Review of The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

September 10, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

The Magician's LandThe 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 /

Publisher summary:

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

Review of Tower Lord by Anthony Ryan

August 5, 2014 by · 1 Comment
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SFFaudio Review

towerlordTower Lord (Raven’s Shadow #2)
By Anthony Ryan; Narrated by Steven Brand
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 1 July 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 24 hours, 39 minutes

Themes: / fantasy / warrior /

Publisher summary:

Vaelin Al Sorna, warrior of the Sixth Order, called Darkblade, called Hope Killer. The greatest warrior of his day, and witness to the greatest defeat of his nation: King Janus’ vision of a Greater Unified Realm drowned in the blood of brave men fighting for a cause Vaelin alone knows was forged from a lie. Sick at heart, he comes home, determined to kill no more. Named Tower Lord of the Northern Reaches by King Janus’s grateful heir, he can perhaps find peace in a colder, more remote land far from the intrigues of a troubled Realm.

But those gifted with the blood-song are never destined to live a quiet life. Many died in King Janus’ wars, but many survived, and Vaelin is a target, not just for those seeking revenge but for those who know what he can do. The Faith has been sundered, and many have no doubt who their leader should be. The new King is weak, but his sister is strong. The blood-song is powerful, rich in warning and guidance in times of trouble, but is only a fraction of the power available to others who understand more of its mysteries. Something moves against the Realm, something that commands mighty forces, and Vaelin will find to his great regret that when faced with annihilation, even the most reluctant hand must eventually draw a sword.

How do you follow up a debut novel that seems to be almost universally loved by those who have read it? By writing a book that may be even better in my opinion.  My opinion may not be shared by everyone who loved Blood Song. This is definitely a different book from that.

Instead of a single narrative about Vaelin told in the form of a flashback, we are instead given three new point of view characters in addition to Vaelin and the interludes from the perspective of the chronicler.  Two of the characters, Frentis and Lyrna, will be instantly familiar from the first novel. The fourth, Riva, was probably my favorite. As a new character she probably got the most character development of the four. I think having two male POVs and two female ones gave the novel a good balance.

I found Lyrna’s story to start a bit slow, but I was quickly grabbed by the book as a whole and eventually sucked into her narrative as well. Much like Blood Song this is one of those books that grabbed hold and didn’t let go. I hated to put it down and loved to pick it back up.

I’m glad for the format change as I think Mr. Ryan was able to tell a much larger story as a result. There were parts of the story where the various POV’s overlapped, but there were also a lot of things that would have gone otherwise unmentioned if he stuck with just Vaelin’s story.

There are some excellent action scenes, though probably fewer overall than the first. While the first book was more a hero’s journey, this book is more epic fantasy with larger implications to the realm as a whole.

There are answers to many of the big questions I had from the first novel. Often times it seems like authors jealously guard all their book’s secrets and wait until the last possible minute to reveal them. Not so with this series. I felt there were several big reveals in parts 2 and 3 that other authors might have held back.  There are plenty of new questions to take the place of those that are answered that kept me wanting to keep listening and find out what would happen next.

Mr. Ryan has put himself in a precarious position of writing two really excellent novels in what I believe is supposed to be a trilogy. Now the expectations are that much higher for the finale of what has quickly become one of my favorite series.

Stephen Brand is a great narrator that could stand to have his volume boosted. He does an excellent job with voices and inflections, but can be frustratingly quiet in places.

If you haven’t read this book yet, do yourself a favor and pick it up. And if you haven’t read/heard of this series you should check out Blood Song as soon as you can.

Review by Rob Zak.

Review of Skin Game by Jim Butcher

June 3, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Skin Game by Jim ButcherSkin Game (Dresden Files #15)
By Jim Butcher; Performed by James MarstersPublisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 27 May 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 15 hours, 49 minutes

Themes: / Dresden Files / urban fantasy / parkour / magic / winter queen / mab / faerie /

Publisher summary:

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.

Review of Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop

April 9, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Murder of Crows by Anne BishopMurder of Crows (The Others #2)
By Anne Bishop; Narrated by Alexandra Harris
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication date: 4 March 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 14 hrs and 13 mins

Themes: / urban fantasy / blood prophet / feathers / shape-shifting /

Publisher summary:

After winning the trust of the terra indigene residing in the Lakeside Courtyard, Meg Corbyn has had trouble figuring out what it means to live among them. As a human, Meg should be barely tolerated prey, but her abilities as a cassandra sangue make her something more. 

The appearance of two addictive drugs has sparked violence between the humans and the Others, resulting in the murders of both species in nearby cities. So when Meg has a dream about blood and black feathers in the snow, Simon Wolfgard—Lakeside’s shape-shifting leader—wonders whether their blood prophet dreamed of a past attack or of a future threat.

As the urge to speak prophecies strikes Meg more frequently, trouble finds its way inside the Courtyard. Now the Others and the handful of humans residing there must work together to stop the man bent on reclaiming their blood prophet—and stop the danger that threatens to destroy them all.

The book was wonderful. I loved how the story expanded beyond Meg, Simon and the Courtyard. In this story we get to see a lot more of the world and are introduced to a plethora of new characters. The only sad thing about the expansion of the new world is I miss getting to read more about some of the characters we met in the last book like Jake and Winter. The plot for this story is fairly straight forward so with all the new introductions and new places it was easy for me to keep track. While the story expanded it did so by going deeper into the politics and relationships between humans and the others.

My favorite thing about Anne Bishop’s writing is her focus on relationships. It is fascinating to watch Meg and Simon figure out how to be friends. Simon is a wolf and he is unsure how long he wants to hold his human skin, he also worries that being human so much is changing him. Meanwhile Meg is a blood prophet who has never been able to make choices and with so much turmoil happening her need to cut is greater than ever not to mention she is finding it a challenge to not accidentally break her skin. Likewise there is the relationship between Simon and Monty, Monty struggles to understand the terra indigene’s outlook on things without alienating the humans. Then Monty has his own issues with his daughter which I hope gets resolved because it just breaks my heart. While I could go on and on the point here is how these character’s interact with each other just makes the story even better.

The narrator for the book was Alexandra Harris. She has quite the smooth voice and while I enjoyed listening to her narrate and perform the voices of female characters, I did not care for her work as voicing the male characters. She also read a bit slower than I would have liked and so I solved that by speeding it up on my ipod. In a perfect world she would be partnered with someone like James Marsters and for me this would have been the perfect audio book.

Posted by Dawn V.

Review of The Witches by Roald Dahl

April 2, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

The Witches by Roald DahlThe WitchesBy Roald Dahl; Read by Miranda Richardson
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: September 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 4 hours, 28 minutes

Themes: / children’s fantasy / witches /

Publisher summary:

This is not a fairy tale. This is about real witches. Grandmamma loves to tell about witches. Real witches are the most dangerous of all living creatures on earth. There’s nothing they hate so much as children, and they work all kinds of terrifying spells to get rid of them. Her grandson listens closely to Grandmamma’s stories – but nothing can prepare him for the day he comes face-to-face with The Grand High Witch herself!

In The Witches, a seven-year-old boy and his grandmother must use their cleverness to stop an evil witch conspiracy. It’s a lovely, funny and nightmarish tale. In the prologue, there is a direct warning to the children reading: witches are all around us but are disguised as kind and normal ladies… and they hate children and want to squelch them.

“For all you know, a witch might be living next door to you right now. … She might even – and this will make you jump – she might even be your lovely school teacher who is reading these words to you at this very moment. Look carefully at that teacher. Perhaps she is smiling at the absurdity of such a suggestion. Don’t let that put you off. It could be part of your cleverness.”

It might seem a little mean to scare children like that, but then again it’s no lie that some very cruel people disguise themselves as regular kind people, so maybe this is a theme that should appear in more children’s books.

The whole story is told from the little boy’s perspective, after he is orphaned during a trip to visit his grandmother. The family car skids off the road and crashes into a rocky ravine, killing both of his parents, and next day as they mourn, his grandmother distracts him from the tragedy by telling him all about witches: they’re real, she tells him, and they’re hidden among us, and she knows at least five children who have been taken by them.

An odd way to comfort a recently orphaned boy, but lucky too, considering the witch-encounters lurking in his near future.

The audiobook narration is beautifully performed and complete with subtle sound effects like chirping birds and the crackling of a fireplace. I found the witches’ screechy voices difficult to listen to in one chapter and had to adjust the volume a little now and then, but this wasn’t a problem overall. The grandmother’s voice is especially well narrated: I loved her accent, and her consistently warm and affectionate tone.

The cigar-smoking grandmother was my favourite character. She is not fazed by anything and has a kooky alternative streak when it comes to caring for children. At one point she offers her little grandson a puff of her cigar, and when he reminds her he’s only seven, she says, “I don’t care what age you are. You’ll never catch a cold if you smoke cigars!”

I’ve tried not to give away too much in this review because The Witches is so much fun to discover, and it has some unusual twists and turns. Definitely worth listening to… it’s funny and magical, with haunting little tales hidden within the main story.

Posted by Marissa van Uden

Review of Rule Breaker by Lora Leigh

March 6, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Rule Breaker by Lora LeighRule Breaker (A Novel of the Breeds #29)
By Lora Leigh; Narrated by Brianna Bronte
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 4 February 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 17 hours, 50 minutes

Themes: / romance / genetic engineering / breeding /

Publisher summary:

Lion Breed and enforcer Rule Breaker has just a few rules he doesn’t break. Not for anything. Not for anyone – like never have sex with a woman outside his own breed, especially a human woman. Especially someone too helpless, too fun loving and too full of life to ever be able to protect herself, let alone help him to protect her. If the damned animal inside him insists on a mate, then why pick her? A woman who is an easy target and who can be used as a weapon against him at any time. But what he suspects is mating heat may not be that at all.

Rule Breaker is the 29th book in the Breed series by Lora Leigh. Our feature couple is Rule, a lion breed and Gypsy a human. The story starts off very sad, we witness Gypsy the night her brother is murdered. For Gypsy her brother feels like the only family she really has and losing him almost breaks her.  Gypsy is consumed with guilt and she takes up her brother mission to find purpose. Unfortunately she becomes emotionally suspended in time, closing off all of her emotions, which was rather heart breaking. Meanwhile Rule is determined to never mate and he is sure that Gypsy is nothing more than sexual attraction. As you can imagine the road to being mated was full of bumps.

I liked Gypsy a lot! I think the beginning of the story is what endeared her to me, I think it was easy to identify why she was making choices and it was so easy to root for her. Quickly she became one of my favorite heroines in the Breed series; not only is she smart and resourceful but she has a lot of guts. Then there are times when we can see she is incredibly lonely and alone, which for me made it all the better when she becomes helpless in Rule’s arms. It is like weather she wants to or not she is feeling emotions and it was cute how she would fight it. Meanwhile Rule had his moments of idiocy but they really were not that bad compared to other Breeds. This was a cute couple and you can see how well they fit together.

In this book we get to see a good deal of espionage and breed manipulation. Once nice thing is we get some resolution into Amber. Sadly that was a bit of a letdown because I felt like it should not have taken 8 books for all these scheming people to figure it out.  There were other minor plots that bogged down the story line  and made the plot a bit convoluted and overly complex. To keep them all going we there was a growing cast of characters at times I felt like I needed some kind of appendix just to keep them all straight. At times this made the book a bit challenging.

Normally I read Breed books but this one I listened to on audio. Honestly the narrator just did not work for me, not so much because she was bad but her voice did not fit the story, I think I would have preferred a male reader. Hearing a woman say things like ‘his cock was throbbing’ or ‘ she was indeed wet the scent of her sweet juices…’ just took me out of the story. It did not even sound like good bed room talk you know with husky sounding voices instead it sounds like someone making fun of Captain Kirk in Star Trek you know how he has those dramatic pauses. I also did not think she had good character distinction it just sounded like she had a frog in her throat.

At the end of the day I am left with trying to tease out if my issues with the book are because of the story or because of the narrator. I am sure the romance part of the story worked for me. I am also sure some of the espionage stuff could have been left out. The multiple plots with Dane and Jonas I am not sure if was overly complicated because I was listening and not reading.  In the end it was still a solid story and I am hoping we get Cassie and Dogs story next then maybe Dane’s. I wonder who his mate will be?

Posted by Dawn V.

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