Review of Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb

September 16, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Fool's AssassinFool’s Assassin (Fitz and the Fool #1)
By Robin Hobb; Narrated by Elliot Hill
27 hours, 18 minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 12 August 2014
Themes: / fantasy / assassin / fool /

Publisher summary:

FitzChivalry – royal bastard and former king’s assassin – has left his life of intrigue behind. As far as the rest of the world knows, FitzChivalry Farseer is dead and buried. Masquerading as Tom Badgerlock, Fitz is now married to his childhood sweetheart, Molly, and leading the quiet life of a country squire.

Though Fitz is haunted by the disappearance of the Fool, who did so much to shape Fitz into the man he has become, such private hurts are put aside in the business of daily life, at least until the appearance of menacing, pale-skinned strangers casts a sinister shadow over Fitz’s past…and his future.

Now, to protect his new life, the former assassin must once again take up his old one.

When I first heard confirmation that the rumors of a new Fitz and Fool series were true, I was full of mixed emotions. I loved Fool’s Fate. I’ve enjoyed all of Ms. Hobb’s books but that is the only one I’ve given 5 stars too. I was just so satisfied with how it ended. There were questions, but all the big things were resolved in the end.

So would this book ruin my favorite book? Well not yet, but it certainly hasn’t alleviated my fears that the events of this trilogy might tarnish things for me.

Like many books by Ms. Hobb, things start out slow. I don’t mean that in a negative way, however. Somehow she is able to write in such a way that I don’t mind the day to day life of her books. Despite my trepidation, it just felt nice to be back with characters I love. If you’re looking for a lot of action or a flashy start, you’ll be disappointed. I imagine that anyone picking up this book is already going to be a Robin Hobb fan and used to her style.

More than anything, Ms. Hobb’s writing is able to evoke strong emotions in me as I read. Love, anger, happiness, frustration. Few other authors can make me despise a new character so quickly or completely. Similarly Fitz continues to frustrate me with the way he does things in a way that is just all too human. Often times the protagonist in a fantasy book faces external adversity and rises to the occasion. Meanwhile Fitz is frequently his own worst enemy. Poor Ms. Hobb loves putting him through the ringer too, and this book is no different.

I had three issues with this book. First, the series is called Fitz & Fool. The book is called Fool’s Assassin. So why did it take so long for us to see the Fool? He’s mentioned often enough, but I want to spend time with him just as I am spending time with Fitz. So far this series seems a lot more like Farseer than Tawny Man in that regard.

The second thing was the addition of a POV besides Fitz. I guess I’m a very jealous reader. I originally hoped it was a one off thing early in the book, but when it turned out to be a regular thing it bothered me. I felt robbed of time I could be spending with Fitz. By the end of the book it grew on me and I came to look forward to those chapters nearly as much as I did the Fitz ones.

The final issue I had was the ending. I know this is the first book of a trilogy, but I hate cliffhanger type endings, and this one seemed pretty bad to me. If you’re the type of person who hates waiting for the next book, you may be better off waiting until the final book is either published or has a release date. It’s going to a be a LONG wait for me until book 2.

Overall I really liked, but didn’t love this book. I’m still pretty nervous about what may happen next. I think that above all shows how great a writer Ms. Hobb is to fill me with both a sense of anticipation and dread for the next book in the series.

As a narrator, I really didn’t like Elliot Hill much at first. He grew on me by the end though. I don’t normally hear characters speaking in my head as I read and haven’t had any issue listening to books I had previously read and finding the voices wrong.

I did here for some reason. Fitz just didn’t sound right to me. Same thing with Molly. Bee seemed fine, but really she sounded almost like Molly. I liked his voice for Chade though.

Mr. Hill does a few voices and accents and does a fine job of it. It just took me a very long time to get used to. By the end though I seemed to get over it. I likely won’t do the audio again unless I get another review copy, but I’d guess many people won’t have the same issues I did with it.

Review by Rob Zak.

Review of The Folklore of Discworld

September 6, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Folklore of DiscworldThe Folklore of Discworld: Legends, Myths, and Customs from the Discworld with Helpful Hints from Planet Earth
By Terry Pratchett and Jacqueline Simpson; Narrated by Michael Fenton Stevens
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: March 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 12 hours, 59 minutes

Themes: / folklore / discworld / fantasy /

Publisher summary:

Most of us grew up having always known when to touch wood or cross our fingers, and what happens when a princess kisses a frog or a boy pulls a sword from a stone, yet sadly some of these things are beginning to be forgotten. Legends, myths, and fairy tales: Our world is made up of the stories we told ourselves about where we came from and how we got here. It is the same on Discworld, except that beings, which on Earth are creatures of the imagination – like vampires, trolls, witches and, possibly, gods – are real, alive and, in some cases kicking, on the Disc.

In The Folklore of Discworld, Terry Pratchett teams up with leading British folklorist Jacqueline Simpson to take an irreverent yet illuminating look at the living myths and folklore that are reflected, celebrated and affectionately libelled in the uniquely imaginative universe of Discworld.

The Folklore of Discworld is as capricious and lovely a reference book for the Discworld series as the Discworld itself. It seems to drift between our world and the Discworld with a strangely organic ease, and, given the breadth and depth it covers, doesn’t assault the listener with too much. Instead it reads like any of the other books in the Discworld series, with light, comforting reassurances to the reader that everything is just exactly where it needs to be.”

Posted by Trant Thumble.

Review of The Naked Sun by Isaac Asimov

September 2, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Naked Sun by Isaac AsimovThe Naked Sun (Robots #2)
By Isaac Asimov; Read by William Dufris
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: July 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 7 hours, 41 minutes

Themes: / robots / colonization / science fiction / detective /

Publisher summary:

A millennium into the future, two advancements have altered the course of human history: the colonization of the Galaxy and the creation of the positronic brain.  On the beautiful Outer World planet of Solaria, a handful of human colonists lead a hermit-like existence, their every need attended to by their faithful robot servants. To this strange and provocative planet comes Detective Elijah Baley, sent from the streets of New York with his positronic partner, the robot R. Daneel Olivaw, to solve an incredible murder that has rocked Solaria to its foundations. The victim had been so reclusive that he appeared to his associates only through holographic projection. Yet someone had gotten close enough to bludgeon him to death while robots looked on.

What a shocker! I suspected the murderer but not the ending Asimov gave us. Wow.

The Naked Sun gives us a look at the mysterious Outer Worlds, first mentioned in The Caves of Steel. Solaria has never had a crime, due to their extremely privileged population served solely by robots who, of course, never commit crimes of passion. Lige Bailey finds this open, practically empty environment poses both the challenges of solving the mystery and of adapting his agoraphobic nature, thanks to a lifetime of living in underground cities on overpopulated Earth.

Asimov has fun looking at the sociological effects of a high-tech, low population world. I was fascinated by Asimov’s contrast of Elijah Bailey, used only to an overcrowded Earth, with the outworld Solarian society which had open space, eugenics, and many robots. There is no way Asimov could have foreseen our computer-oriented society today, but I found the Solarian society’s preference for “viewing” through screens rather than “seeing” in person to be a disturbing echo of what we ourselves seem to be moving toward.

I originally read this long ago and remembered a lot about the Solarian society but almost nothing about the mystery itself. Listening to William Dufris’ excellent narration, so long after my first reading, I found this a wonderful mystery. Dufris surpassed his performance in The Caves of Steel as he voiced a wide range of Solarian characters from sensuous to prim, blowhard to reserved, blustering to withdrawn. My favorite voices actually were the Solarian robots which were precisely what you’d expect, and which we hadn’t heard yet though several robots spoke in The Caves of Steel.

If you haven’t revisited this series lately I recommend it highly, especially this audio version which brings it to life in a fresh way.

Posted by Julie D.

Review of Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov

July 31, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

cavesCaves of Steel (Robots #1)
By Isaac Asimov, read by William Dufris
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication date: 15 July 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 7 hours, 43 minutes

Listen to an excerpt: | MP3 |

Themes: / science fiction / robots / detectives / over-population / colonization /

Publisher summary:

A millennium into the future two advancements have altered the course of human history: the colonization of the galaxy and the creation of the positronic brain. Isaac Asimov’s Robot novels chronicle the unlikely partnership between a New York City detective and a humanoid robot who must learn to work together. Like most people left behind on an over-populated Earth, New York City police detective Elijah Baley had little love for either the arrogant Spacers or their robotic companions.

“Like most people on the over-populated Earth, New York City police detective Elijah Baley has little love for either the arrogant Spacers or their robotic companions. But when a prominent Spacer is murdered under mysterious circumstances, Baley is ordered to help track down the killer. Then he learned that they had assigned him a partner: R. Daneel Olivaw. Worst of all was that the ” R” stood for robot.”

I originally read this book when I was a teenager and loved it from the beginning. Isaac Asimov’s descriptions of an overpopulated future Earth were de rigueur for science fiction of the time. What gave this story a fresh spin was that it was a bona fide mystery.

Many years later, listening to William Dufris’ splendid narration, it still holds up. I still remembered the main points of the mystery and detective Lige Bailey’s personality. This left me free to fully appreciate the details of Asimov’s imagined future society, complete with spacemen and robots to provide tension and interest.

I’m not sure if I completely forgot or just never registered the points Asimov was making in this book about technology, adaptation, and the human soul. I was quite surprised to see that Lige Bailey knew his Bible so well that he could quote it in either the King James version or the modern version. And that he used religion as a main point of differentiation (along with art, beauty, and other intangibles) between humans and robots. Atheist Isaac Asimov didn’t deny that faith can lift people higher and that is something one rarely, if ever, sees these days in science fiction.

I also was really interested in watching the way the germ of an idea took hold and was spread from person to person. It was fascinating to see how many things that idea applied to once it had wormed its way into the person’s consciousness.

All in all, this short but satisfying mystery is much richer than I recalled. It was greatly enhanced by the audio where William Dufris became a one man theater company in the way he voiced different characters. There was never any fear of my mistaking who was talking in straight exchanges of dialogue. He was simply masterful whether it was world-weary detective Bailey, slightly robotic Daneel Olivaw, jumpy Jessie, or the nervous Commissioner.

Highly recommended.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE
Wikipedia notes:

It is a detective story and illustrates an idea Asimov advocated, that science fiction is a flavor that can be applied to any literary genre, rather than a limited genre itself. Specifically, in the book Asimov’s Mysteries, he states that he wrote the novel in response to the assertion by editor John W. Campbell that mystery and science fiction were incompatible genres. Campbell had said that the science fiction writer could invent “facts” in his imaginary future that the reader would not know. Asimov countered that there were rules implicit in the art of writing mysteries, and that the clues could be in the plot, even if they were not obvious, or were deliberately obfuscated.

All hail opinionated John Campbell and Isaac Asimov’s determination to prove him wrong. Today there are a lot of different mash-ups included in the science fiction genre and Asimov led the way with this book.

Posted by Julie D.

Review of Shattered by Kevin Hearne

July 30, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Shattered by Kevin HearneShattered (The Iron Druid Chronicles, #7)
By Kevin Hearne; Read by Luke Daniels
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 17 June 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 11 hours, 35 minutes

Listen to an excerpt: | MP3 |

Themes: / druids / urban fantasy / plague /

Publisher summary:

For nearly 2,000 years, only one Druid has walked the Earth – Atticus O’Sullivan, the Iron Druid, whose sharp wit and sharp sword have kept him alive as he’s been pursued by a pantheon of hostile deities. Now he’s got company. Atticus’ apprentice, Granuaile, is at last a full Druid herself. What’s more, Atticus has defrosted an archdruid long ago frozen in time, a father figure (of sorts) who now goes by the modern equivalent of his old Irish name: Owen Kennedy. And Owen has some catching up to do.

I’ll start by saying that this is my first foray into the Iron Druid series so this review is from the perspective of someone who hasn’t done the previous books. I would not suggest this book as a great place to start this series. I heard this was a great entry point into the series for fans of urban fantasy but so much of what’s going on in the plot is lost that I missed the overarching significance of what happened in the story. Now that that’s out of the way…

Shattered is an urban fantasy story about one of the last druids in the world trying to live his life while trying to survive the crazy plots of mythical creatures and gods. Hearne’s writing style flows easily and his characters are enjoyable, but I thought the story lacked focus and almost felt like two disjoint stories that didn’t really relate to one another until both ended into a third thread. I liked the use of the urban setting and the creative use of different abilities/powers that characters. There are many quotes and references to geek culture in there but so much that it kept pulling me out of the story.

The first 2/3 of the story has two different threads that are both interesting in their own right but have nothing to do with each other. One thread is about a female druid trying to stop a plague happening in India while the other follows the eponymous iron druid as he introduces someone trapped in time centuries ago to modern culture. Neither story required prior knowledge of the series but the last 1/3 of the story seemed to be a culmination of events from previous stories that was mostly lost on me. I actually thought I was almost done with the audiobook 2/3 of the way through and it felt like a bit of a false ending.

The world and characters in this story are the best part. I liked most characters, thought they were well written, and stayed true to character. I really liked the old druid getting to know modern culture and hearing his take on how he sees things. The comedy relief and quotes/references to geek culture was a bit much at times and took me out of the story too much.

As for the audio side of things, Luke Daniels does a fantastic job reading this book. On one side of things I can hardly believe he does all the voices I heard in the book, on the other side the two main characters sound an awful lot like each other and I would get confused at the beginning of a chapter sometimes until I identified who was speaking. Both voices were great and it didn’t take away from the story, I just thought it was interesting considering how different many of the other voices are. I will definitely be looking for other audiobooks narrated by Luke Daniels.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return

June 29, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Jedi Doth ReturnWilliam Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return
By Ian Doescher; Narrated by Marc Thompson, Jonathan Davis, Daniel Davis, Jeff Gurner, January Lavoy, and Ian Doescher
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 1 July 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 3 hours, 35 minutes

Listen to excerpt: | MP3 |

Themes: / Shakespeare / iambic pentameter / full cast / Star Wars /

Publisher summary:

Return to the star-crossed galaxy far, far away as the brooding young hero, a power-mad emperor, and their jesting droids match wits, struggle for power, and soliloquize in elegant and impeccable iambic pentameter. Illustrated with beautiful black-and-white Elizabethan-style artwork, these two plays offer essential reading for all ages. Something Wookiee this way comes!

The jedi doth return indeed. The final book of the Shakespearean Star Wars trilogy keeps pace with the first two books with regard to author Ian Doescher’s ability to come up with interesting rules for his writing. I enjoyed this book as much as the first and highly suggest experiencing the full performance of the audio book as it works quite well in the form of a radio play.

If you really want to follow all that’s going on, listen to the author’s note after the story first. Doescher explains all of the rules he came up with in previous books and the ones he added for himself in this play. Some rules are more obvious like writing in iambic pentameter and Boba Fett’s prose but others are more interesting. For your assistance and enjoyment, here is a list of those I can remember:

  • Most lines are written in iambic pentameter (including the last two lines of a scene rhyming).
  • Han and Leia speak to each other in rhyming couplets when alone.
  • Boba Fett speaks in prose.
  • Yoda speaks in haiku.
  • Ewoks speak in a mix of Ewok and broken English

Doescher adds a decent amount of literary mechanisms like foreshadowing, aside, foils, and soliloquy to really give this play the Shakespeare feeling. I could go on more about this but a cool benefit these gave is that he’s able to get into character’s heads to show what they’re thinking at times I’ve never thought about while watching the movie. For instance, what is Han thinking when he’s woken up from his carbonite sleep? What is Leia thinking when Luke breaks the news of his family tree? I really like how this was used to highlight the inner struggles that Luke and Darth Vader have during their final confrontation.

The audio book performance is great. All the character voices are done superbly, the sound effects are all there, and the music is well used. The use of a cast definitely lends well to the presentation of this as a play. There are even a few…musical surprises. The note on the audio version is that the lines are read for performance and not to emphasize the iambic pentameter…so Doescher’s efforts in keeping the pattern aren’t really noticeable (you remember from English class right? da-DA-da-DA-da-DA-da-DA). This isn’t a detractor since most would prefer this to be acted but just noting it.

Posted by Tom Schreck

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