Gameboard of the Gods (Age of X #1)
By Richelle Mead; Read by Emily Shaffer
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: June 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 16 hours
Themes: / urban fantasy / ritualistic murder / military /
In a futuristic world nearly destroyed by religious extremists, Justin March lives in exile after failing in his job as an investigator of religious groups and supernatural claims. But Justin is given a second chance when Mae Koskinen comes to bring him back to the Republic of United North America (RUNA). Raised in an aristocratic caste, Mae is now a member of the military’s most elite and terrifying tier, a soldier with enhanced reflexes and skills.
When Justin and Mae are assigned to work together to solve a string of ritualistic murders, they soon realize that their discoveries have exposed them to terrible danger. As their investigation races forward, unknown enemies and powers greater than they can imagine are gathering in the shadows, ready to reclaim the world in which humans are merely game pieces on their board.
I listened to Gameboard of the Gods on audio and to me it feels more like science fiction than urban fantasy. The book is a bit hard to review because it kind of evolves as you go a long and I would not want to spoil it for anyone.
The story takes place in the RUNA (Republic of North America) think a future country that is a unified Canada and USA. Dr. Justin March was a servitor who has been exiled to Panama, his citizenship has been taken from him and emotionally he is barely surviving life. Back in the RUNA there is a serial killer who likes to kill on the full moon. Other servitors have been unsuccessful in solving the crimes. Out of desperation Justin’s old employers have come to Panama with Mae and elite soldier with the RUNA to find and bring Justin back to the RUNA with the hope of getting the murders solved. Justin is dying to come home but he decides to get as much out of the deal as possible and he ends up bringing his friends daughter home with him so she can have the chance at a better education. But things don’t go as planned and Justin and Mae find themselves in an almost hopeless situation.
The story is told from three points of view, Justin, Mae and Tessa. Justin and Tessa make total sense you get a feel for two very different sides of the world and you also find out how similar they actually are to one another. I liked both Justin and Mae. Mae is a beautiful killer yet she is still a sensitive soul despite her upbringing – Justin on the other hand is crazy smart, his mind is continuously working so he uses drugs and alcohol to cope and to relax. I did not care for his comfort in using people to meet his ends especially with women and sex. Tessa on the other hand feels like an afterthought – I did like her character but she did not add much to the plot but perhaps in future books she will do something.
A major challenge with this book is you really do not know what is going on until you are about halfway in. Like it took me forever to figure out what the is a servitor?? It took a bit longer to figure out Horatio and Magnus. SO while it works because it made me curious it was also annoying because I never found answers to some questions like what happened to cause the government to sanction religion?? While I would classify this book as sci-fi the world is clearly challenged with technology – so we have a car that can drive itself and a tablet that does it all but other than that it feels kind of like life here in the old USA which rather sucks for sci-fi. Last but not least I would have liked a bit more mythology – we get a glimpse of them with various cults but I think it could have made for an even better story.
As I mentioned I listened to this book on audio, for me a narrator can make or break a book. Emily Shaffer was not a terrible narrator but I do not think she was the best person for this book. Reading a book with so many POV’s means she should have sounded different but to me she always sounds the same. Justin and Mae are rather hardened people they hide who they are from everyone all the time but Emily made them sound so chipper and curious which for me was the opposite of how they were described. My issues with the narration and the lack of world building information made this a slow going audio book.
The book totally has challenges but in the end I still enjoyed the story and I am looking forward to the next one in the series.
Posted by Dawn V.
Assassin’s Code: Book 4 of The Joe Ledger Novels
By Jonathan Maberry; Read by Ray Porter
15.5 Hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Themes: / Horror / Supernatural / Military /
In my trade, confidence is built on a platform whose legs are made up of good intelligence, continuous training, proper equipment, and field support. I had a sick dog, a dead man’s gun, a stolen briefcase, a vampire hunter’s stake in my belt, and a cell phone…
Joe’s dealt with zombies, the island of Dr. Moreau, and the Seven Plagues of Egypt. Surely nothing can surprise him now. At least that’s what he thinks.
After rescuing American college students held hostage in Iran, Joe is contacted with the alarming news that the Iranians want his help in locating six stolen nuclear bombs. Nukes are soon the least of Joe’s problems when he’s attacked by super-powered killers who are probably genetically engineered and may actually be unbeatable. Certainly, it’s the first time he’s been told to “run away” when he calls Mr. Church for orders. The mysterious assassin Violin, with her mommy issues, adds an intriguing element that I liked, although her name made me snicker. Whose side is she really on? Toss in the mysterious Book of Shadows together with an age-old Holy Inquisition* that’s gone off the rails and you’ve got a fast-paced thriller with the usual slight touch of science needed to make us wonder “could it happen…” As usual Joe is sarcastic but has the heart of a warrior so he never quits.
As always, Ray Porter IS Joe Ledger. As I’ve said before, his narration is the reason I wait for the audio books instead of snapping up the printed versions. He’s got a direct, blunt delivery that can go from sarcastic to heart-felt to outraged in 60 seconds. Believably. That’s good because sometimes that’s the way Joe’s day goes.
The fourth entry to the Joe Ledger series piles surprise upon surprise until there are so many moving parts you need a score card to keep up. That’s ok. The ride is most of the fun anyway. It was refreshing to see Echo Team on an assignment that didn’t involve anything supernatural or genetically engineered. It also explained why Joe is sometimes incredulous about the strange situations in which he becomes embroiled. He’s so deep into rescuing college kids that he just plain forgets about his first zombie killing assignment.
That excuse doesn’t really work for the many times that people who should know better protest, “What? Supernatural? That’s just crazy!” That really is the weakest part of these stories. Shouldn’t Echo Team be surprised if there isn’t a monster or super-villain somewhere in the shadows?
This was a return to the Joe Ledger adventure style of the first book in a way, which I liked very much. It also satisfactorily tied up some loose ends that had been accumulating through the last book or two. Highly recommended for those who enjoyed the previous books.
* Catholics needn’t worry. Maberry plays fast and loose with elements but he’s generally respectful of religions. Any Catholics involved in this were lied to, folks. Lied to!
Posted by Julie D.
World War Z
By Max Brooks; Read by Full Cast
Publisher: Random House Audio
Published: September 12, 2006
[ABRIDGED] 5 discs – 6 hours
Themes: / post-apocalypse / zombies / military / oral history /
The Zombie War came unthinkably close to eradicating humanity. Max Brooks, driven by the urgency of preserving the acid-etched first-hand experiences of the survivors from those apocalyptic years, traveled across the United States of America and throughout the world, from decimated cities that once teemed with upwards of thirty million souls to the most remote and inhospitable areas of the planet. He recorded the testimony of men, women, and sometimes children who came face-to-face with the living, or at least the undead, hell of that dreadful time. World War Z is the result. Never before have we had access to a document that so powerfully conveys the depth of fear and horror, and also the ineradicable spirit of resistance, that gripped human society through the plague years.
Ranging from the now infamous village of New Dachang in the United Federation of China, where the epidemiological trail began with the twelve-year-old Patient Zero, to the unnamed northern forests where untold numbers sought a terrible and temporary refuge in the cold, to the United States of Southern Africa, where the Redeker Plan provided hope for humanity at an unspeakable price, to the west-of-the-Rockies redoubt where the North American tide finally started to turn, this invaluable chronicle reflects the full scope and duration of the Zombie War.
I’ve broken my cardinal rule for reading books just before the movie comes out. My rule is not to read the book directly before the movie (at least 1 year before or it must be read after or just wait on the movies). The reason for this is that I want to enjoy the story through both mediums and if you read the book just before the movie, you’ve set yourself up to be a critic – analyzing everything and complaining about every detail that’s inevitably left out, but which is more often than not necessary for the medium. If you read the book at least a year before, at least with my shoddy memory, the movie becomes a happy time of fond remembrances. Oh yeah, I remember that part, so cool! Yay! Happy! In this instance, I hear the movie doesn’t quite follow the book exactly and what else can that mean than that it’s a typical zombie movie. I don’t think I’ve ruined much here.
You know, it could have been partly because of all the hype, but I didn’t love this book. I didn’t hate it either, which makes these the hardest reviews to write, but I think I have a few ideas why World War Z just didn’t work all that well for me.
Doesn’t really exist. Yeah, there’s a loose series of events that defines the book, or the Zombie War, but it’s told through interviews with different survivors from different countries. And they’re short too, I even checked this with the book (paper-form). Each interview amounts to a page or two, maybe 5 max. Each tends to discuss a certain important event, which ends up getting referred to by characters later in the book and often mentioned by the one directly following. It’s extremely clever and lets you see how well developed this whole idea is.
It’s extremely clever
Max Brooks has literally thought of everything when it comes to a war against zombies. I thought the same in my reading of The Zombie Survival Guide, and it goes just as well here. EVERYTHING! He goes into why tanks are all but useless against hordes of zombies – because you have to take out their heads! Anything else, and they’ll still shamble and probably even become more dangerous when you trip over them on the ground. The airforce is just as useless because it’s so much money and effort for such a little amount of good. Better spent on a bunch of soldiers with tons of ammo. He even goes into better strategies for fighting this war, why the zombies are such a good enemy – because they don’t need to be bred, fed, or led.
Very clever and not even pretentious about it. Just captivating. And this isn’t the only thing I liked although we’re getting into the middle ground because I didn’t love the audio either.
One of the things that got me excited to listen to this on audio was that it’s read by a full cast. That means they’re trying REALLY hard and that tends to be a good thing, especially if you don’t like one or two of the voices, it’s okay, it’s only temporary. With just one narrator, that can really kill a book. I mentioned that this is told through many different people in different countries and they have actors like Rob Reiner, John Turturro, and Mark Hamill. Even Max Brooks himself plays the part of the interviewer. Very cool…just up until the point of distraction. There are so many different countries represented that the accents started to distract heavily from the story. I found myself pondering why the German guy had such a heavy accent on his “R’s” and yet could perfectly pronounce “TH” every time. And this was just the one guy. One of the benefits of a single narrator is that even when they do an accent, it’s easier to understand because English is their primary language.
The audio’s great for the most part, outside of that little niggle about the accents, but one thing I absolutely HATE about it is…it’s abridged!
I would probably never forgive myself if I listened to this abridged audio version and never actually read the entire book if I actually thought that mattered. Maybe others are better sleuths than myself, but I can’t find a reading of World War Z that’s not abridged. At the same, after having read the book, the abridged version seems to do enough justice to the entirety of the novel, what with how it is organized, that it just cuts out a few of the interviews. Normally this is heresy, but I can live with it for this one time only.
What I didn’t like
I think the thing that just makes this an okay to good book for me is that while it’s style and organization is unique and highly clever, it also takes away from my ability to care. Without just following one person or a group of people, there’s no attachment to any specific person.
After writing the above, I actually do think the movie will make it all better. It seems like it will be following one single person and that’s what this reader needs. The movie comes out in June of this year.
In the end
Let’s just say, if we ever do get into a Zombie War, you better have a copy of World War Z and The Zombie Survival Guide on you. Someone’s already gone through the effort of thinking up EVERY situation that can occur, what’s effective, what’s not and put it down in words. No sense reinventing the wheel. While an entertaining idea and clever execution, these were the exact things that made World War Z a book only a mother could love I could never love. It’s worth a read if only to see how in-depth you have not thought about zombies.
3 out of 5 Stars (Recommended with Reservations)
Review by Bryce L.
Out of the Dark
By David Weber; Read by Charles Keating
17 hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Themes: / Science Fiction / Military / Aliens / Alien invasion / Historical /
No one would have believed in the early years of the 15th Century that human affairs were being watched from the orbiting ships of the Galactic Hegemony’s Survey Force. No-one could have dreamed that we were being scrutinised as the French and English forces advanced towards each other across the field of Agincourt. Few men even considered the possibility of life more vegetarian than ours and yet, from their survey ships, minds immeasurably more craven than ours, regarded this Earth with horrified revulsion. And slowly and surely, they drew their plans against us.
David Weber attempts to take the traditional alien invasion and add an unusual twist. The twist, unfortunately, isn’t brought to fruition until very nearly the end of the book, where it clangs into place more like a late addition, a Deus Ex Machina.
Out of the Dark starts as a typical alien invasion: ships arrive in-system, observe us for a while to find where the big cities and military bases are, then strike them from orbit. Wipeout the majority of the population and then attempt to sweep in to rule over the cowering survivors. Shock and Awe. Unsurprisingly the aliens discover how tenacious we humans are. They struggle to comprehend why we are unhappy about having half the population of Earth wiped out in an afternoon. Is there something wrong with us? Are we not civilised?
In the Galactic Hegemony vegetarianism is the norm for intelligent star-faring races. Omnivores and carnivores being too aggressive to develop the required technological base required to reach the stars without wiping themselves out. There is one exception to this rule, the Shongairi, and they make the other races in the Hegemony nervous just by existing. So, in an attempt to weaken the Shongairi, the Hegemony grant them the right to colonise three other worlds, including one discovered some 500 years before. A world that also has the pacifistic Hegemony worried.
According to the Colonisation rules of the Hegemony, any race that has not advanced enough technologically are fair game to be colonised. Naturally their assumption is that Earth, being populated by a crazy race that commits such bloodthirsty battles as that observed at Agincourt five centuries earlier, will still be very low on their technology scale. The Shongairi are then somewhat surprised to find that we have developed so far as we have, indeed possessing some technologies that rival their own. We may still be trapped upon our home planet, but we have advanced computer technology and encryption techniques that make them think we should really be classed at a level where we would be granted a protected status. Considering the expense of the time and resources involved in the launch this offensive, the Shongairi Commander decides to sweep that data under the carpet and hope that no-one notices. Bombing us back to the stone-age to hide the evidence if necessary. And thus the invasion goes ahead and half the world’s population is lost to a kinetic bombardment.
The novel follows several characters, although most are expended showing how effective our weaponry is against an alien ground force that expected to face nothing more advanced than a bow and arrow. They are expended in that they demonstrate, repeatedly, that the Shongairi react with overwhelming orbital strikes. This pattern repeats several times through out the book and does become a little tedious.
The Shongairi alien nature is basically that of a predatory pack animal, almost canine in nature. Their philosophy is that when faced with an overwhelming opponent you surrender. That humans refuse to acknowledge the Shongairi’s superiority confuses them. This mentality reminded me a lot of the elephant-like aliens from Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s Footfall from the ’80′s.
The characters include Master Sergeant Stephen Buchevsky who finds himself a passenger on a military cargo plane flying over Eastern Europe when the aliens strike and his plane is force to make a crash landing. With only a handfull of other US personnel from the plane he begins gathering locals around him as he becomes their protector. He joins up with a local group who’s charismatic leader seems to be too friendly, helpful and successful at defending against the Shongairi. Buchevsky is a gee-shucks hero doing the best he can.
One of the other main characters is Dave Dvorak. Or, as I think of him, Dave “Mary Sue” Dvorak. Dvorak is one of the most prepared people to hide out in the Carolina hills, in what reads like a palatial cabin with his family and friends. Although he actually does very little plot-wise he becomes a middle-man for lots of other survivors in the area and through these contacts we hear about much of what is happening in the world. When we aren’t watching sacrificial attacks against Shongairi troops. We do get to hear in excruciating detail how, over the previous few years, he and his brother-in-law converted a family cabin in the woods into a home away from home, complete with redundant power generators, hidden food and weapon caches and a huge underground fresh water tank.
We are also shown the invasion from the alien’s perspective. Much of their emotions are expressed in the positioning and twitching of their ears, reinforcing the K-9 impression that their omnivore and pack nature suggests. There is almost no physical description of them, that I remember, beyond this.
The cover blurb talks of the survivors receiving help from an “old enemy”. I’m not going to spoil this aspect of the book, although I guessed it just from reading the blurb and was actually looking forward to it. Other readers have claimed to have been blind-sided by it. I can see why, but only if they simply hadn’t read the book cover. It is not a genre I’m aware Weber has written in before. I was disappointed with the execution of this aspect. The surprise element doesn’t feel integrated into the book as a whole. It really felt like the story had originally been written without it, then realising that he had dug a hole too deep for humanity to get out of, he had to go back and add this in to tip the scales in our favour. The conclusion wraps up very quickly; like a TV series been told they are being cancelled and only have two episodes to wrap everything up. Or he got bored with the story and wanted to finish it and move on to something else.
And yet, this is not the worst aspect of this book for me. I have also been listening to Weber’s Safehold series, but have abandoned it after the third book, in large part due to this flaw. Weber has started writing massive monologues for many of his characters that run on for tens of minutes at a time. They are both internal and external discourses where the characters go into minute detail about what has already happened, their current position, beliefs, expectations and plans. Two or three times per book I could swallow, but this feels like it is becoming Weber’s go-to method of filling out a scene. They feel completely unnatural, especially when it is one character talking at another. In some situations this would be okay, a specific character who was prone to this sort of thing, or that the situation called for the character to speak for such an extended time, without any apparent aide-memoire or time to prepare. Even if it helped to move the plot on quickly, I might be tempted to forgive it, but it seldom does. It is often a repeat of information we already know, explained from the current character’s slightly different perspective. Yet not actually adding anything to the story other than word count. Unfortunately any interruption to my listen during one of these monologues meant that when I returned I had no little or no idea who was talking. I could eventually infer who was talking, after a few minutes, based on the geography and names of characters they mentioned, but seldom from how the character spoke. Neither the writing nor unfortunately the narration had enough colour when it came to most of the character voices.
The narrator, Charles Keating, does well with most of the book, especially the alien lisping Shongairi. Unfortunately he too struggles to bring life into Weber’s indigestible, interminable speeches.
This had the potential to be an interesting hybrid of genres, but really feels like something bolted on at the end. Weber’s editor needs to get tough with him and curtail those endless monologues.
Posted by Paul [W] Campbell
Greetings fellow sci-fi and fantasy audiobook junkies. My name is Mark Flavin (from California not Ireland) and I am one of many reviewers to answer the call made by Jesse. I enjoy sci-fi and fantasy in all forms but have a special love for cyberpunk, space opera, science fantasy and epic fantasy. I am thrilled to be able to share my reviews with you and I hope that I can add something of value to this awesome blog.
The Final Empire: Mistborn Book 1
By Brandon Sanderson; Read by Michael Kramer
Audible Download – 24 Hours 40 Mins [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audible / Macmillan Audio
Published: July 2007
Themes: / Fantasy / Epic Fantasy / Sword and Sorcery / Military / Political / Magic
For a thousand years the ash fell and no flowers bloomed. For a thousand years the Skaa slaved in misery and lived in fear. For a thousand years the Lord Ruler, the “Sliver of Infinity,” reigned with absolute power and ultimate terror, divinely invincible. Then, when hope was so long lost that not even its memory remained, a terribly scarred, heart-broken half-Skaa rediscovered it in the depths of the Lord Ruler’s most hellish prison. Kelsier “snapped” and found in himself the powers of a Mistborn. A brilliant thief and natural leader, he turned his talents to the ultimate caper, with the Lord Ruler himself as the mark.
When I first stumbled across this book on audible I was sceptical. I have to admit this was almost a book I judged by its cover and even after reading the book I am unsure what is going on in this cover. Fortunately I had just finished listening to Elantris and really wanted to see what Brandon Sanderson had in store for me in his next book. I am really glad I looked past the cover because Mistborn is an incredible story of epic fantasy set in a world which is alien and yet the implication (unstated) is it could be our future or past.
The characters in the story have real depth and by the end of the first book I felt like I was a member of the gang, a silent partner in their quest to overthrow the tyrannical rule of the lord ruler and restore freedom to the people. However, where the real depth of the story comes is the system of “magic” (referred to in the story as allomancy) that Brandon Sanderson created. Rather than chanting spells, or tapping into divine powers the characters in the story have the ability to burn metals and each metal has a direct counterbalance. This creates situations where powers are negated and I found that I became actively engaged in the story as I tried to figure out how one character would use their metal to negate the other character’s effects.
In addition to the fantastic plot-line and deep characterizations of the main players Brandon Sanderson does an excellent job of creating a framework for the world of the final empire. From describing the falling ash storms to the rising mists each evening the world is so vividly described that I at times forgot what I was doing. Beyond the descriptive environment there are creatures which are described terrible in form. An example of vivid imagery is in his description of the Steel Inquisitor I won’t ruin it for you but the first time this “thing” was introduced I felt chills. Not so much out of fear (though it was terrible to imagine) but out of excitement that this was something truly unique and new.
Complimenting the excellent storyline is the reading by Michael Kramer who does a fantastic job of giving voice to the characters and describing the land in beautiful detail. The vocal range and emotional range of his reading was excellent. Michael Kramer does an excellent job of switching between characters and into a neutral narrator tone when appropriate. By far my favorite voice in the book is that of Breeze and in the following novels he becomes one of my characters simply because Michael Kramer’s vocalization is so spot on that the character literally seems to come alive.
If I do have one complaint about this book (other than the cover) it is that more attention could have been paid to the audio production. While I don’t expect Dolby 5.1 digital surround sound from an audible download it would be nice to have the audio levels consistent instead of having the audio suddenly get louder and just as suddenly go low. Also there were a couple of times when words were repeated like the narrator was saying them expecting it to be edited out. All-in-all these were minor issues and did not take away from the overall enjoyment of the book.
Plot twists, action and a fascinating system of “magic” make this a great read and Michael Kramer’s excellent narration makes this a fantastic listen. This is definitely a vacation/beach book because if your like me once you get started you will not want to put it down.
Posted by Mark Flavin
The war continues as a stalemate. The Yucconae, an alien race, are living organisms that can traverse outer space. The Earth’s drone rockets do not have a chance against the flexibility of a living organisms.
Working in a military research facility, Kramer comes up with a system of installing a man’s brain as the central processor of a rocket. Since a pilot could not withstand the pressures of deep space flight, a willing sacrifice will need to be made. Kramer’s ex-wife, Dolores, remembers an old professor, Professor Thomas, that she and Kramer had attended in college. Professor Thomas is near the end of his lifespan. His mind is still agile, and it is agreed that it is his mind that will go into the rocket. The plan is for the brain to be alive but not conscious inside the rocket.
But things don’t go as they should as some last minute modification allows Professor Thomas to return to consciousness and fully control the ship. And it’s not in the Professor’s plans to be a pawn to the Earth’s military.
Available at Audible and iTunes.
Posted by The Time Traveler of the Time Traveler Show