t caught up on this series after Cold Days, consider this another recommendation to get on it.
Maybe I’ll take up Parkour!
Review by Rob Zak.
Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic: The Thirteenth Rib
By David J. Schwartz; Narrated by Janina Edwards
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 21 October 2013[UNABRIDGED] – 12 hours, 11 minutes
Themes: / urban fantasy / mystery / community college / magic / secret agents /
Meet the newest professor at Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic, Joy Wilkins. She may suffer from face blindness, but Joy can still recognize people by reading their auras — a skill that comes in particularly handy for her real work as an undercover agent with the Federal Bureau of Magical Affairs. Her mission: to discover the source of weaponized demons being trafficked through the quaint school on the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin, and to locate her predecessor, the school’s missing History of Magic professor. But just as her investigation gets under way, the brutal murder of Joy’s handler — and mentor — sets her on the trail of a secret society known as the Thirteenth Rib. With the clock ticking down to the next attack, Joy will have to find new allies and uncover ancient secrets if she’s going to have any chance of defeating a conspiracy that threatens to destroy the entire world.
Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic: The Thirteenth Rib (hereafter referred to as Gooseberry Bluff ) is a book that had a lot of good ideas, but suffered a bit on execution. I was originally attracted to it because it seemed like a cross of modern urban fantasy with mystery–and in many respects, it was just that. The issues I had with it are more about how it wrapped up the various plot lines, and what was left to the imagination.
The premise is simple: Joy Wilkins is the new professor of history at Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic (GBCCoM), but she’s also an undercover agent for the Federal Bureau of Magical Affairs (FBMA). Joy’s job as an agent is made somewhat more difficult by the fact that she has face blindness; luckily, she is very good at reading auras, so her disability isn’t the end of the world. Very few people (relatively speaking) are good at reading auras. She is assigned to GBCCoM ostensibly to investigate the disappearance of the previous history professor, Prof. Drake, and to investigate the source of demon trafficking within the school. There are some other side stories in the book, and some character- and world-development that is done through the course of the narrative.
The characters are rather interesting and varied. Schwartz emphasized diversity in his characters, something relatively few authors seem to feel comfortable with, and that’s to his credit. The characters–whether they’re the narrator (Joy, the face-blind African American woman who’s also an agent in the FBMA), Andy (the transgender assistant who is biologically a male but self-identifies and dresses as a female and prefers to be referred to with feminine pronouns), the gay president of the college, the Indian FBMA case handler, or the (apparently stereotypical white male) FBMA case handler, to name a few–are all believable and deeply developed. On the one hand, it felt like Schwartz may have been trying “too hard” to be SO DIVERSE but on the other, the diversity and the character traits opened up by this diversity were well-handled; rarely did it seem like a character was diverse just to be diverse.
The world didn’t need much development in general, given that the book takes place in modern-day “Gooseberry Bluff, MN” (a city on the St. Croix river). The rules for the various types of magic weren’t particularly well-defined, but this book wasn’t as much about the magic as it was about the mystery, so that can be forgiven. When needed, such as when explaining the demon-summoning, the rules were at least internally consistent.
The biggest issue I had with the book is that it had a lot of plot lines, and they weren’t all wrapped up particularly well. In addition, perhaps because of all the parallel plot points, the wrap-up to the main story line felt rushed. Some of the plot lines were:
-The main plot line, Joy trying to solve the disappearance of her predecessor at the school and the demon-trafficking
-Related sub-plots of assassination attempts and trying to determine why Joy’s FBMA case manager is trying to keep her off the job
-The president of GBCCoM’s time away from the school
-A romantic relationship between two other professors at the school
-A student (Margaret) who is very strong, magically-speaking, but very novice
-Another professor at the GBCCoM trying to bring back her sister’s soul
In the end, the main plot line was wrapped up but the sub-plots weren’t particularly discussed. I was left thinking that the case manager is just a jerk (he was certainly painted that way), but a lot of time was devoted to him. The main plot line was wrapped up, though with a lot of things falling into place “at the right moment” or Joy “figuring it out” suddenly at the end. The other plot lines were not specifically wrapped up–in fact, one of them was left wide open (the last one I listed). It seems like Schwartz spent so much time doing the world-building, that by the time he needed to wrap up the story, it felt rushed. I wasn’t exactly sure how Joy connected the dots or what exactly happened.
The narration by Janina Edwards was pretty good. There were a few times when I had to back up my recording and re-listen to a few sentences, but I think that was more attributed to awkward phrasing or unusual words than the actual narration. When I closed my eyes, I could see a confident African American woman as Joy–I actually had the picture of my 7th grade reading teacher in my head (thank you, Mrs. Barrett!). If you’re one who likes to listen at greater than normal speed (1.25x, 1.5x, 2x), you might have a hard time–I did. But the book was short enough that I didn’t mind listening at 1 or 1.25x speed.
It will be interesting to see what (if anything) else Schwartz does with this world. I would like to know how some of the other plot lines wrap up, and why Margaret seemed so “important” in this book. I would hope, though, that in future books, less time is spent on world-building and more time is spent telling the story evenly, so that it doesn’t need to end up rushed as this one did at the end.
Posted by terpkristin.